Left and right, health trends seem to advertise that if you follow a certain diet, stick to a certain type of workout, or never miss a miracle supplement, your health problems will be solved. For anyone wanting to live healthier, the abundance of products, tips, and tricks can get overwhelming, time-consuming, and expensive. So where’s a girl to start?
Scientific research indicates a back-to-basics approach. Health is wealth, after all; without it, studies reveal that our productivity, happiness, and relationships suffer. So, we’ve highlighted eight simple (and affordable) lifestyle changes you can make today that scientific research has proven positively impact everyday health. From sneaking ingredients into your meals that pack a nutritional punch to getting twenty extra minutes of shut-eye each night, these easy lifestyle hacks will make you healthier without a lot of work.
01. First things first: stretch.
Morning stretching preps your body for the day, much like it does for an exercise routine. Stretching gets blood and nutrients flowing through your body, fueling your brain power. The result is a calmer mind and improved energy–the perfect combination for performing executive cognitive functions such as concentration, memory, and problem solving. Plus, it’s an effective tool for managing stress: Harvard Health reports that stretching gives your mind a break from the world (allowing it to recharge), decreases symptoms of anxiety and depression, and lowers heart rate.
You don’t have to morph into a pretzel to be productive. Simple dynamic stretching exercises such as lifting each knee to waist level or doing sumo squats are enough to warm up your muscles and improve blood circulation. For stress relief, the National Women’s Health Resource Center suggests rotating or bending your body to stretch your upper neck, back, and legs. If you’re the visual type, turn to our curated list of free workout videos.
02. At breakfast, sub protein for carbs.
Verily’s editor in chief, Kara Eschbach, finds that a protein-rich breakfast “makes me far more energetic throughout the day.” In part, that’s because protein—such as eggs—keeps you fuller longer. It helps inhibit snacking on less nutrient-dense foods a few hours later, thus paving the way for more thoughtful choices. A study in Nutrition Journal found that when women in their late twenties ate high-protein foods, they had better appetite control.
Instead of your usual oats or muffin, indulge in a delectable frittata you can throw together in minutes. Using an oven-safe skillet, sauté your favorite veggies in one teaspoon of olive oil or butter until soft. Stir in cooked protein—we prefer Bumble Bee® Solid White Albacore Tuna in Water, drained and chunked—and cover with two beaten eggs mixed with your choice of milk. Season with salt and pepper or fresh herbs to taste. Cook until barely set. Then place your skillet under a broiler for one to two minutes until the top is golden brown. Sprinkle with your favorite cheese for some melted goodness. This makes a quick and lovely brunch, lunch, or dinner meal.
03. Get up for a few minutes every hour.
A study from BBC and the University of Chester found that when participants stood just three hours a day, their heart rates increased by an average of ten beats per minute. This increased heart rate means that they burned 0.7 more calories per minute. It may not seem like much, but when you add it up, that’s 30,000 calories a year—the equivalent to burning eight pounds of fat or running ten marathons.
Even if you don’t stand for three hours a day, improve your health by moving for three to five minutes every hour (set a recurring alarm). By getting up, refilling your coffee cup, taking the stairs to the bathroom on a different floor, or walking to the far-away printer instead of the one nearby, you’re being more active. Up for a bigger challenge? Increase your activity to twelve minutes every hour by simply standing while working or doing small exercises while sitting at your desk. That’s 20 percent of each hour, meaning you get ninety-six minutes of activity in your workday without even going to the gym.
04. Have a glass at every meal.
A glass of water, that is. Researchers from the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine have found that dehydration directly affects moodiness and fatigue in women. Staying hydrated helps your body function properly and prevents it from being overtaxed (which contributes to stress). Sipping water at regular intervals throughout the day is key to maintaining a good mood, concentrating, and warding off headaches. Incorporate one of these ten tips to trick yourself into drinking your recommended daily amount of H2O.
05. Read a good piece of fiction.
Researchers at the University of Sussex conducted a study showing that reading was more effective for relaxation than listening to music or getting up and taking a walk—reducing stress by 68 percent. Research in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s also determined that reading was shown to have a great effect on reducing the risk for Alzheimer’s disease in particular—but only if participants were avid readers, committing to the practice at least an hour per day. Check out your local library or Amazon for reliable lists of this month’s top books based on editor and reader picks. Then prepare for your brain to blossom.
06. Add a smoothie to the mix.
A smoothie is a convenient, tasty way to add a couple servings of fruits and veggies to your day. When you blend a smoothie, as opposed to juicing, you keep all the nutrients and fiber from the entire fruit or vegetable, skin included. As a result, your smoothie will have more volume and keep you fuller longer. Suzanne Hollander, RD, says, “Get extra nutrients with a protein source such as Greek yogurt, which adds calcium. Natural peanut or almond butter adds vitamins and fiber. Unsweetened soy milk, which can function as your smoothie’s liquid, gives you vitamin D and magnesium—both are important nutrients for bone health.” Try these yummy recipes for your daily vitamin fix, or use our nutritious guide to craft your own smoothie snack or meal replacement.
07. Set down that screen.
Science shows that too much screen time, especially before bed, can be harmful to our sleep quality. Mark Rosekind, Ph.D., former director of the Fatigue Countermeasures Program at the NASA Ames Research Center, says this is mainly because it causes cognitive stimulation, prompting your brain to increase electrical activity. This is not what you want when you are trying to wind down. Rosekind notes, “As you stay up later on a consistent basis, you readjust your internal clock, and delayed sleep phase syndrome sets in. Now, your body physically can’t fall asleep until that new set time, whether it’s midnight or 2 a.m.” We know how hard it is to say no to Netflix, so here are eight other ways to wind down before bed.
08. Get twenty more minutes of Zzz’s tonight.
We all know that we are supposed to be getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night, but research from the National Sleep Foundation has revealed that women need at least twenty more minutes of sleep than men and that lack of sleep affects each gender differently. For women, it was linked to increased risk for cardiovascular disease, psychological distress, depression, anger, poor memory, and an inability to deal with the unexpected, among others. Get to bed twenty minutes earlier than normal tonight, and see if you don’t notice a difference.
What are some of your favorite free and easy habits for healthy living? Please share your tips with us in the comments below.