It’s time for a reality check: You may already be doing all the things it takes to be healthy, but are you really as healthy as you can be?
When you stop to consider that half of all American adults have one or more chronic health conditions, according to the Center for Disease Control, it’s easy to see why there’s almost always room for improvement.
“Being aware of your habits — and rethinking those habits — can help you curb the worst of your behaviors,” explains Susan Blum, MD., assistant clinical professor of preventive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in New York City, and author of The Immune System Recovery Plan. Sometimes, it’s those small — yet consistent — changes that have the biggest bang for your buck.
If getting healthier seems like a mountain too hard to climb, we’ve broken it down into teeny tiny molehills too easy not to do. Here are 8 simple lifestyle tweaks that can boost your health, fitness, and energy.
1. Stand More
You may have read that sitting is the new smoking. Yeah, it’s pretty bad according to research, which estimates the average person spends more than half of their waking hours with bum in chair.
“But I exercise,” you may be thinking. Well, sorry, but you’re not off the hook. A report published in Annals of Internal Medicine finds that exercising — even up to an hour a day — does not undo the negative health effects of sitting.
Another study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that for every single hour spent sitting watching TV after age 25, your life expectancy is reduced by 21.8 minutes. Time to rethink binge watching? Probably not a bad idea.
While it might not be realistic to quit your (desk) job, you can do things like getting a standing workstation, and mixing in frequent, short sessions of light physical activity (e.g., walking) throughout the day. The American Counsel on Exercise suggests taking breaks every 30 to 60 minutes.
2. Squeeze in Exercise Where You Can
Whether it’s the grocery store or your office building, deliberately park on the far side of the entrance and you’ll find yourself fitting in more steps, and more calorie-burning, heart-bettering movement into your day. And, once you’re in the building, take the stairs rather than the elevator.
Even when you’re watching TV at home you can designate commercials a mental cue to get off your butt and fit in a few minutes (usually just 90–120 seconds) of squats, push-ups, or jumping jacks. This will not only help add to your total minutes of exercise each day, but will also help you make better food choices during your TV watching. It’s harder to eat the rest of that bag of chips when you’re doing sit-ups
3. Down Some Joe
There was a time when coffee had a bad reputation; it was reportedly unhealthy and stunted your growth. But there’s emerging research pointing to a bevy of health benefits. According to scientists from Vanderbilt University’s Institute for Coffee Studies, coffee has antioxidant-like properties. (If you’re caffeine-averse, no worries: Studies show benefits extend to decaf, as well.)
And here’s some really great news for those who want to boost their exercise performance with coffee: Studies show that caffeine can help you train longer and harder. So, a cup of coffee on the way to the gym? Not a bad way to get started. The FDA suggests healthy adults limit their intake to 400 mg per day (which is equivalent to about four or five cups of coffee).
One downside to coffee? Adding cream and sugar can rack up the calories fast. Cut back without giving your taste buds a shock by gradually decreasing the sweet stuff. Add half a packet of sugar instead of the entire thing. The following week, skip it altogether. Instead of cream, try whole milk then switch to skim. You’ll let your taste buds slowly adjust to the healthier cup of Joe.
4. Make Your Tea Green
Not a coffee drinker? Tea is also a healthy beverage, containing health-promoting substances such as polyphenols, catechins and epicatechins which research suggests have antioxidant-like properties.
If you’re already drinking this healthy beverage, might as well make it green. Why? Although all teas – green, black, white, oolong – have health benefits, green is king. “Hot or iced, it’s an excellent way to hydrate and boost anti-oxidant intake,” says registered dietitian and exercise physiologist Samantha Heller. But beware of the pre-sweetened teas, which are very high in sugar content, she warns.
All teas come from leaves of the same plant, Camellia sinensis. The difference is in the way the leaves are processed, which accounts for the difference in health benefits. In green tea, the leaves are wilted and steamed, processed immediately after picking, which accounts for the difference in the final photochemical balance, and gives green tea its health-boosting catechins.
To boost your tea’s benefits, use water that is near-boiling, and let the leaves steep for about 2–3 minutes — leaving them longer will release tannins and make the tea bitter.
5. Drink All The Water
Most of us don’t drink the daily recommended amount of water each day. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. adults drank an average of 39 ounces of water a day; a far cry from eight 8-oz. cups often recommended by health professionals.
Dehydration can make us irritable, tired, and masquerade as hunger nudging us to eat that 3pm oversized muffin instead of just downing some H20. Keep yourself hydrated and on track for your health goals by getting a 32-oz. water bottle and plan on finishing one by midday and another before bed.
6. Time Your Pre-Workout Food Right
If you’re going to workout, you might as well get the most out of it. Fueling your workout with food can help, and choosing the right food and timing are key. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, you’re better off eating one to three hours before your workout, so that your stomach and muscles don’t compete for energy.
Of course, everyone is different, so you might have to play with the time frame to see what works best for you. “I recommend eating [at least] an hour before your workout,” says New Jersey-based registered dietitian Amy Gorin. “The snack should have a combo of carbs and protein — the protein provides your body with amino acids [the building blocks of muscle], and the carbs will help you power you through your workout.”
Some good choices include a peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat; Greek yogurt with fresh berries; an apple spread with almond or peanut butter; and a handful of nuts and raisins.
7. Learn to Control Your Food Portions
It’s all too easy to shove a burger in our mouths when we’re rushed, tired or stressed. An easy way to prevent overeating is to pre-plan out your portion-controlled meals and snacks for the week or day ahead.
Another, even easier trick, is to downsize your dishes. “Using smaller plates can cut down on your total caloric consumption,” explains Anderson. Research has found that larger plates lead people to serve themselves more, eat more, and waste more food.
8. Get More Zzzz’s
Here’s one health to-do that’s easy to get on board with even when you’re feeling lazy: get more shuteye. “The very first place to start is a good night’s sleep,” says Jarrod Spencer, Psy.D., sports psychologist at Mind of the Athlete in Bethlehem, PA. Getting enough sleep impacts everything from your mood and mental clarity to your ability to lose weight, keep from getting sick, and have the energy to fit in your workout. Aim for 8 hours if you can.