10 Simple Ways to Live a Healthier Life
The one thing that never ceases to amaze me about our bodies: they respond so well to changes we make in our diet and our lifestyle. Think about it: when we gain weight—all we have to do is eat better and exercise and the weight comes off (albeit a bit more slowly than we sometimes want!).
The same is true for our health: make simple changes to your lifestyle—and you can get a good bill of health from your doctor. Even if you have an illness, changes to your diet, exercise, and lifestyle can make a difference in your symptoms and how soon you recover.
With that said, I've put together some of the best advice that I've gotten about women's health—and taken to heart: all of this I try to put into practice in my own life. Try these do-able tips, and you'll see what a difference they make in your own life. Keep in mind: it takes 21 days to make a habit stick...so give yourself at least that long to put these healthy habits into effect.
Take 5 minutes to stretch every morning. I try to do this as soon as I get out of bed. (You can even do it in bed, if you want.) I raise my hands above my head, and reach. I reach for my toes. I sit on the floor in a V—and reach both hands to each one of my feet. The key is to hold each stretch for about 30 seconds; do not bounce up and down as you stretch as this could cause you to pull a muscle.
Why it's important: as we age, our muscles get tighter and our range of motion is minimized—and that means even the simplest day-to-day activities like getting out of bed, getting up from your office chair, or reaching for something in the cupboard can become more difficult and even cause injury. The solution is stretching—and everyone can do it, regardless of age or flexibility. Making it part of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth, means you won't skip it.
- Open up your blinds first thing in the morning—and even open a window, if it's not already open. Experts say that fresh air and letting the light in helps to wake you up—and cues the brain to repress the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep.
- Run a humidifier during the fall and winter months. Indoor heat dries out the air inside your home (and office), which can dry out your skin, your hair, and your nasal passages—encouraging colds and even the flu, according to one study published in the journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences♦. The ideal humidity in the home (or office) should be between 30 and 50 percent.
- Take your vitamins every day. I see vitamins as insurance—they help ensure that I'm getting key nutrients my body needs to function at its best. But always take a multivitamin that's geared toward women: we need different nutrients than men. Look for a women's multivitamin with calcium, vitamin D, vitamins B6 and B12, biotin, beta-carotene, and vitamins A, C, and E. (Centrum® Women has all these—and more.)
Add just 5 minutes to your workout. We all know that exercising keeps weight down, but it also helps protect the heart, reduces our risk of diabetes, and may even help prevent cancer. Studies also show that exercising helps strengthen the immune system, helping you to fight off illness. By adding just 5 minutes to your workout, you're strengthening your body—and improving your cardiovascular fitness (as well as burning a few more calories).
Along the same lines: if you don't exercise every day, allow yourself just 5 minutes of exercise in the morning and in the evening. By thinking about exercise in small increments like this—you'll be more likely to do it regularly and stick with it over the long haul. (Need some suggestions for 5-minute exercises: walk down the street or around the block, park your car further away from your office or the store, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or do crunches or push-ups while you're watching TV. The possibilities are endless.) Remember: it's just 5 minutes!
- Allow yourself one small indulgence a day. Make it whatever you want, but if you like hot chocolate, consider this: A new study from the journal Neurology♦♦ shows that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day may actually keep your brain healthy and your thinking skills sharp. That's thanks to the antioxidants in the chocolate. But allowing yourself one small luxury a day—like hot chocolate—is important, because it satisfies your cravings so you don't feel deprived (and possibly triggering binge eating later on).
- Shut off your Smartphone—and TV and computer—at least an hour before you get into bed. (And do not fall asleep with the TV on.) Studies show that blue light—the kind that's emitted from electronic devices like these—interrupts our normal sleep cycles, making it harder for us to get to sleep. Do your body a favor and shut off all electronics at least an hour before you go to bed, no excuses. And keep your phone out of the bedroom so incoming messages and texts don't interrupt your shut-eye. You'll be amazed at how much better you sleep when you do this!
- Carry a water bottle with you at all times. I never go anywhere without a water bottle (I'm sipping from one as I write this!); keeping one with you at all times—in the car, in your office, at the gym, wherever!—ensures that you'll drink at least the recommended eight, eight-ounce glasses a day. It also prevents you from drinking calorie-laden soda or other beverages. Sometimes I also brew a pot of green tea in the morning, ice it and fill up my water bottles with it. You can also flavor your water bottles with slices of lemon, cucumber, and even frozen berries.
Learn the art of meditation—and mindfulness. This is something new I've taken up because of all the research I've come across showing its benefits. Learning to shut out all the cacophony of life—and focus your brain slows down your heart rate and your breathing, which reduces stress levels. It also helps you gain perspective on your life because you're slowing down to appreciate everything you have.
Meditation doesn't have to be involved; here are some simple guidelines:
- Focus on your breath. Close your eyes, and take deep breaths in and out, in and out. Visualize in your mind that these breaths are waves, ebbing and flowing along the shore. Be aware of your breathing.
- Bring your mind back to focus when it starts to wander away. The mind has a life of its own as it wanders away, thinking about other things. Just bring it slowly back—each time it wanders—back to your breath. Continue breathing in and out.
- Slowly bring your focus back to the present. Continue breathing. And take a moment to appreciate everything you are.
- Put yourself first. When you're on an airplane the stewardess always tells you: in event of an emergency, put the oxygen mask on yourself—before your kids. This is important not just for airplane emergency landings; it's also essential for life. I used to think putting yourself first was so selfish; as a woman, I needed to take care of everyone else: my kids, my husband, my family, my parents. But taking care of you first is critical. You're happier and healthier (like that surge of oxygen you get from an oxygen mask), putting you in a better position to help others.
Be well—and stay healthy!
♦ "Absolute humidity modulates influenza survival, transmission, and seasonality", Jeffrey Shaman, Melvin Kohn, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2013 110 (33) 13422-13427; http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/02/09/0806852106.abstract.
♦♦ "Chocolate May Help Keep Brain Healthy," ScienceDaily, August 7, 2013; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130807204447.htm