Think you can put off taking care of yourself? Think again. When it comes to our health, “It’s easier to protect well-being than it is to repair damage,” says Gary Small, M.D., director of the UCLA Longevity Center and author of “The Longevity Bible.” To make a U-turn now and head down the road to better health, try working these doable strategies into your daily routine.
Yes, your weight can fluctuate from day to day, but daily check-ins may help protect against added pounds. Step on the scale at the same time every day and if you’re up three to five pounds in a span of a few days, watch your portions and work out longer. For the big picture, track your readings on a calendar. (Or invest in a scale that tracks this for you!)
Stand when getting dressed.
Forcing your body to balance strengthens your reflexes and core muscles. Stronger muscles help with better balance, which really pays off as you age. Stand on one leg, then on the other, while pulling on your jeans. Concentrate on shifting your weight from foot to foot for the best results.
Catch some rays.
Getting too little natural light not only affects your mood but can also mess with your internal clock, making you drowsy during the day but wired when it’s time to sleep, says Gary Aston-Jones, Ph.D., director of the Brain Health Institute at Rutgers University. Venture outside for at least 10 minutes of sunlight every day to help keep your circadian rhythms on track. Don’t forget the sunblock!
Our smartphones and computers help us stay informed and connected — but they can also increase the amount of time we spend sitting in front of a screen. Carve out a block of time to power down at least once a day, and use the hours that you’re disconnected to do something active, like taking a walk rather than watching TV.
Head for bed 10 minutes early.
Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep. If you’re clocking less than six on a regular basis, you may be weakening your immune system and setting yourself up for an increased risk for diabetes and heart disease.
If you have trouble falling asleep, avoid exercise within two hours of bedtime. Try setting an alarm for one hour before you’d like to be in bed, so you can start mentally winding down. That’s a good time to power down your computer and phone too, as their lights may stimulate your brain, rather than help you to relax.
Load up on healthy groceries once a week.
If you find yourself justifying your frequent takeout habit with “But I have nothing in the house!” first identify your stumbling block, then find a solution. If you aren’t good at coming up with a dinner plan on the fly, make a plan — and a list — over the weekend. Stick to easy, quick recipes that feature healthy staples, such as vegetables, fruit and whole grains, as well as lean meats such as fish or turkey. And yes, frozen dinners are convenient — but they often contain harmful trans fats, which are linked with cardiovascular disease. For an easy alternative, make a big pot of vegetable soup and freeze it in single-serve portions for busy weeknights.
(Fitness is fuel for women who are serious about being healthy and staying strong. Online at www.fitnessmagazine.com.)
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Erin O’Donnell is a freelance health and science writer, parent, and graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Walks by Lake Michigan make her happy.