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10 Things You Can Do to Improve Your Health Today (Backed by Science)

by Luke Sniewski Jan 31, 2014

WHEN IT COMES to health, a lot of people like to make grand plans, perfectly scheduled programs, and lofty goals that — more often than not — won’t last. Our failure disheartens us and programs us to fear trying anything new. It’s a self-destructive pattern that’s difficult to break.

But what if you only had to focus on one thing? What if you could find success simply by doing one thing for your health? Today? Right now? A Lifestyle Transformation starts with a single choice, but can lead to huge results. So here are 10 options you can choose from.

1. Just move.

Stop reading this post and go for a 10-minute power walk. Come back when you’re done. Don’t worry; I’ll still be here, I’m patient, go ahead. You’ll thank me later.

Finished? Great. Feel better? You’re welcome.

Daily movement — even as simple as walking1 — is essential for health. When you move, your muscles act as pumps and circulate blood, nutrients, and oxygen throughout the body, making you feel good as a result. The connection between daily exercise and longevity is as certain as the sky being blue, but if you need more evidence, here are two studies for good measure2,3. Movement is important today, tomorrow, and every day for the rest of your life.

2. Smile.

Why does Snoop Dogg carry an umbrella? Fo’ drizzle.*

Did you hear about the Mexican train killer? He had loco-motives.*

Why don’t you ever see hippopotami hiding in trees? Because they’re really good at it.*

Did you smile? Oh well, I tried.

Even if you didn’t find those jokes funny, smile anyway. Even if it’s fake, your smile will reduce stress levels. That’s precisely what researchers learned in a study aimed at determining if smiling was good for your health. Short answer, it is. Smiling is associated with slowing the heart rate, reducing stress, and increasing happiness4. So even if you don’t feel like it, stretch those lips from ear to ear and fake it till you make it.

3. Sit quietly and breathe for 10 minutes.

Shhhh. Be quiet. Follow these instructions:

  1. Close your eyes and just breathe.
  2. Focus on your breath. Focus on your stomach expanding and contracting with each breath.
  3. When your mind drifts towards the random and chaotic thoughts of your day, bring it back to the breath.
  4. Repeat steps 2 & 3 until 10 minutes pass. This may happen a few…hundred times.

The benefits of meditation have been known and practiced for thousands of years, but they may be new to you, so here’s a recap. Meditation reduces anxiety, battles depression, and diminishes pain5. Meditation even impacts your genetic expression6, so it’s high time to schedule some ‘ommmm’ time into your day. It takes time to build a meditation practice. Start with manageable steps. Like 5 or 10 minutes.

4. Read something.

When it comes to your brain prowess, it’s ‘use it or lose it.’ Pick up a book, read an article, or browse through a newspaper. It really doesn’t matter what you choose as long as you’re reading.

Obviously, your interest level will determine how long you read, but the simple act of reading has been shown to improve social skills7, protect against Alzheimer’s8, and help prevent mental decline.

5. Lift something heavy.

Have you ever experienced the true ecstasy of lifting something heavy? You know, the type of heavy that makes you groan and make facial expressions you wouldn’t want to see posted as a selfie on your Instagram?

The excitement you’ll feel afterwards is only one of the associated benefits. Heavy resistance training, aka lifting heavy stuff, correlates with physiological and hormonal responses that improve the function of your nervous, muscular, cardiovascular, and even bone density9,10,11. Don’t be scared of lifting heavy. It can be uncomfortable if you’re new to it, but in the end, it’s good for you.

Side note: Keep good form and warm up first. Lifting heavy with bad form is asking for an injury.

6. get outside.

The benefits associated with daily sun exposure are much greater than the risks of overexposure, especially if you have a good sunscreen. This is mainly due to the vitamin D we get from the sun. Researchers found that the annual number of deaths due to cancer, multiple sclerosis, and even osteoporotic hip fracture could have been prevented with sufficient levels of vitamin D12. Sunshine has also been found to lower blood pressure and boost heart health13.

Getting outside is more than just getting sunlight. Spend time in parks, on hikes, and in nature. Research suggests taking time to step away from the asphalt-laden urban landscapes can improve mental health and battle depression14,15.

7. Hug someone.

It’s time to invade someone’s personal space! Researchers have found that popping your personal space bubble and hugging others impacts hormone production — namely of oxytocin, the happy hormone — and lowers blood pressure16. Hugging is an investment that keeps on giving. The more frequent the hugs, the greater the health benefits17. If you’re single, hug a stranger! It’s probably best you ask permission first.

8. Add sea salt to your water.

You need water for healthy body composition, energy, organ function, cellular integrity, and metabolism. Just drinking a big glass of water would provide an easy and effective strategy to improve your health right now, since most people don’t drink enough water.

Pinching a little Celtic or Himalayan Sea Salt into your drinking water takes it to the next level. The salt will aid with absorption as well as provide essential trace minerals. Just remember that regular table salt isn’t what you’re after here18. Go for Celtic or Himalayan Sea Salt. Mineral water will never be more cost-effective!

9. Straighten up.

Proper posture has healthy consequences. My guess is that you straightened up a little bit after reading that sentence. Good. You just did something for your health. Now just keep that posture going the rest of your day and you’ll be improving respiratory and digestive functions, as well as reducing muscular tension that could cause pain19,20.

Moving every day is important, but we spend so much more time sitting and standing (probably a lot more sitting) that focusing our attention on our posture during these static activities can have drastic and long-term effects on health.

10. Give something.

There’s hardly a substitute for the fulfillment experienced when giving to someone or some cause. When you’re busy helping and giving to others, you don’t have time to stress about some of the trivial and monotonous daily details currently invading your mental landscape. When you add in the appreciation and gratitude you receive from the other side, it’s no wonder many dedicate their lives to altruistic causes.

Exciting new research shows that giving behavior is also tremendously healthy, being associated with increased levels of happiness, lowered levels of depression, and even beneficial to those suffering from chronic diseases21. So do something or give something to someone and enjoy the health benefits associated with selflessness.

This post was originally published at Leaf Lifestyle and is reprinted here with permission.

* Joke credit: Christopher Hudspeth
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2 Gremeaux, Vincent, et al. “Exercise And Longevity.” Maturitas 73.4 (2012): 312-317.
3 “Staying Active And Social Prolongs Life Even After 75.” Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter 30.10 (2012): 3.
4 Kraft, Tara L., and Sarah D. Pressman. “Grin And Bear It: The Influence Of Manipulated Facial Expression On The Stress Response.” Psychological Science (Sage Publications Inc.) 23.11 (2012): 1372-1378.
5 Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga ES, et al. Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;():. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018.
6 Perla Kaliman, María Jesús Álvarez-López, Marta Cosín-Tomás, Melissa A. Rosenkranz, Antoine Lutz, Richard J. Davidson, Rapid changes in histone deacetylases and inflammatory gene expression in expert meditators, Psychoneuroendocrinology, Volume 40, February 2014, Pages 96-107, ISSN 0306-4530
7 Comer Kidd, and Emanuele Castano. “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind” Science 18 October 2013: 342 (6156), 377-380.Published online 3 October 2013[DOI:10.1126/science.1239918]
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10 Ahtiainen, J.P., Pakarinen, A., Kraemer, W.J., and Hakkinen, K. (2004) Acute hormonal responses to heavy resistance exercise in strength athletes versus nonathletes. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology. 29 (5), 527-43.
11 Izquierdo, M., Ibanez, J., Gonzalez-Badillo, J.J., Hakkinen, K., Ratamess, N.A., Kraemer, W.J., French, D.N., Eslava, J., Altadill, A., Asiain, X., and Gorostiaga, E.M. (2006). Differential effects of strength training leading to failure versus not to failure on hormonal responses, strength, and muscle power gains. Journal of Applied Physiology, 100 (5), 1647-1656.
12 Grant, William B., and Michael F. Holick. “Benefits And Requirements Of Vitamin D For Optimal Health: A Review.” Alternative Medicine Review10.2 (2005): 94-111.
13 Weller, Richard. “Sunshine could benefit health and prolong life, study suggests.” University of Edinburgh. May 2013.
14 Wilson, Justin F., and Keith M. Christensen. “The Relationship Between Outdoor Recreation And Depression Among Individuals With Disabilities.” Journal Of Leisure Research 44.4 (2012): 486-506.
15 Mitchell, Richard. “Is Physical Activity In Natural Environments Better For Mental Health Than Physical Activity In Other Environments?.” Social Science & Medicine 91.(2013): 130-134.
16 Grewen KM, Girdler SS, Amico J, et al. MD Effects of partner support on resting oxytocin, cortisol, norepinephrine, and blood pressure before and after warm partner contact. Psychosom Med. 2005;67:531-538.
17 Light, Kathleen C., Karen M. Grewen, and Janet A. Amico. “More Frequent Partner Hugs And Higher Oxytocin Levels Are Linked To Lower Blood Pressure And Heart Rate In Premenopausal Women.” Biological Psychology 69.1 (2005): 5-21.
18 Drake, SL et al. “Comparison of Salty Taste and Time Intensity of Sea and Land Salts from Around the World.” Journal of Sensory Studies. Volume 26, Issue 1, pages 25–34, February 2011
19 “Mom Was Right–Stand Up Straight.” USA Today Magazine 130.2681 (2002): 6.
20 Barrett, Ellen. “Straighten Up!.” American Fitness 22.3 (2004): 27-29.
21 Post, Stephen. “It’s Good to Be Good: Science Says it’s So.”

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