Hit Refresh: 7 Small Healthy Changes with Big Payoff

By: Shaun Dreisbach  |  January/February 2017
7 things you can do now—as in right now—to boost your health and well-being
3 Easy Tips to Cut Added Sugar From Your Diet
We are, after all, a culture that expects results at the pace of a Google search. We like instant. And while it may not be possible to wake up tomorrow 10 pounds lighter or with an insatiable love of salads, there are a lot of smaller changes you can make that deliver an immediate healthy payoff—the kind that will encourage you to make another small change, and another, and, well, you get the idea. Here are 7 small changes that can have a really big payoff when it comes to your health.
Related: 13 Ways to Lose Weight for Good

1. Shop smarter at the market

On a mission to eat more whole foods? Here's a genius trick to make that happen: every time you go to the grocery store, divide your shopping cart in half and put produce in the front (fresh, frozen, whatever) and everything else at the other end. "Research shows that taking a moment to think about what you're putting in your cart is a very powerful tool," says Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of Cornell Univer­sity's Food and Brand Lab and author of Slim by Design. "In our study, people took 35 percent more fruits and vegetables than they otherwise would and fewer not-as-healthy foods." It's key to have an actual dividing line—like your reusable shopping bags, purse or coat—as a visual reminder.

2. Meditate every morning

You don't have to Om or even try to empty your mind—which is pretty much impossible, unless you're a monk on a remote mountaintop. Just sit in a comfy position with your eyes closed and let your thoughts wander. Research shows this method of mindful meditation can leave you feeling calmer, more focused and refreshed, says Susan Albers, Psy.D., a psychologist and mindful-­eating expert and author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food. There's no ideal dose—for some as few as 5 minutes can help—so meditate for as long (or short) as it takes you to feel better. But ­doing it first thing means that relaxed, positive vibe is likely to carry with you, no matter what craziness life throws your way.

3. Pick up a new pillow

You know what a big deal a good night's rest is for your health, right? You'll lower your risk for a host of health issues, including obesity, diabetes, depression and high blood pressure. "One of the biggest reasons people don't get the quality sleep they need is they're tossing and turning all night trying to get comfortable—and usually that's due to lack of proper support," says sleep expert ­Michael Breus, Ph.D., of thesleepdoctor.com. "Pillows lose their supportiveness after about a year—but no one ever replaces them that often." (For the record, he says mattresses should be replaced for a more supportive model about every seven years.) So make the mini investment, and snooze better starting tonight.

4. Tap your toes

Boost your health by (no joke) tapping your toes. You've heard of "sitting disease," and how our desk-bound days can be bad for our health. Well, researchers at the University of Missouri recently discovered that simply fidgeting can reduce the arterial damage that happens from spending too much time on your derrière. In the study, healthy men and women were asked to intermittently tap one foot, while keeping the other one still. After three hours, they compared the blood flow in each leg and found that the fidgeting one showed improved vascular function, while the stationary leg was worse off. Other recent research found fidgeting mitigated the increased risk of death from sitting too much. Of course, actual exercise is still better at keeping you healthy, but considering that the average person sits 15 hours a day, a little fidgeting could have very real benefits as well.

5. Brighten It Up

People who eat in well-lit spaces consume about 39 percent fewer calories—and make healthier food choices—than those who dine under dim lighting, says recent research. Why? Bright spaces make us feel more alert, so we nosh more mindfully. In fact, participants who skipped the candles at mealtime ate more slowly, enjoyed their food more and, yes, ate 373 fewer calories.

6. Plan a garden & dig in

Growing your own vegetables and fruits not only makes you more likely to actually eat them—because of the care you put into nurturing them along, and the fact that all you have to do is pop out the door to pick them—but it's also restorative. Studies show getting your hands dirty can lower stress and heart disease risk, improve attention span and mental sharpness and make you happier. Simply looking at images of outdoor spaces helps, too—which means the benefits will kick in the moment you start creating that gardening Pinterest board.

7. Break your sugar habit

"Most people know they need to cut back, but when they do, they often cut out things like desserts or sweetened beverages—and it winds up backfiring because it feels too much like a punishing diet. It's too hard to sustain," says David Katz, M.D., director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. Instead, try what he calls Taste Bud Rehab: "Sugar shows up in all sorts of foods that have no business being sweet in the first place, like crackers and high-fiber cereals. There are marinara sauces that literally have more added sugar than hot fudge ice cream topping. Over time, this higher level of sweetness corrupts your palate. But you can undo all that! Compare food labels and choose lower-sugar versions of those foods." And really read. Most people think they're good at scoping out labels, but research shows that only 1 percent pay attention to things like added sugar. Adds Katz: "You will notice the difference with the lower-sugar products, but within a week or so your taste buds will readjust and you'll prefer things less sweet. You may find that really sugary things, like desserts and soda, now taste too cloying—which will make cutting back even easier."

Video: 3 Easy Tips to Cut Added Sugar From Your Diet

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