Most people don’t get serious about health until their doctor hands them a script for blood work instead of the lollipop. Then it’s “uh-oh time” and they try to become Dean Ornish overnight.
It’s so much easier to prevent trouble than it is to fix it, especially when you have time on your side and can take baby steps toward living a little more healthfully every day. Agree? Then, let’s start, shall we? Here are 60-plus easy health tips that take 60 seconds or less. Pick one to master every few days and live happier and healthier for just about forever.
Give Achy Knees a Bath
If you sit around in office chairs all day, your knee joints aren’t being lubricated. That can lead to knee pain. Try the quad pump, a 10-second exercise that causes your cartilage to secrete fluid, bathing the knee joint in nutrients to keep it healthy. Sit in a chair and extend your legs straight out so that your heels rest on the floor. Now tighten your quadriceps, the thigh muscles above your knees. Hold the contraction for 2 seconds, then release. Repeat five times to squeeze lubrication into your knee joint. Feel better?
The 3-Ounce HDL Booster
Instead of chips with your sandwich, switch to unsalted pistachios. In research at the Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Virginia, people who ate 2 to 3 ounces of unsalted pistachios a day for 4 weeks raised their HDL cholesterol (the good kind) by 6 percent.
Say Hello, Then Start Complaining
A doctor graces his patient with his presence for just 3 minutes on average during the typical office visit. Get the most out of your brief encounter by sharing your most urgent concern within the first minute, just after you say hello. Research shows that patients who bring up difficult issues at the start of an appointment are more likely to be satisfied with the visit and to adhere to their MD's recommendations.
Pick a Cleaner Cleaner
Most dry cleaners use a solvent called perchloroethylene, a known carcinogen in animals. You wouldn’t want it next to your skin, and when the chemical isn’t disposed of properly, it can seep into water supplies. But there’s hope for that wine-stained shirt. Some cleaners are switching to a harmless silicone solvent that biodegrades. Visit greenearthcleaning.com to find your nearest nontoxic cleaner.
Beat Migraines with Pie
Feel a headache coming on? Have a piece of apple pie or munch on an organic ‘Granny Smith’ apple. In one study from the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, when subjects in the midst of a migraine attack sniffed test tubes containing a green apple smell, the pain improved more than when they sniffed tubes that had no scent. Researchers say it could be a matter of distraction, or it could be that the smell of green apple actually reduces muscle contractions in the head and neck, reducing headache pain. Earlier studies found that the smell of green apples helps reduce anxiety.
Add Cinnamon, Girl
Sprinkle cinnamon into your coffee grounds before you press “brew.” This antioxidant-rich spice, studies show, may reduce blood pressure and lower stress. Come to think of it, so would listening to Neil Young.
Dry-Brush Your Teeth
Before squeezing toothpaste onto your brush, take 30 seconds to brush your teeth with a dry toothbrush. Doing so cuts tartar by 60 percent and also reduces the risk of bleeding gums by half. Use a dry soft-bristle brush to scrub the insides of your top and bottom teeth, then buff the outer surfaces. Rinse, then brush normally with toothpaste.
Apply a Darker Condiment
Make that burger better for you with a shot of organic ketchup. USDA researchers recently compared lycopene levels in 13 commercial varieties of ketchup and found that organic brands pack as much as three times the amount of the cancer-fighting phytochemical in ordinary brands. Study coauthor Betty Ishida, Ph.D., speculates that the organics top the list because they're made with riper tomatoes. "The darker red a ketchup is, the greater the lycopene content," says Ishida. Another good hue cue is green-and-white; that's the color of the USDA's certified-organic label.
Exercise Your Ears
Music can be either a sledgehammer or a tuning fork. If you want to be able to hear your great-granddaughter when you’re 97, fine-tune your ears with music. First, turn down the volume to a sane level (you should be able to listen to the music and still carry on a normal conversation), then practice singling out a single instrument and listening to it. This exercise will help you develop the ability to perceive more details in everyday sounds, says Gail Whitelaw, Ph.D., past president of the American Academy of Audiology.
Surround Yourself with Ferns, Man
Beat winter itch by keeping houseplants, preferably ferns, in the driest rooms in your home or office. When plants transpire, they add moisture to the air, keeping skin hydrated.
Suck on a Mint
Smelling peppermint can boost exercise performance. Researchers say that the scent of mint alters your perception of how hard you’re exercising, which can make workouts seem less strenuous so you don't mind exercising longer.
60-Second Health Check: Your Pee
Most Americans walk around dehydrated, which affects your energy level, fitness, and good digestion. “You should drink enough water that your urine looks like pale lemonade,” says registered dietitian and nutrition consultant to the Cincinnati Bengals, Chris Mohr, Ph.D.
Nail Germs Where They Hide
The number-one place that germs live on your body is under your fingernails. Regular hand washing won’t do the job, especially if you’re sporting talons. So get in the habit of digging your claws into the bar of soap every time you wash your hands.
Stand in the Corner
Hey, Quasimodo! Step away from that computer keyboard and straighten up. For a rejuvenating office stretch, stand facing the corner of a room. Raise your hands to shoulder height and place your elbows, forearms, and hands against each wall. Lean inward and hold the stretch to flex your chest and back muscles. Hold for 15 seconds.
Decorate Your Plate
A 14-year study found that men whose diets were highest in fruits and vegetables had a 70 percent lower risk of digestive-tract cancers. How to reach your quota: Never eat a meal that doesn't contain a vegetable or fruit. And no, fries don't count. Need ideas? See 22 Easy Ways to Eat Fruits and Veggies Every Single Day.
Energize for Less
When you’re tired and need a lift, pass on the coffee or those expensive caffeinated multi-hour energy shots and have a club soda with lime. The carbonation and aroma will energize you.
Talk More Like Barry White
Make your phone voice sound richer and deeper by standing up when on an important call. Standing lengthens your diaphragm, making you sound more confident. It also forces oxygen deeper into your lungs, improving alertness.
60-Second Health Check: Your Skin
Take your shoes and socks off, grab a hand mirror, and examine your feet. Melanoma can develop even in places that don't see much sun. The three most common on the feet: the soles, between the toes, and around or under the toenails. Check once a month for spots that are new or asymmetrical or that change in size, color, or thickness.
Arouse Her/His Interest
It takes just 10 seconds, but it can lead to greater intimacy and more satisfying sex. We’re talking about talking dirty. Whisper something dirty when he or she least expects it, such as in an art gallery, at the public library, in the produce section of the Piggy Wiggly supermarket. For some people, hearing sexy talk in unusual environments is especially arousing, says sex therapist Barbara Keesling, Ph.D.
Purr-fect Your Posture
Stretch like a cat for 30 to 60 seconds when you roll out of bed each morning. It’s like hitting a reset button on your body. Get on all fours on the floor and curl your back toward the ceiling like a frightened cat. Hold for 10 seconds, then bend in the opposite direction, lowering your bellybutton toward the floor while keeping your arms straight, hands directly under your shoulders and your thighs perpendicular to the floor. Catlike stretching first thing in the morning improves posture, promotes blood flow, and relieves body tension, according to the Meow Clinic. Sorry, we meant Mayo Clinic.
Don’t Forget Your Lunch
Thinking about what you ate for lunch could keep you from bingeing on afternoon snacks. In a study, subjects were told they were taste-testing three different types of salted popcorn. They were encouraged to eat as much as they wanted. Interestingly, those who were first asked to recall exactly what they had eaten for lunch consumed 30 percent less popcorn than those who didn’t review their lunch menu beforehand. The researchers say that taking a few seconds to remember what you had during a recent meal might enhance awareness of how satiating the food was, which then might reduce future noshing.
Clean Your Trap
Take 10 seconds to empty the lint trap in your clothes dryer every time you add a load. Then take 30 seconds once a month to clean the lint and other highly flammable bits from underneath the dryer. Doing so can help prevent a dryer fire (and it'll lower your dryer's energy use by 30 percent). More than 13,000 lint-fueled dryer fires occur in U.S. households every year, killing 15 people on average, injuring 300, and causing $80 million in property damage.
Take a Multivitamin
It’s a quick and easy way to make sure you’re consuming the essential vitamins and minerals you may not be getting from food. Make sure your supplement delivers 400 IU of vitamin D. An Archives of Internal Medicine report shows that that amount of vitamin D a day reduces risk of early death by 7 percent.
You Say You Want a Revolution?
Go longer without tiring out and get a better bike workout by keeping your pedal cadence at 80 revolutions per minute or higher. Once you establish that pedal speed, use your gears to maintain that rate as grade or terrain changes. The goal is to get your pedals to turn at roughly the same rate whether your bike speed is a little slower going uphill or faster going downhill.
Put Your Heart on Island Time
Calm a racing heart by cuing up Bob Marley on your iPod. The beat of a typical reggae tune is 60 per minute, about the rate of a normal heartbeat.
Kiss and Tingle
Before you plant a kiss on him, swipe on mint lip balm to engage your sensations of touch, taste, and smell. “Menthol triggers the body’s cold receptors, and when that's combined with your warm breath, you'll feel a tingly sensation from your lips straight down to your genitals," says sexologist Ava Cadell, Ph.D.
Put a Fork in It
Eat slower and you’ll probably eat less. Do both by holding your fork in your nondominant hand. Bring plenty of napkins.
Brush with Cauliflower
After a glass of red wine, chew on cauliflower and other vegetables from the crudité platter. The crunchy raw produce will scrub away red wine stains for brighter and whiter-looking teeth.
Hydrate Your Mind
Your brain is 80 percent water. If you don’t drink enough to stay hydrated, you can reduce the ability of neurons to perform properly. So drink and think. Have at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day.
ANTs are Automatic Negative Thoughts that trigger anxiety and flood the body with stress hormones. Whenever an ANT enters your mind, write it down and forget about it for now. Later, review your ANTs, try to determine where they are coming from and devise a plan to correct negative thinking.
Smaller Plate, Smaller Belly
You can reduce the amount of food you eat unconsciously by using a smaller plate at a buffet. Studies show that people are programmed to load up on helpings when they use large dinner plates. Use a salad or dessert plate when you head to the buffet.
10-Second Health Check
Before popping your contacts into your eyes, give them the once-over on behalf of your cardiovascular system. A diet full of fat, protein, or alcohol weakens your tears' ability to block cholesterol from adhering to the lenses. This results in cloudy deposits. If your diet is destroying your contacts, just imagine what it's doing to your arteries.
Tight chest and back from spending your 9-to-5 hunched over a computer keyboard? A slumping posture can lead to back and neck pain, zap your energy, and even make you look heavier. To realign your spine, feel more awake, and look slimmer, grab two tennis balls and a roll of cloth athletic tape. Wrap the athletic tape in a figure eight pattern around two tennis balls until they are securely attached. Then lie in a crunch position with the balls placed horizontally under your mid-back. Do three crunches, lifting and lowering your head and shoulders. On the next crunch, hold yourself in the up position to move the balls up your back for half a roll. Press into your feet and scoot your butt then feet forward. Repeat the crunch/roll sequence until the balls reach the top of your spine.
Swallow Liquid-Gel Caps
Get pain relief 60 percent faster by swallowing ibuprofen in the form of liquid-gel capsules instead of solid tablets. The dissolved ibuprofen will reach your bloodstream much more quickly than it would in solid form.
Make Good-for-You Food Taste Better
Before you fork, take a good whiff of your food. “Ninety percent of taste is smell,” says Alan Hirsch, M.D., founder and neurological director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. “The more odor molecules hit receptors in your nose, the more robust your sense of taste.”
Swallow Some Fish Oil
Eating fish or taking a fish-oil supplement is one of the simplest things you can do for good heart and brain health. Research from the National Institutes of Health division of nutritional neurosciences suggests that eating (contaminant-free and not overharvested) fish at least three times a week can help men nearly reverse their risk of dying from sudden cardiac death. And the essential fatty acids in fish have also been linked to reducing depression. If you can’t catch fish that often, take a fish-oil capsule containing the long-chain omega-3s DHA and EPA.
Make an Ice-Gel Pack
Save money and soothe sore muscles with a homemade ice pack that conforms to ankles and knees. Mix ½ cup of water with ½ cup of rubbing alcohol in a sealable plastic bag. Place in a freezer for about two hours. The alcohol keeps the water slushy, not frozen solid.
Multitask with an Apple
Too rushed to brush at the office? Eat an apple. Apples dislodge food and stimulate saliva flow to counteract plaque and bad breath.
Order the Broccoli; Go Bananas
Boosting your fiber intake is one of the most important dietary changes you can make to lower blood pressure (BP). So is eating a banana once a day. Bananas are rich in BP-lowering potassium.
Never Miss a Workout
On Sunday evening, take a minute to block out on your calendar 30 minutes for exercise at least three times during the coming week. Put it into your Outlook or other scheduling program as if it were an important business meeting, and you’ll be less likely to skip it.
60-Second Stress Buster
Hang a key rack near the front door and make a habit of putting your keys there as soon as you walk in. You’ll never again have to frantically search for them when you’re already running late.
Compliment Your Spouse
One study found that an unhappy marriage increases your chances of getting sick by 35 percent and shortens your lifespan by 4 years. An easy way to instantly improve a marriage (and your health) is to regularly tell your spouse what you admire and respect about him or her. “It takes less than a minute and it can have a profound impact,” says marriage counselor Mario Alonso, Ph.D., founder of the personality website www.PsychDNA.com. “Partners who feel secure and well-loved suffer from less depression.” In a study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, 74 percent of the happiest couples reported that their spouses “often” made them feel good about the kind of person they are (in comparison to 27 percent of moderately happy or unhappy couples.)
Slice Thin, Eat Less
Slicing thinly will make your portions seem bigger and more satisfying. In a study at Japan's National Food Research Institute, participants who compared equal amounts of sliced and whole vegetables rated the sliced piles up to 27 percent larger. When you believe you're eating a larger portion of food, you'll trick yourself into feeling more satisfied with fewer calories.
Soothe Sore Eyes
To ease eyestrain fast, briskly rub your hands together to generate heat. Then place them over your closed eyes. The gentle pressure and warmth will soothe your peepers.
Drink Your Vitamins
You've admirably resisted the Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries in favor of a less-sugary breakfast cereal that’s been fortified with vitamins. But that doesn’t mean you’re getting 100 percent of those nutrients listed on the side of the box. As much as 40 percent of the vitamins can leach into the puddle of milk you leave behind. Drink it up!
When working in dusty or smoky places, rub a bit of petroleum jelly inside your nostrils to prevent inhaling offensive particles.
Make the Medicine Go Down
A few seconds before swallowing bad-tasting liquid medicine, suck on an ice cube. It’ll numb your tastebuds and make the medicine taste less nasty.
Sore Back. Tennis Anyone?
Cut a slit into an old tennis ball, squeeze it open, fill it with water, and toss it in a freezer. Next time your back is sore, lie on your back, slip the frozen ball under your lower back, and roll around on it for soothing cold and pressure.
Double-Team Your Headache
Drinking caffeinated tea or coffee after taking ibuprofen relieves headaches faster than taking ibuprofen alone. In a study of 400 headache sufferers, 71 percent of those who took ibuprofen and the caffeine equivalent of two cups of coffee reported complete relief, compared to 58 percent of those who took ibuprofen or caffeine.
Bag a Canker with Tea
Hold a wet tea bag on a canker sore; the tannins in the tea act as an astringent.
Warm Frosty Fingers
Swing your arms in circles when your fingers feel numb from the cold weather. This forces blood into your hands to warm your fingers.
Tenderize That Bug Bite
Hornet sting? Spider bite? Reduce the swelling with ice. Then rub a paste of meat tenderizer or crushed aspirin onto the bite to break down the venom. Later, apply a paste of baking soda and water to ease the itching.
Chew More, Weigh Less
Replace a glass of apple juice with a whole apple. A study in the International Journal of Obesity reports that people reduced their daily calorie intake by up to 20 percent when they substituted a piece of fruit for fruit juice with their lunch. The researchers say that chewing stimulates satiety hormones, and whole food takes longer for your intestines to process, helping you to feel fuller longer and consume less.
Ask for Extra Vinegar
Hoagie, Grinder, Po’ Boy, or Hero—whatever you call your favorite submarine sandwich, make it a bit better by ordering extra splashes of vinegar. Nutritionists at Arizona State University say that the acetic acid interferes with enzymes that break down carbohydrates, keeping blood sugar levels from rising quickly. You can also get the same result by starting a high-carb meal with a salad drizzled with vinaigrette.
Make Every Second Count
During resistance-training workouts, jump rope for 1 minute in between sets of exercises. Then rest for 30 seconds to 1 minute before doing your next set. Doing so can nearly double the calories you burn during a workout.
Fight Your Pillow
Fold your pillow in half, then let go. If the pillow springs back, it’s in good shape. If it just lies there bent like a soggy potato chip, get rid of it. It’s not worthy of supporting your head and neck adequately while you sleep.
Avoid low-back pain on long car drives by tilting your rearview mirror up. Doing so will prevent you from slouching (which causes the pain) by forcing you to sit up straighter to see the cars behind.
Soften Your Skin
Toss a handful of flaxseed into the blender the next time you make a smoothie. The oil from this grain will help keep your skin smooth, moist, and glowing. You can buy this omega-3–rich seed at supermarkets or health-food stores.
Squeeze More from Tea
Squeeze a lemon wedge into your iced or hot tea. The acidity can boost antioxidant concentrations in green tea by 20 percent, according to a study in the journal Food Chemistry. Researchers believe the same trick works with all kinds of tea.
10-Second Health Check
Taking your pulse is an easy way to check the overall health of your heart, says Kenneth Ellenbogen, M.D., vice-chairman of cardiology at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Medical College of Virginia Hospitals in Richmond. To take your pulse, place the first two fingers of one hand lightly on the inside of the opposite wrist, just below the thumb. Count the number of beats in 10 seconds and multiply that number by 6. The normal range while at rest is 60 to 100 beats per minute. Highly trained athletes can have rates in the 40s. Take your pulse first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. If your heart rate changes significantly, check with your doctor.
Place Fresh Cut Flowers on the Breakfast Table
Looking at a vase of fresh daisies, tulips, roses, or other cut flowers while eating your morning oatmeal may improve your mood. New research from Harvard University shows that even people who say they're not "morning people" report feeling happier and more energetic after looking at flowers first thing in the a.m.
Get a 60-Second Funny Fix
Prevent colds and flu with a little Will Ferrell. Before work starts, enjoy a morning chuckle at the funny man’s website, funnnyordie.com, or some other source of quick yucks. Research suggests that a moment of mirth increases the body's secretion of immune-boosting growth hormones and endorphins.
30-Second Stress Buster
Stress can make you do things that are bad for your health—such as eat an entire box of chocolate-dipped doughnuts. Researchers say anxiety creates a whacked-out connection between brain and belly, with the former ordering the latter to consume everything in sight. When you feel the need to eat in times of stress, try this 30-second breathing exercise. Inhale, allowing your belly to rise before your chest. When your lungs feel naturally full, take in even more air. Hold briefly, then exhale. When you feel your lungs are empty, push out even more air to a count of 10 until you have made your lungs as empty as possible. Repeat at least two more times.
Order the Blue Plate Special
Swap in a blue tortilla for a white one. The benefit: fewer late-night hunger pangs. Scientists recently found that blue tortillas contain 20 percent more hunger-satisfying protein and 16 percent less blood-sugar-spiking starch than white ones.
Just Say Moo to Cigarettes
People trying to quit smoking can stifle cravings with a sip of milk. In a recent survey of smokers from Duke University, nearly 20 percent agreed that milk makes cigarettes taste bad. "Your brain can eventually connect the taste of milk with a decreased desire to smoke," says lead researcher Joseph McClernon, Ph.D.
Kill Those Krusty Krabs
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Sponge-bob Square-pants. Who lives in your kitchen sponge? Millions of bacteria. Moist and full of tiny food bits, your sponge is a breeding ground for germs like salmonella and E. coli, germs that you spread every time you wipe your counter. Kill ‘em efficiently by zapping your sponge in the microwave on high for 30 seconds, or boiling it in hot water for 5 minutes.
Take Vitamin G
Improve your attitude with a dose of gratitude daily. Studies have shown that 90 percent of people say expressing gratitude made them happier people and more than 75 percent said it reduced stress and depression and gave them more energy. Start by making an effort to thank people more often. Then advance to counting your blessings at least once a day for 30 seconds. Need some suggestions? Be thankful for your health, your food, your family, and friends. Heck, thank your letter carrier even if all he brings is bills. He or she may be out of a job next month.
60-Second Office Super Stretch
Boost blood circulation and reduce fatigue with a 60-second at-your-work desk stretch once every hour. Do these three exercises from The Women’s Health Big Book of 15-Minute Workouts:
• Rag Doll. Sit on the edge of your chair and slump your upper body forward over your legs so your chest rests on your knees. Wrap your arms under your knees and press your back toward the ceiling. Hold for 20 seconds.
• Seated Twist. Sit tall in a chair with feet flat on the floor. Reach across your body with your right arm and place your hand on your left upper arm. Reach across your chest with your left arm; then immediately twist to the right and grab the edge or back of the chair with your left fingers. Bring your chin over your right shoulder as you turn. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
• Hung Buster. Sit on a chair with your pelvis tilted slightly forward. Lift your chest and squeeze your shoulder blades together and down, away from your ears. Extend your arms at 45-degree angles and reach slightly behind you, palms facing forward. Hold for 20 seconds.
Go to Sleep Without Sheep
Instead of counting fence-hurdling sheep to fall asleep, just wear socks. Swiss researchers found that people fell asleep quickest when their hands and feet were warmest. This happens because warm feet and hands cause blood vessels to enlarge, allowing more heat to escape your body, which in turn lowers your core temperature faster and causes you to nod off sooner. The researchers say putting on socks may help you fall asleep in half the time it normally takes.
I Found My Abs on Blueberry Hill
Blueberries may aid in burning belly fat, decreasing cardiovascular disease and reducing risk of diabetes, according to the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center. In a study conducted by researchers at the university, rats consuming only 2 percent of their diet in blueberries significantly reduced their abdominal fat within 90 days, as well as lowered triglyceride levels and increased insulin sensitivity. These results are thought to be a result of the high percentage of antioxidants—agents that rid the body of toxins—that occur naturally in blueberries.
Make a daily habit of swallowing low-dose aspirin. (Check with your doctor first.) You know it can help prevent heart attack, but did you know it may also prevent colon cancer? Although daily low-dose aspirin isn’t for everyone, new research suggests that middle-aged people on aspirin therapy may have as much as a 25 percent lower risk of developing colon cancer. In one study, aspirin cut the risk of cancer in the proximal colon, where it’s harder to detect, by 70 percent. Again, no one should start aspirin therapy without first consulting their doctor.
Stuff Your Burgers
Scoop a hole in the middle of your hamburger before grilling, and fill it with olives, mushrooms, or any vegetable you like. This makes the recommended 3-ounce serving of beef look and feel like a massive hunk of burger, when it’s actually much leaner than that.
Wait 60 Seconds
Take a minute to think about the consequences of your actions whenever faced with an important decision—from having a fourth glass of wine to contemplating quitting your job in anger, swallowing a pill to making a pass at a coworker, blaming your spouse to screaming at a child. Sixty seconds of thought can prevent a world of hurt.