8 Little Changes for Big Health Improvements
If you could make a few lifestyle changes that would have a big impact on your health and wellbeing, what would they be? QualityHealth polled doctors, dentists, personal trainers, nutritionists and other lifestyle experts to find out their favorite tips. Many of their suggestions are easy and inexpensive to implement, yet they can bring a host of mental, emotional, and physical benefits.
Advice From the Experts
Here are eight simple changes that can make a big difference:
- Drink more water. "Of all the things you could do to immediately improve your health and well-being, [upping your water intake] could be the most important," says Arek Long MA, CSCS, owner of WorkoutLA and a certified personal trainer. "On the one hand, dehydration is the leading cause of fatigue and headaches. On the other, maintaining proper hydration will immediately improve focus, increase energy, and rev up your metabolism," he explains. "You don’t need any special equipment, and this super food is affordable on any budget." He recommends aiming for half your body weight in ounces. This means a 200-pound person should drink 100 ounces of water every day.
- Practice mini meditations. Meditating "stops the stress response and brings us to the present moment," says Kathy Gruver, PhD, LMT, RM, author of several award-winning books, including Conquer your Stress. "We know long-term it can help with a myriad of diseases, dysfunctions, and disorders." You don’t need a lot of time or ability to practice meditation. In fact, Gruver says she incorporates "mini meditations" throughout her day. To try this yourself, she recommends you "concentrate on the breath, the rise and fall of the chest. On the inhales think, 'I am' and on the exhale, think, 'at peace,' and repeat." She says she does this multiple times a day, whenever she’s feeling stressed, anxious, or needs to focus.
- Walk more. Over time, regular walking can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health, and help you maintain a healthy weight. You can start by taking short strolls and work your way up to bigger goals. By tracking your progress, you’ll probably be motivated to keep walking for longer amounts of time and to cover more extensive distances. "Buy a pedometer–it will likely be the best $5 you’ll ever spend," says Tim Horrigan, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Iowa's UnityPoint Health–Waterloo. He suggests setting a goal of 10,000 steps per day and watching the steps add up throughout the course of your activities.
- Eat more whole foods. "What we put into our bodies every day is the significant determining factor of our health," says Larry D. Cook, healthy lifestyle coach. "By simply changing our diet to a mostly whole foods, organic diet, our health will improve." He explains that this means eliminating fast food and most processed foods, like pasta, bread, TV dinners, muffins, diet products, and foods with chemicals in it. "Instead, learn how to cook at home with fresh, whole organic food found mostly in the produce section, preferably from a health food store," he says.
- Sleep better. If you aren’t getting enough zzz’s, this can take a toll on your body and your metabolism over the long term. "Studies show that people often use their phone, watch TV, play video games, or use social media on a computer, all within an hour of trying to fall a sleep," explains Tate Hancock, MD, of Hancock Spine and Rehab in Wichita, Kansas. He points out that using these devices can over stimulate the brain, which makes it harder to calm the nervous system down and fall asleep. "If you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, consider keeping electronics out of the bedroom and turning them off—especially those used at close range—for at least an hour before bed," he says.
- Floss every day. "In my practice, there’s no question the healthier and happier people are the ones with healthy teeth," says Kenyon Glor, DDS, a dentist in Wellington, Ohio. "Even if there are other medical issues, patients will tell me of the meals shared with family and friends. Those experiences would be difficult or impossible if there were ongoing dental issues. As low tech as it sounds, flossing and [dental] checkups are the single best way to prevent dental disease."
- Have a sense of humor. It’s easy to get thrown off course when things don’t go your way. A traffic jam, being stuck in line in the store, or a disagreement with a friend, colleague or family member can be upsetting, but Barb Schmidt, founder of a nonprofit called the Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life and author of The Practice: Simple Tools for Managing Stress, Finding Inner Peace, and Uncovering Happiness, suggests finding the humor in the situation rather than taking things too seriously and letting them ruin your day: "Shakespeare said all the world's a stage, so keep this in mind," as you go through life, she says. "Seek out opportunities to be entertained by your fellow players on whatever stage you are on: whether in the grocery store, in long lines at the mall, at the dinner table, or at the office party. Seize opportunities to laugh with others and imbue your experiences with a delightful sense of levity."
- Keep a journal. "Putting the pen to the page every day provides the healthy 'me' time that people need daily in pursuing their mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health and wellness goals," says Mari McCarthy, a journaling therapy guide. "It's a high benefit, low cost, inner health habit for everyone," she adds. Consider designating a few minutes every evening (or wherever you can fit it in) to follow this practice. The best part of journaling is you get to decide how and when you want to do it and what you want to get out of the process.
And to Make These Eight Little Changes, Set Realistic Goals
With these and any other changes you make to your routine, you’ll need to have a realistic expectation as to when and how you’ll see results. Remember that many things build over time, so you’ll have to pace yourself and understand that worthwhile changes require time and patience, but in the end, your health—and state of mind—will benefit from your efforts.
Tim Horrigan, MD, reviewed this article.
Cook, Larry D. Healthy lifestyle coach. Email interview Dec. 17, 2014.
Glor, Kenyon, DDS. Email interview Dec. 17, 2014.
Gruver, Kathy, PhD, LMT, RM. Email interview Dec. 17, 2014.
Hancock, Tate, MD. Hancock Spine and Rehab. Email interview Dec. 17, 2014.
Long, Arek, MA, CSCS. Email interview Dec. 17, 2014.
McCarthy, Mari. Email interview Dec. 17, 2014.
Schmidt, Barb, founder of Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life. Email interview Dec. 17, 2014.
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