25 Healthy Changes You Can Make Today

by Andrea Karim on 24 May 2011 13 comments

Sometimes, it's the little things that make the biggest impact on our lives. Whether you want to lose weight or feel more energetic, you don't have to go on a drastic diet or guzzle vitamin drinks. Just make some small adjustments to your daily regimen and see how your life is transformed. (See also: 25 Frugal Changes You Can Make Today)

1. Walk More

Photo by Gustavo Veríssimo.

Getting more exercise is tough for many of us, but walking is your first step to being healthier. Walking offers some of the cheapest, lowest-impact exercise. The hardest part is motivating yourself, so try to find something that helps you move. Can you walk to and from the store? How about walking for the sake of practicing photography? Does music help you keep moving? Is it easier to walk through a park or around the city? Find whatever works for you, and start strolling. Or, if walking isn't your style, find another form of fitness that works for you.

2. Eat Slower/Less

Photo by Ernesto Andrade.

How many of us sit in front of various screens (computer, television, iPad) and scarf our food down mindlessly? Eating slowly, concentrating on your food, and savoring each bite will help you eat more slowly, which helps you feel full on less food. Mindful eating might sound like some sort of hippie-dippy practice, but it's actually something that anyone can benefit from. If you can spare 20 minutes for each meal of the day, chew your food carefully and slowly, and put your fork down in between bites, you will find yourself feeling better, less full, and more energized in a few days.

3. Drink More Water

Photo by Jeremy Keith.

The news media is always blabbing on about how no one drinks enough water. If this were really true, we'd all be dying of dehydration. But it is worth checking to see if you are getting enough clean water to drink. A quick test — the pee test! Is your urine almost as clear as water? No? Then you're not drinking enough water.

4. Drink Less Alcohol

Photo by Mecookie.

But wine is so good for you, right? Well, yes and no. Wine does help thin the blood and is good for your heart health, but wine contains sugars that, if not burned off, can fatten your liver. And having a fatty liver can contribute to all kinds of alcohol-related health problems. There are a number of other problems associated with drinking booze, including poor sleep habits, dehydration, memory loss, and of course, one-night stands with horrifically ugly people.

5. Drink More Wine

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik.

Wait, didn't I just say to not drink wine? Yes, I did, but I'm going to contradict myself. We've all heard over the years about wine's health benefits and how moderate consumption of wine can reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Combine a daily glass of wine with a brisk, hour-long walk (see #1), and you should be able to burn off the calories in the wine.

6. Meditate/Breathe Deeply

Photo by vicki watkins.

Taking a short break twice a day to concentrate your mind on a single subject (while breathing slowly and deeply) can help reduce stress and anxiety and lower your blood pressure. You don't have to chant if it makes you feel uncomfortable; in fact, the actual "spiritual" mantras don't have any effect on the effectiveness of meditation.

Doctors at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City have run trials for pre-surgery cardiovascular patients in which patients received guided meditation and yoga instruction, among other New Age-y sounding benefits. Patients who used meditation tapes pre-surgery recovered faster than patients who opted not to use any of the relaxation techniques, whether or not the tapes contained "real" mantras (some contained relaxing-sounding gibberish).

If meditation can help patients who need open-heart surgery, imagine what it can do for you.

7. Stretch Your Muscles

Photo by David Spinks.

How many of us have careers that allow us to move all day? Probably not many. Most of us sit in front of a computer with the posture of a jumbo shrimp. If you slump in front of a PC (or a Mac, I won't discriminate) for the better part of your waking hours, try getting up every hour and performing some simple stretches. You don't even have to get out of your chair if you don't want to.

Stretching doesn't just increase range of motion, it actually acts like low-impact strength training for your muscles. Stretching can increase blood flow and energize an office-bound body. Stretching doesn't have to be dramatic or particularly athletic, it just has to be consistent. So set a timer on your computer and do a little stretch once an hour, concentrating on different muscle groups (neck, arms, back, legs) until your whole body is lightly worked.

8. Spend 10 Minutes Outside

Photo by Office Now.

Although you're probably not suffering from rickets, assuming you enjoy being outside, spending time there is a good way to get a boost of vitamin D and some fresh air — if you can find some fresh air where you live. Vitamin D deficiency, which is chronic in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, can increase the risk of many chronic conditions and illnesses. If you can rectify this by standing outside for a few minutes a day and absorbing a bit of sunlight, why not do it? Standing outside is (so far) free.

9. Cut Back on Caffeine

Photo by D'Arcy Norman.

Unless you are experiencing negative side effects from caffeine, it's not something that necessarily has to be eliminated from your day completely. But what if you are? If you're taking in too much caffeine during the day, you may find yourself jittery and nervous, or experiencing problems with indigestion or severe heartburn. Caffeine is a funny kind of drug — it's probably the only socially acceptable addiction, and there are many ways to get your daily fix. If you do consume caffeine on a regular basis, try getting it from drinks that are not highly processed. Choose coffee over Mountain Dew, for instance. Coffee is much lower in calories, and coffee also has antioxidant properties that make it an attractive drink.

10. Drink a Cup of Tea

Photo by Renato Ganoza.

Drinking a cup of tea is healthy and a smart way to get the aforementioned caffeine fix. Tea can help lower blood sugar, increase metabolism, and offer a nice excuse to socialize. Stick to decaf tea if you want to drink it later in the day, but caffeinated is perfectly fine for morning. If you don't particularly like tea, it's possible that you are brewing it wrong. Green tea needs to be brewed at a much lower temperature than black tea, for instance.

11. Sleep More

Photo by Umberto Salvagnin.

Sleep deprivation makes you fat. Seriously. When your body is low on energy, it will burn less energy than it usually does and hang onto calories that you don't need. Chronic sleep deprivation can increase the risk of developing Type II diabetes.

In a culture that never seems to unplug, and where bragging about lack of sleep is almost a hobby, getting enough rest to recharge your body may seem impossible. But remember, there is really nothing glamorous about being overworked and miserable, no matter what your buddies in investment banking may tell you. Sleep is incredibly important to your health.

There may be any number of reasons why you aren't getting enough sleep, from bad sleeping habits to working overtime to stress or sleep apnea. If there is one single thing that you can do to improve your health today, getting more sleep should take priority.

12. Watch Less TV

Photo by dullhunk.

Watching less television may be the key to getting more sleep if you are suffering from lack of Zs. Do you find yourself gazing glassy-eyed at the local news at 11 p.m., as dingbat reporters try to find some sort of local connection between a horrible world event and the area you live in? It's time to cut back on television. After all, you can get your news from the radio or the internet. Do you stay up late, trying to cram all your TiVo'd episodes of "The Amazing Race" into a single evening? Consider choosing one of two television shows to concentrate on, then skip the rest. Trust me, your life won't be any less rich if you miss a season or two (or the entire span) of "The Apprentice."

13. Laugh Your Ass Off

Photo by Phil Scoville.

The benefits of laughter are probably obvious to anyone who has ever had a laughing fit, the kind where you feel like you might burst or pee. Laughter reduces stress, and the best part? It's easy to come by. Rent whatever kind of silly movie makes you guffaw. Spend time with people who have you rolling in the aisles. Make a point of attending stand-up comedy nights. You don't have to be an all-around mirthful person (although it wouldn't hurt), because even grumps can benefit from a couple of hours of medicinal giggling.

14. Quit Smoking

Photo by Curran Kelleher.

Do we really need any details on this one? Everyone knows how terrible smoking is for you. Just stop it. It's gross.

15. Eat One (More) Serving of Fruit

Photo by the Italian voice.

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How awesome is fruit? Seriously, think about your favorite fruit and how much you enjoy it. What is it? Pineapple? Bananas? Blueberries? Tomatoes? Peaches? Now give yourself the gift of eating a single serving of that fruit, fresh or frozen (but not canned) once a day. You get fiber, nutrients, and a happy mouth. Some fruits, like peaches, are only in season for a short while, so buy them frozen at Trader Joe's or Costco and throw them into a protein shake in the morning. Or cook them with some white wine and chilies and put on top of baked fish. Find a way to incorporate your favorite fruit into your day. It's a treat AND a healthy choice.

16. Exercise Your Brain

Photo by Jay Bergesen.

We don't really know if doing small brain exercises, like crossword puzzles or Sudoku, can really help stave off dementia in old age. But small brain teasers that can be performed during, say, your lunch hour, are a good way to help increase your memory capacity. Puzzles and quizzes are also a good way to pass idle time when waiting in line or on public transit. You can zone out while still engaging your brain. Don't feel like working on a puzzle? Try keeping a journal. Even if you simply write down the most mundane things that have happened to you at the end of the day, being forced to remember what happened since you got out of bed every morning is a good mental exercise, and it can help to recap your day right before bed.

17. Smile More

Photo by amrufm.

It can be hard to smile when you don't feel happy, but conjuring up happy thoughts and really putting on a (sincerely) happy face can better your mood and the moods of those around you. Facial feedback hypothesis indicates that doing away with your scowl, at the very least, can have real positive effects on your emotions.

18. Take Your Fish Oil

Photo by Stephen Cummings.

Look, it's not my favorite supplement, either. The pills are big, and I always end up burping a gross, fishy scent for a couple of hours. But fish oil may fight depression and anxiety, and maybe help stave off cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's. Unless you are allergic to fish, there's really no reason not to take it. Other than the fishy burps, and that's not a good enough reason.

19. Take a Hot Bath

Photo by elly jonez.

Taking a warm bath might not be the greenest way to relax, but a hot bath can help lower your blood sugar, relax aching muscles, and help you sleep better. It's not something that should be done every single day, but after a long walk in the park or on a cold evening in the winter, a good, long soak in the tub can be just what the doctor ordered.

20. Make Love, Not War

Photo by Jean Koulev.

Seriously, having sex is not just awesomely fun, sex is good for you. Oh, yes, there are risks, so take your precautions and don't do anything stupid. But if you have a partner who you trust and who trusts you, seriously, get it on. Regularly. If you have a choice between arguing about whose turn it is to do the laundry and having hot monkey sex with your significant other, which one appeals more?

Please say "hot monkey sex."

21. Floss Your Teeth

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt.

Sure, flossing is significantly less interesting than having regular, rewarding sex, but it can help with your sex life by preventing gum disease AND tooth decay, because no one wants to make sweet, stress-relieving love to someone with a mouth full of rotting teeth. Yes, flossing is incredibly boring. But it's also very easy, and inexpensive, and good for you. So do it.

22. Adopt a Pet

My dog after face-planting in a puddle, during a walk in the park.

Photo by Andrea Karim.

Assuming you have the financial capacity and living situation that makes this viable, having a pet can be a wonderful experience. You'll need to choose the right kind of pet (fish aren't good for cuddling, many lizards are difficult to walk in a leash, horses make lousy apartment dwellers) and do all of your research into diet and other needs before adopting. Look first for animals at shelters that need homes, rather than to for-profit pet stores or illicit breeders. Animals offer companionship and a hefty dose of regular unintentional hilarity (see photo above for example — that is my dog doing his best to look dignified after falling face-first into a mud puddle).

Dogs are great socializers, and the regular walks that they require will force you to get outside and walk more (which satisfies #1 and #8). Cats may not get you outside much, but they offer comfort and warmth and force you to replace your window treatments once every five years or so.

23. Get a Massage

 

Photo by o5com.

It can be hard to believe that something as indulgent as massage therapy can really have health benefits, but massage is great for your health. From increasing circulation and flexibility to easing muscle aches and pinched nerves to improving brain wave activity, massage combines good feeling with healthy living. Massage can also be expensive, so seek out daily coupon email deals, massage schools, willing friends, and subscription packages from lower-priced massage centers like Massage Envy.

24. Plant a Garden

Photo by Ajith Kumar.

Gardening is a wonderful activity that allows you to spend hours outside, playing in the dirt. Think of it as childhood revisited. But unlike childhood, when playing in the dirt merely meant getting dirty, gardening as an adult can offer a bounty of rewards, from fresh flowers to fruits, vegetables, and herbs that will improve your diet and impress your friends.

Even if you don't have a yard, container gardening can offer plenty in the way of fresh tomatoes and enviable basil yields. Just find a sunny spot in your condo and tend your pots regularly. Dry, pickle, or preserve whatever you can't finish during the growing season, and keep the excitement of homegrown goodness year-round.

25. Take a Fiber Supplement

Photo by Nathan Jones.

If you already eat the recommended daily serving of fruits and vegetables, getting more fiber might not be necessary. But if you eat a typical American diet, you're probably a bit low on fiber at the moment. Although taking fiber won't replace eating well, it can help even the dietetically challenged by making you feel fuller and by giving your colon a good ol' cleansing. You don't need to take anything special, just have a glass of water with some Metamucil or Benefiber in the morning before breakfast and again before dinner. If you want something that feels more like a treat, you can try some of those fiber gummy bears (they really are delicious).

Fiber can help lower cholesterol and fight heart disease, as well, in addition to keeping you...you know, regular.

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Guest's picture
Guest

Borage oil can be substituted for fish oil. Look for 'vegetarian' formula EFA supplements.

Guest's picture
Guest

Aww, what happened to your dog in #22!? Did you *throw* him into the mud puddle. :) So cute.

Andrea Karim's picture

It sort of looks like it, doesn't it? I honestly don't know how he did it. He face planted in a mud puddle, but I only saw him once he came up to me and gave me a plaintive "WHY?" look, as though I had caused him to trip.

He's special.

Guest's picture
Shannyn

It's so funny- I adopted a pug and he's helped me walk more, get more time outside- but most of all, he's helped me smile and laugh more. I find I'm just happier in general...he makes other people smile as we gallivant around the neighborhood. When I'm happier, I eat better and when I eat better I feel better.

I think everyone could use to pick up a few of these tips!

Andrea Karim's picture

I LOVE pugs! Those are the cutest little guys ever.

Guest's picture

Wow! These are wonderful tips Andrea! I’ll surely give a try to the ones which I haven’t yet.

I’m particularly surprised with #11. I never know that sleep deprivation could make you fat. I used to believe it otherwise. Now that I’m enlightened, I’ll probably invest more in making up for my usual lack of sleep. And oh, the kittie’s cute. =)

Looking forward to more of your posts!

Guest's picture
Guest

Thanks for writing this! It's a good reminder for me to get my butt off the chair and do some of this stuff.

Guest's picture
satish

Good article about simple things that can make a meaningful impact to your health. Even following a few tips from this article can make a big difference to your waistline and general mood.

Guest's picture
PurchaseWisely

Great post - thanks!

If you don't like the fishy aftereffects of fish oil, you can get the "odorless" type at Trader Joe's, the downside is that it is a bit more expensive - and we are on a frugal website, right? A less expensive and vegetarian alternative to get your omegas is flaxseed oil - right next to the fish oil at Trader Joe's and about three dollars less per bottle with no fishy effects! Or, if you can eat enough of them, buy whole flaxseeds in the bulk sections (Henry's/Sprouts are surprisingly cheap, and SmartCo is beginning to carry bulk items, too). Just make sure to grind them before using, otherwise they are difficult to digest. I like to sprinkle about 3T in my whole wheat bread dough for a little extra boost to an already very healthy loaf.

Guest's picture
amy saves

yea, drinking more water is good. I keep a glass by my desk and refill through out the day. this forces me to get up and move every 30-40 minutes.

Kentin Waits's picture

I love this article! I especially like (and always try to live by) "laugh your ass off". Thanks for the tips!

Guest's picture
Betty

Great article. Please bump #14 up to #1. Quitting smoking is the number one thing you can do to improve your health! I do all of the above except for the fish oil.

Guest's picture
Tera

Love this list, especially the pictures!