Sane and practical advice for living your best life
Every day, you’re faced with dozens of directives from doctors, health experts, and well-meaning family members: exercise 30 minutes a day, eat fish twice a week, floss every night. But it’s just not possible to do everything perfectly. You can’t cut corners on some things, such as quitting smoking or giving up trans fats, but other health mandates offer wiggle room for sane shortcuts. Want real-life advice for healthy living? Here are a dozen easier ways to do good-for-you things:
1. Eat breakfast. Ideally, you’d like to have protein, complex carbs, and healthy fat, with about a third of your daily caloric intakes. Studies show that people who eat regular breakfasts maintain their weight and have a lower risk of diabetes.
Sane shortcuts: Breakfast bars are a tempting shortcut, but many of them have too much sugar, too many calories, not enough fiber, and very little protein. Read labels carefully. Other ideas:
- Keep a supply of boiled eggs in the refrigerator for quick breakfasts.
- Combine whey protein, milk of your choice, and fruit in a blender the night before, so all you have to do in the morning is grab it and go.
- Spread almond butter on a whole-grain toaster waffle.
- Try an apple with a few cubes of cheese or a packet of salmon.
2 Boost cardiovascular health with daily activity. About 30 minutes of vigorous activity every day—or even most days—can improve cardiovascular health, reduce LDL cholesterol, and normalize weight.
Sane shortcuts: If a 30-minute run seems out of your reach, break it up into manage-able bursts of intense activity—anything that gets your heart beating faster.
- Park several blocks away from your office and sprint to work.
- Use a bike for transportation whenever distance and weather allow.
- Stow a jump rope in your car, office drawer, briefcase, or backpack, and jump rope on your lunch hour.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
3 Get at least 8 hours of sleep. Less than that, and you’ll increase your risk of high blood pressure and weight gain; other studies show skimping on sleep is linked to a lowered immune system.
Sane shortcuts: Make sure your bedroom is the ideal sleep environment—quiet, dark, comfortable—and follow good sleep hygiene: avoid caffeine in the late afternoon, don’t watch scary movies, and follow a calming pre-bed ritual. Other ideas:
- Take an afternoon siesta.
- One study showed that nappers lowered their risk of heart disease, so grab a 20-minute snooze after lunch or work.
- Try NADH: 20 mg can boost mental alertness and concentration, and help you perform better on mental tasks when you’re sleep deprived.
- Close your eyes and do deep-breathing exercises for 10 minutes to temporarily refresh your mind.
4 Meditate. A number of studies show that a daily meditation practice lowers blood pressure and reduces stress.
Sane shortcuts: The idea behind meditation is to calm the nervous system, slow your heart rate, and lower stress. Close your eyes, listen to your breath, and repeat the word “calm” or “relax.” If spending 30 minutes cross-legged on a cushion is unthinkable: Get comfortable (you don’t have to sit on the floor). Choose a comfortable chair that keeps your spine erect, but not so comfortable that you’ll doze off. Start with short—no more than 10 minutes—sessions to establish the habit.
- If your mornings are rushed, try meditating at lunch or right before bed.
- Do mini meditations throughout the day. Set an alarm for 2-hour intervals, and check in for 2 minutes with your breathing.
- Invest in a set of meditation CDs to guide you.
5 Eat 5—9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. They’re rich in fiber and disease-preventive antioxidants, and they help protect you from heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and many other illnesses.
Sane shortcuts: Fresh, seasonal, organic produce is the ideal, but that’s a tall order for many Americans. Other options:
- Stock your freezer with a variety of frozen vegetables for side dishes.
- Purée a handful of baby spinach leaves, frozen blackberries, and half an avocado into smoothies.
- Buy bags of precut vegetables and add to chopped romaine lettuce for fast salads
- . Keep cucumber slices, strips of red peppers, and celery and carrot sticks in the fridge for fast snacks.
6 Eat fish twice a week. Fatty varieties—such as salmon, sardines, and tuna—are rich in omega-3s that protect against heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and inflammation.
Sane shortcuts: Flaxseed, walnuts, and a few other plant foods are also rich in omega-3 fats, but in a form that must be converted by the body, so they’re not your best source. Fishy ideas:
- Swap salmon for white fish or shrimp in many recipes.
- Sardines are cheaper than salmon and lower in toxins than tuna.
- Swap boneless, skinless sardines for tuna in salads.
- Take omega-3 supplements that contain DHA and EPA, and look for brands that also include vitamin E, rosemary, or another antioxidant to keep them fresh.
7 Always wear sunscreen. One recent study found that using sunscreen on a daily basis reduced the risk of melanoma, the most dangerous kind of skin cancer.
Sane shortcuts: The idea is to reduce cancer risk and protect against aging and skin damage. But wearing sunscreen inhibits the skin’s production of vitamin D, and the American Medical Association recommends 10 minutes of direct sun exposure several times a week. Some ideas:
- Use a foundation or moisturizer with built-in sunscreen.
- Carry a lightweight jacket, wear a big-brimmed hat, and seek out shade.
- Choose safe sunscreens, and avoid toxic ingredients.
- The Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) has a complete list of the safest choices.
- Drink green tea. It contains antioxidants that protect against damaging ultraviolet rays.
8 Eat 20—35 grams of fiber daily. Soluble and insoluble fiber are linked with a decreased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Sane shortcuts: Don’t count on grains. Calorie-for-calorie, beans, vegetables, and even some fruits are better bets. Other ways to get more fiber:
- Eat more beans. Most contain half of your daily fiber needs.
- Serve broccoli spears with dipping sauce for a fast alternative to salad. You’ll get 6 grams of fiber—and only 50 calories—per cup.
- Top salads with a cup of raspberries, for 9 grams of fiber and only 68 calories.
- Take a daily dose of ground psyllium fiber to promote regularity, or add ground flax to salad dressings and smoothies.
9 Brush after every meal, and floss daily. Besides preventing cavities, good oral hygiene protects against disease. In one study, people with periodontal disease were almost twice as likely to have heart disease.
Sane shortcuts: Brush after at least two meals when you’re eating at home, and tote a toothbrush when you’re out. If brushing is out of the question:
- Use a toothpick to dislodge food particles, and rinse with water.
- Chew xylitol gum after meals. It increases saliva production to wash away bits of food, and xylitol protects against cavities
- . Make flossing easier with individual flossers. Or invest in an electric toothbrush with sonic waves to blast plaque.
10 Lift weights. Pumping iron encourages bone density and lowers body fat, which increases metabolism and lowers heart disease risk.
Sane shortcuts: Get a personal trainer to show you the ropes. Even one session will give you the tools and know-how to stick to a regular regimen. If you can’t lift weights at the gym:
- Practice squats, lunges, or pushups. They use your body weight as the resistance.
- Invest in a set of graduated weights, and lift for 15 minutes most days of the week.
- Any exercise that requires your body to work against gravity also boosts bone. Follow a bone-healthy diet, which includes calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and other nutrients.
11 Stay hydrated. Try to drink at least eight glasses of water per day. It helps maintain blood pressure, promotes bowel regularity, and may prevent heart disease.
Sane shortcuts: Eight-a-day has long been the standard recommendation, but it depends on your size, level of activity, and overall diet (coffee, for example, acts as a diuretic, increasing your body’s need for water). How to hydrate:
- Drink a glass of water each time you go to the bathroom.
- Keep a jug or pitcher of water on your desk. You’ll drink more if it’s convenient.
- Drink from a straw. You’ll automatically drink more.
- Use a hand sanitizer gel or wipe; look for natural versions with essential oils and aloe
- To avoid chemicals and prevent dry, chapped hands, choose natural sanitizers with antibacterial essential oils and aloe vera.
- Avoid touching your eyes or nose. Delicate membranes in both can transfer pathogens into the body.
- Strengthen your immune system with probiotics, vitamin D, and herbs such as ashwagandha.