If you're convinced you need to make dramatic changes in order to improve your health, we've got good news. It doesn't have to be that hard. We've found 50 simple, good-for-you moves to improve your health from head to toe - no life altering required.
- Breathe deeply and count to 10. Bottling up anger is the biggest predictor of headaches, even more than depression or anxiety, according to a new study from Saint Louis University.
- Eat the Mediterranean way. The Italian Longitudinal Study of Aging found that people who ate a diet high in mono - and polyunsaturated fatty acids did better on cognitive tests. Good sources include olive oil, butter, cheese and fish.
- Get more zzz's. Sleep deprivation can affect your ability to concentrate, remember information and perform mental tasks.
- Watch less TV. "Watching TV is to your brain what sitting on the couch is to your body: complete absence of use," says David Niven, Ph.D., author of The 100 Simple Secrets of Healthy People. Instead, read or do a crossword puzzle to keep your brain active and fend off diseases such as Alzheimer's.
- Take up a musical instrument. Musical training enhances your brain's ability to remember words, according to University of Hong Kong researchers.
- Add cranberries to your diet. University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth scientists have linked cranberry consumption to stroke protection. Early evidence suggests that the berries may reduce the oxidative damage to the brain that occurs during a stroke.
- Check your computer setup. To avoid eye strain, make sure your monitor is centered in front of you, about an arm's length away, with the top of the screen near eye level. Keep the glass clean to avoid glare, and take time to adjust the brightness, contrast and font size to comfortable levels.
- Have an omelette. Eggs, along with colorful fruits and leafy green vegetables, contain large amounts of lutein, which helps fight macular degeneration and cataracts.
- Easy does it when you brush. A recent British study found that people who brush longer or harder than necessary can actually erode their gums and tooth enamel.
- Rinse wisely. Although a mouth rinse can freshen breath and prevent cavities, it may also mask symptoms of poor oral health, according to Loyola University Health System researchers. Sometimes an unpleasant taste in your mouth can signal oral health problems such as periodontal disease.
- Drink tea. A University of Illinois study found that black tea may impede cavity-causing plaque bacteria.
Neck and Shoulders
- Hold the telephone. Cradling a phone between your ear and shoulder contracts neck muscles and locks the spinal joints, causing muscle spasms and pain. Instead, hold the receiver or use a speakerphone.
Breasts and Ovaries
- Keep your bedroom dark at night. A Harvard Nurses' Health Study of night-shift workers suggests that exposure to light at nighttime interferes with the body's production of melatonin, a hormone that can inhibit the growth of tumors.
- Get moving. According to researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Re-search Center, brisk walking for just one or two hours a week can cut your breast cancer risk by almost 20 percent.
- Stock up on produce. Eating eight to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day can help lower your risk of developing cancer. "Foods rich in vitamin A are especially protective, as this nutrient helps maintain the ovarian tissues that are most susceptible to cancer," says Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D., author of Nutrition for Women.
- Say "om." Meditation helps you relax, which slows your breathing and heart rate. It also helps lower blood pressure and reduces your risk for blood clots.
- Drink pomegranate juice. This colorful fruit is high in antioxidants called polyphenols, which can help reduce atherosclerosis (arterial plaque), a major risk factor for heart disease.
- Bond with Mom. The Harvard Mastery of Stress Study found that those who reported a loving and caring relationship with their parents were less likely to have a serious illness such as high blood pressure or heart disease.
- Eat soy. To reduce cholesterol levels, add foods such as tofu or edamame (soybeans) to your diet five times a week, says Somer. Get a pet. "An animal is a huge stress reliever, and a recent study found that spending time with your pet reduces high blood pressure by fifteen percent," says Dr. Niven.
- Get a flu shot. Older people who got a flu shot were 19 percent less likely to be hospitalized for heart disease than those who didn't, according to a study in The New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers think influenza and pneumonia may trigger heart disease by damaging blood vessels and limiting blood flow.
- Skip the elevator. "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that if you climb up and down just three flights a day you'll improve your cardiovascular health and lose about ten pounds over the course of a year," says Dr. Niven.
- Eat an apple a day. A London study found that eating at least five apples a week may improve lung function, thanks to a powerful antioxidant called quercetin that may protect lungs from the effects of pollution and cigarette smoke.
- Listen to slow music at mealtimes. "A recent study found that participants who ate while listening to fast music consumed two more mouthfuls a minute than those who listened to slow music," says Dr. Niven. "We subconsciously mimic the beat, and the faster you eat, the more likely you are to overeat."
- Get more calcium. This powerful nutrient can protect your colon as well as your bones. Swedish researchers have found an association between high dietary intake of calcium and vitamin D and a decreased risk of colorectal cancer.
- Know when to say when. Researchers from Stony Brook University linked heavy alcohol consumption (at least nine drinks a week for more than 10 years) to a higher rate of colorectal cancer or polyps. However, moderate consumption of wine was shown to have a protective effect.
- Limit antacid intake. A new study from Austria suggests that over-using antacid tablets may increase the risk of food allergies by possibly interfering with digestion.
- Take a vitamin E supplement. High blood levels of alpha-tocopherol, a form of vitamin E, may lower the risk of developing cancer of the stomach and esophagus, according to new research from China.
- Have a cup o' joe. German researchers have found an antioxidant in coffee that may protect against colon cancer. Avoiding caffeine? Decaf also contains the same compound.
- Take a deep stretch. Stretching muscles in your lower back, shoulders and chest helps keep your back in alignment and improve posture. Flexibility can also reduce your risk of lower back pain by relieving stress on the spine. Try leaning over and bending your chest down to your thighs while seated.
- Alternate shoulders. Switch sides frequently when carrying a heavy bag or briefcase. Too much weight on one side of your body can cause muscle imbalance that could turn into chronic back and neck injuries.
- Stop the side slouch. "When we stand, we often put all our weight on one leg, with a hip jutted out, slightly leaning to one side. This posture can lead to lower back pain and muscle imbalances," says Kathy Smith, creator of Lift Weights to Lose Weight 2. Instead, center your weight between your legs and lift your lower abdominals. "It improves spinal alignment and fights belly pooch."
Joints and Muscles
- Pump iron. Weight-bearing exercise has been found to reduce joint pain caused by arthritis and to improve physical function. The better shape muscles are in, the better they're able to protect joints from shock.
- Vary your workouts. "Repeating the same exercise routine day after day will cause wear and tear on your muscles," says Dr. Niven. "It also reduces the overall effect of the exercise on your body."
- Keep your balance. Balancing on one leg works the muscles in your buttocks and upper legs and can reduce your risk for falls. Smith recommends this quick exercise: While standing, start with 15 seconds and build up to one minute balancing on each leg, squeezing your buttocks together and lifting up your midsection.
- Do a downward dog. Two recent studies found that practicing yoga in addition to other therapies can help relieve the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis of the hands.
- Eat more yogurt. A Tufts University study indicates that live active cultures, such as those found in yogurt, may help make the immune system more resilient and prevent infection.
- Don't microwave vegetables. A recent study from Spain found that produce loses as much as 97 percent of its antioxidant properties when microwaved. The healthiest way to eat your veggies? Raw or steamed.
- Limit use of antibacterial soaps and cleaning products. Overuse can contribute to the formation of drug-resistant bacteria and kill off the helpful bacteria our bodies need.
- Eat garlic. "Taking garlic at the first sign of a cold could stave off further symptoms," says Somer. It contains compounds that may have antibiotic, antiviral and antibacterial properties.
- Try tai chi. A UCLA study found that practicing this simple combination of meditation and movement can help fight shingles by increasing immune cell levels by about 50 percent.
- Focus on the positive. Carnegie Mellon researchers recently discovered that unhappy people are three times as likely to get a cold as happy people.
- Add some zest to your lemonade. A recent University of Arizona study concluded that consuming lemon, orange or grapefruit peel can reduce your risk of skin cancer by as much as 30 percent.
- Skip the tanning beds. "You may think you're getting a healthier tan, but using a tanning bed exposes your body to fifteen times the concentration of ultraviolet rays as going out in the sun," says Dr. Niven.
- Work your back. If you're at risk for osteoporosis, strong back muscles are the best way to prevent spinal fractures. A 2002 Mayo Clinic study found that women who didn't perform back-strengthening exercises for two years were nearly three times as likely to suffer a compression fracture.
- Get more K. Several studies have shown that vitamin K can help maintain bone density and strength. Sources include leafy green vegetables, broccoli and plant oils.
- Go fish! According to Somer, recent re-search has shown that omega-3 fatty acids may help regulate the mechanisms that allow bone to absorb calcium. So be sure to eat omega-3-rich foods, such as salmon, in addition to taking a calcium supplement.
- Skip the soft drinks. The phosphates in these beverages increase the amount of calcium excreted into the urine, says Somer.
- Try a home pedicure. Professional nail salons may spread infection through shared foot baths or sharp instruments used to file away calluses.
- Skip magnetic shoe pads. A recent Mayo Clinic study found no evidence that magnetic shoe inserts ease foot and heel pain. Instead, spend your money on more comfortable, better-fitting shoes.