You don’t have to go on a deprivation diet or spend hours exercising to ward off disease and be your healthiest self! Instead, try these super-simple tips.
Staying healthy can feel like so much, well, work (think: logging hours at the gym and whipping up nutritious meals from scratch). However, there are plenty of small moves that you can make in your everyday life that will have big health benefits. We’ve rounded up 15 practically zero-effort ways to fight disease, whittle your waist, lower stress, and more. Bonus: Many of these good-for-you moves feel good, too. So say sayonara to the old adage, “no pain, no gain” and try these tips today.
1. Protect your ticker with sleep
Need a good excuse to grab your comfiest set of pajamas and hit the sack? Skimping on shut-eye may do more than make you cranky or unproductive—it also boosts your risk of a heart attack. According to one Norwegian study, people who reported that they did not wake up feeling refreshed in the morning had a 27% higher risk of a heart attack, those who had trouble staying asleep almost every night in the last month had a 30% higher risk, and those who had trouble falling asleep almost every night in the last month had odds that jumped to 45%. Some researchers speculate that insomnia might trigger your body to release more of the stress hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol have been linked with high blood pressure and diabetes, which are both risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Plus, when you’re exhausted you may be more likely to make unhealthy choices that up your heart disease risk, such as skipping your workout or reaching for fatty or sugary snacks for a quick energy fix.
2. Ward off weight gain with protein
You may not have to stress so much about cutting calories: Whether you’re packing on the pounds or simply want to maintain your current weight, adding more protein to your dish could be your slim-down secret weapon.
Past research has found that protein keeps you feeling full longer than either carbs or fat, so you can eat less and still be satiated. A new study supports this idea: Researchers from the University of Sydney estimated that the extra calories eaten by participants in their study eating the lowest protein diets could add up to an extra 2.2 pounds of weight gain a month. Protein is the building block of muscle, and more calories are required to maintain muscle than to preserve fat, which means muscle helps boost your metabolism. Bonus: Foods rich in protein are also filled with zinc and B vitamins, both of which strengthen your immune system to ward off colds and flu.
If you’re eating about 1,800 calories a day and want to get 15% of your calories from protein, you should aim for about 68 grams of protein. Here are 3 easy protein switches that up your protein intake for the same number of calories or less. Remember, you want to eat more protein—not calories!—to keep your waistline slim.
Instead of…1/2 cup granola with 1 cup berries (7 grams protein, 250 calories) Try…1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese with 1 cup berries (15 grams protein, 131 calories)
Instead of…1 ¼ cup mashed potatoes (5 grams protein, 296 calories) Try…1¼ cup vegetarian baked beans (15 grams protein, 295 calories)
Instead of…6-inch pancake sans butter or syrup (5 grams protein, 175 calories) Try…1 cup low-fat plain yogurt with ½ cup apricots (13 grams protein, 186 calories)
3. Pop vitamin D to live longer
Have you had your dose of vitamin D today? A growing body of research shows that not getting enough of this nutrient can trigger a slew of health problems—and experts believe that most of us have a vitamin D deficiency. Though current guidelines call for 600 to 800 IU daily, many researchers now believe we may need up to 4,000 IU. The very latest research supports the case that the “sunshine vitamin” is a powerful health booster. In fact, people who get enough vitamin D have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in Diabetes Care. Experts speculate that the nutrient’s anti-inflammatory powers might be one way that it offers protection against the disease.
Getting enough D may also improve asthma. Earlier research found that having low levels may make asthma symptoms worse, and a new study finds that lacking in D could make breathing harder by increasing airway smooth muscle mass in children with treatment-resistant asthma, according to the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The “sunshine vitamin” may also help ward off cancer. A whopping 77% of cancer patients have low levels of vitamin D, and the lowest levels are linked to more advanced cancers, suggests a study presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology. More research is being done on how vitamin D might help prevent or even treat cancer.
4. Up your antioxidants with a new super fruit
The largest edible fruit native to North America, the pawpaw will grow pretty much anywhere, although it does best in the Northeast and the Midwest, says Ken Asmus, owner of Oikos Tree Crops, a Kalamazoo, Michigan–based nursery that sells pawpaw tree seedlings. Their fruit ripens around the end of August and lasts until mid-October. Some nutritionists and foodies think pawpaws could be the next superfood. They have 20 to 70 times as much iron, 10 times as much calcium, and 4 to 20 times as much magnesium as bananas, apples, and oranges, Asmus has found. And research from Ohio State has found that they have antioxidant levels that rival cranberries and cherries.
An added health bonus: Being a native tree, pawpaws are resistant to most pests and diseases, making them very easy to grow organically, without the insecticides or fungicides used in most fruit orchards. Just don’t look for them at the grocery store; you’re more likely to find a pawpaw at your local farmer’s market—if you aren’t already growing them in your backyard.
5. Rock out to exercise longer
Music fuels your workout—whether you’re lifting weights, practicing yoga, or going for a power walk. And it’s not just in your head. Researchers at Brunel University in London found that runners who listened to upbeat, energizing rock or pop music (like Queen, Madonna, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers) exercised up to 15% longer—and felt great while doing it.
6. Boost brain power with chocolate
Are you a chocoholic? Turns out your little addiction may save your life. A recent study found that those consuming the highest levels of chocolate had a 37% reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29% reduction in stroke compared to those with lower chocolate intakes. Though experts are quick to clarify that we should stick to moderate consumption of high-calorie chocolates, it’s hard to deny the cold, hard facts that chocolate can be a healthy addition to our diets. Another study finds that chocolate may also boost brainpower. Flavonols, compounds in chocolate with antioxidant-like properties, are thought to improve circulation, including blood flow to the brain. Study participants were asked to count backward in groups of three from a number between 800 and 999. After drinking hot cocoa filled with flavonols, the participants were able to do calculations more quickly and accurately and were less likely to feel tired or mentally drained. Get your chocolate fix with these Flat Belly Chocolate Desserts.
7. Soothe arthritis pain naturally
Pain, tenderness, and stiffness in your joints can keep you from doing the things you love. That may be the reality for people who suffer from osteoarthritis (OA). OA is the most common type of arthritis, occurs in women more often than men, and happens when the cartilage in your joints wears down as you age. Some natural remedies have been shown to be effective anti-inflammatories. Taking 500 mg twice daily of the combined herbal supplements curcumin and boswellia was better for relieving pain and lowering joint line tenderness scores than taking 100 mg twice daily of the prescription drug celecoxib, finds a clinical study presented at the Osteoarthritis Research Symposium Internationale (OARSI) in San Diego. According to the study, 93% of the herbal group reported improvement in or elimination of pain compared with just 79% of the prescription drug group. You can get the herbal combination in a supplement called Healthy Knees and Joints from the Terry Naturally product line, or at your local health food store.
8. Fight a cold with red wine
Need something to toast to? The resveratrol and polyphenols in red wine work the same way that beneficial bacteria in yogurt do: When cold and flu viruses enter you system, they start to multiply, and these compounds prevent that from happening. To get the most bang for your buck, grab a bottle of California pinot noir. Tests have found it to have some of the highest levels of resveratrol. Don’t drink? Eat some grape leaves or peanuts, the red inner husks of which are also high in resveratrol.
9. Break for lunch to avoid food poisoning
Noshing at your desk or in your cubicle may save you time and money during the workday, but it could also up your odds of getting food poisoning. As many as 83% of Americans take part in desktop dining, according to a new survey by the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods’ Home Food Safety program. Another study found the average desktop has 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table and 400 times more than the average toilet seat. One possible reason may be because you clean your toilet and kitchen more than you clean your workspace: Only 36% of respondents clean their work areas—desktop, keyboard, mouse—weekly, according to a recent survey.
To protect yourself from dangerous bacteria lurking in your workspace that could trigger a food-borne illness, meet a friend outside of the office for lunch or follow the same food-safety guidelines at your desk as you would in your kitchen. Wash your hands with warm soapy water before you reach into your desk drawer for even a snack, and be sure to keep moistened antibacterial wipes on hand to cleanse your desktop as well as your hands when you can’t make it to the restroom. CleanWell has a to-go line of portable disinfectants and wipes that uses botanicals to kill germs.
10. Fight cancer with spices
There may also be some potent ways to ward off illness inside your spice cabinet. Curcurmin is the antioxidant ingredient that gives turmeric (commonly used in Indian curries) its yellow color. The super ingredient has already been linked with preventing diabetes, protecting against Alzheimer’s, and easing arthritis pain—and a recent study show it also helps ward off tumors. Curcumin helped prevent the growth of tumors tied to colon cancer, according to a study in the journal Gastroenterology. “Our research found that curcumin was able to ignite the body’s own tumor suppression activity to keep a cancerous tumor from growing and spreading,” says Dr. Ajay Goel, PhD, director of epigenetics and cancer prevention at the Gastrointestinal Research Center at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. “Though we used colon cancer cells in this study, we suspect that this is one mechanism of action for cancer suppression in many other types of cancer as well.” (Get your healthy dose of spices with these easy Indian recipes.)
11. Find a buddy to shed pounds
Following a commercial group support weight loss program, like Weight Watchers, may increase your weight loss success rate over following doctor’s recommendations for weight loss, a new study found. According to the study, published in the journal The Lancet, people following the Weight Watchers weight loss program for a year lost twice as much weight as those following a doctor’s weight loss orders. While you shouldn’t automatically assume Weight Watchers is giving different or better diet advice than your doc, having access to weight loss buddies to help keep you on track and motivated is a big benefit of programs like Weight Watchers, according to Elizabeth Ward, a registered dietitian and author of MyPlate for Moms. When it comes to losing weight, “You can’t do this alone,” Ward says. “To go it alone for most people is really, really difficult.”
12. Boost your immunity with a massage
There is some science behind the idea of a healing touch. Studies done at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle found that a 45-minute massage brought on a major spike in lymphocytes, white blood cells that fight bacteria and viruses. It also decreased substances that cause inflammation and trigger allergies and asthma, and it lessened the production of a hormone that is linked with increasing stress levels. To find a trained massage therapist near you, check out the American Massage Therapy Association. Massage may not be covered by your insurance, even for medical reasons, but an affordable option is to find a teaching school near you. Relaxing massages can cost only $35 for 50 minutes, and students are under the guidance of a licensed massage therapist.
13. Pay cash to up your nutrition
Going green at the grocer’s—meaning paying with cash—can keep you from impulsively tossing high-cost, high-calorie snacks into your cart, according to a new study from the Journal of Consumer Research. That’s because you have more awareness of the money you’re spending when you pull bills out of wallet, compared with when you just swipe a credit card. Try breaking the credit card habit, and you could shrink your waistline and grow your bank account.
14. Put on a happy face for a longer life
Mona Lisa’s coy smirk isn’t the only smile worth a fortune. A megawatt grin from a loved one can produce the same brain waves as learning you won $40,000, according to researchers. What’s even more valuable? The longer life you may enjoy from wearing your own happy face. One study found that those who smiled the most lived an extra seven years, on average. So flex those facial muscles every chance you get.
15. Savor your meals to stay slim
The faster we eat, the more our waistlines may suffer. Fast eaters are likely to consume more calories and have higher BMIs. Slowing down when you eat can help you stay slim: A recent study found that people consumed about 12% fewer calories when they chewed each bite 40 times than when they chewed 15 times. Even if you don’t make it to 40, the more you chew, the more time your body has to register that it’s full. Also try taking a pause between bites to take a sip of water, appreciate the flavors of the food, or talk to your dining companion. Elissa Epel, PhD, a researcher on stress eating at the University of California, San Francisco, speculates that slowing down, savoring each bite, and paying attention to feelings of fullness may decrease the amount of food you eat.