5 Easy Things You Can Do in 5 Minutes Total for a Healthier Day, According to Doctors

Even if you have a wildy busy schedule, chances are you have time to take five.

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Talk about music to our ears: You need not totally hijack your schedule to lead a healthier life, three doctors we spoke to confirm. While some health habits require a major time commitment—say, training for a marathon or cooking every meal from scratch—it's absolutely possible to make a real difference in your well-being in just five minutes.

Take five and you can change the trajectory of your day and even start a new, sustainable habit. Unlike lofty and strict resolutions like "I'll never eat chocolate again!" or "I'm permanently going keto," these realistic wellness-boosting strategies are ones you can truly stick with for a lifetime. (ICYMI, here are the 10 best health resolutions you can make, according to a dietitian .)

But don't beat yourself up if it takes some time to cement these into your schedule, advises Lori Stiefel, M.D., medical director at UPMC Shadyside Family Health Center in Pittsburgh.

"Any new routine takes time, so take one step at a time. Choose one new healthy habit first. Slowly work on that, find a partner to keep you accountable if you can and wait until the new healthy habit becomes a true habit before you choose to add or start another new healthy habit," Stiefel says.

And above all, get honest with yourself, she says: "Do not set a goal that you are not sure you can keep. Start with obtainable goals. It is important to keep your promises to yourself." In our success-driven society, not sticking with a goal can feel like a failure. (And who wants that?!)

If, or more likely when, you do miss a day of your five-minute health habit, reframe this as part of the process.

"Expect to have setbacks before your new healthy habit becomes routine. It is important to learn from your disrupted plans and take time for yourself and your new routine. Find time to work around those barriers as they happen," Stiefel says. Her advice is to pick right back up where you left off the next day.

Woman reading book on sofa
Getty Images / Jessica Peterson

5 Easy Things You Can Do in 5 Minutes Total for a Healthier Day, According to Doctors

As you consider little ways you can tweak your day so you can lead a stronger, longer life, consider one or all of these five doctor-recommended strategies. (Psst … you'll notice a lot of synchronicity between these ideas and three healthy habits that can boost your mood, according to research!)

1. Take Meditation Breaks

While you might immediately think of diet and exercise as health goal areas, remember that not all healthy habits are physical.

"Maintaining a strong sense of mental health is also important to staying healthy. Everyone needs some time to unwind and de-stress from all the daily life requirements," says Nicholas Pantaleo, M.D., a family medicine physician and internal medicine department chair at Westmed Medical Group in Yonkers, New York.

Monaa Zafar, M.D., an internal medicine physician at Westmed Medical Group in Purchase, New York, sets alarms on her phone to remind herself to meditate for 60 seconds several times per day.

"This helps me stay calm, relieve stress and to keep my mental health in check," Zafar says, even amidst her hectic schedule and pressure-packed job. "Meditating helps me unwind and relieves daily stress."

Choose five slots in your schedule, perhaps midmorning, at lunch time, midafternoon, to wrap up your workday and just before bed, to set a cheerful-toned alarm with the message "meditation break." While your phone is open to turn off the alarm, flip on a timer for 60 seconds and just breathe. (Or walk, that counts, too!)

2. Fill Your Water Bottle

Not only does water combat thirst and help your heart, skin, joints and brain function well, but it also aids the body in the process of eliminating toxins and prevents bad breath. (In case you need more convincing, study up on all of the health benefits of water.)

"Since water is your body's principal chemical component and makes up about 50% to 70% of your weight, your body depends on water to survive. Every cell, tissue and organ needs water to work properly," Stiefel says.

This health habit is a speedy one, but just like with meditation, you'll need to do it a few times over the course of a day. Take 30 seconds five times per day, starting right when you wake up, to refill a 20-plus-ounce water bottle (we love this 32-oz. Hydro Flask, buy it: HydroFlask.com, $34, orig. $45), and by day's end, you will have surpassed your recommended daily water quota.

"Staying well-hydrated is an important part of overall health. With our busy personal and work lives, sometimes we can go hours without hydrating. Try keeping a reusable water bottle by your work station or somewhere visible in your home to remind you to take a sip of water when you pass by. I keep a bottle at my work desk and by the kitchen sink at home," Pantaleo says.

3. Ease into a More Restful Bedtime

Hopping back to that alarm concept, you can use that or a digital calendar reminder to nudge you toward a better bedtime routine. One hour prior to your ideal bedtime—most adults function best with seven to nine hours of sleep per night—set a reminder to begin to wind down. And five minutes before it's time to place your head on your pillow, turn the temperature to between 65 and 67 degrees (if it's not there already, as this is the ideal room temperature for sleep), close the blinds and take five to read something calming that's not on a device or to jot in your gratitude journal (buy it: $10.99, Target).

"A regular nightly routine is important. Set a deadline to finish watching TV and doing chores or work," Stiefel says. "If possible, limit screen time before bed and avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine four to six hours prior to sleep."

4. Wash and Chop Some Fruits and Vegetables

While we're all about occasional splurges (hat tip to the 80/20 lifestyle!), what's on your menu on a regular basis can make a substantial difference in your long-term health and longevity. Plus, "food is important to balance mood and stabilize blood sugar," Stiefel says.

If a big batch of meal prep on Sunday feels intimidating, set aside five minutes each evening to wash and chop fruits and vegetables to utilize the next day.

"Preparing these the night before also saves time to quickly grab these items during the morning," Pantaleo says.

By chopping to it a few hours ahead, "you can have easy things to grab on-the-go or to make quicker meals," Stiefel continues. "I'm pushing myself toward a largely plant-based diet by making slow changes like cutting up produce in advance. As I prep, I often listen to music, an audiobook or the TV in the background for entertainment."

5. Read a Book, Try a Puzzle or Play a Quick Game

This healthy habit might feel like child's play, but it can actually move the needle and reduce your risk for dementia.

Zafar carves out at least five minutes each day to "read a book or complete a crossword puzzle to keep my mind active to prevent dementia and for relaxation," she says.

Research proves that keeping physically, socially and mentally active are all vital elements of an Alzheimer's disease prevention plan.

The Bottom Line

If you find yourself straying from your habit, "make a list of reasons why you want to make this healthy choice," Zafar suggests. That way, you can use this as a reminder and motivator. She actually wrote a list herself, and says she makes a point to review her own list before lunch and again in the evening to keep herself on track.

Each day you slay your new health strategy, give yourself a gold star or a check mark. Once you reach a certain amount, treat yourself to a non-food reward, such as a pedicure, massage or a new pair of workout shoes.

"Keep in mind that it takes about three months of daily practice before this becomes routine. We often punish ourselves for not sticking to our healthy routines; I think it's important to remember to congratulate ourselves for little achievements and additions we make to our daily routine as well. Pat yourself on the back and take note of every positive action you take daily to stay healthy," Zafar adds. "Keeping a positive mindset helps us stay motivated to stay healthy."

Feeling like you've mastered these five-minute practices and ready to step things up? Consider adding one of these five small healthy habits with a big impact to your agenda.

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