Everyone wants to be fit and healthy with minimal effort, but it takes a lot of determination to stick to a strict diet or exercise program. Fortunately, some small lifestyle tweaks can make a big difference. Here are ten things you can do to maximize your health with the minimal effort.
1. Eat to a slow beat
The average time it takes to eat a meal in 15 minutes, but the brain doesn’t begin to register satiety until 10 minutes after you start eating. That makes it easy to take in too many calories. Put on some slow, smooth dinner music to stop yourself from eating too fast. One study found that diners mimic the pace of the music they’re listening to. The average eating speed of four bites per minute increased to five bites per minute in the presence of fast, driving music. Diners listening to slow background music decelerated to three bites per minute.
2. Wear a pedometer
Simply wearing an inexpensive pedometer every day can motivate you to be more active. Basic models record steps taken while upscale devices also track distance and calories burned. Once you learn how much you move on average, you can aim to walk just a little more each day or each week. If you can convince friends or family members to wear their pedometers, you can compare progress and give each other encouragement.
3. Choose entertainment that makes you laugh
When you sit down in front of the TV after a hectic day, switch on a sit-com, funny movie, or stand-up act. Laughter lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol and triggers the release of endorphins, the brain’s ‘feel-good’ chemicals. In addition to relieving stress, laughter can be good for your heart. One study found that when participants watched a comedy segment their blood vessels relaxed and blood flow increased. Brachial artery flow decreased when they watched a clip from a graphic war film.
4. Swap your snacks
If you enjoy deep-fried snacks like potato or corn chips, choose a healthier option that provides you with the same satisfying crunch. Invest in an air-popper to make fresh hot popcorn which is high in fiber and weighs in at just 30 calories per cup. Flavor it with chili powder, curry powder, or parmesan cheese. Alternatively, snack on nuts. In addition to being high in fiber, they are an excellent source of monounsaturated fatty acids which can help to lower LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol.
5. Combine exercise with socializing
Include physical activity in any social or family event you host. If you’re holding a backyard barbecue, set up an informal badminton or volleyball tournament. If you’re hosting a dinner party, include some parlor games that require people to get up out of their chairs. If you have friends over for nibbles and drinks, put on some lively music and encourage everyone to dance. The exercise will burn excess calories and help to keep everyone’s hands away from the snack tray and beer cooler.
6. Make your own microwave meals
If you don’t have the time or energy to cook after work, there’s no need to eat processed frozen dinners with dubious ingredients. When you have some spare time at the weekends, cook up large batches of simple healthy meals such as stews, casseroles, chili, or pasta dishes. Transfer single-sized portions to microwave-safe plastic containers. Store them in the freezer to reheat throughout the week.
7. Take a 15 minute walk at lunchtime
In addition to giving you the benefits of exercise, a lunchtime walk will help your body make more vitamin D. The sun is highest in the sky around noon and, even if the sky is cloudy, you’ll still be exposed to UV light. Most Americans are vitamin D deficient and low levels of the vitamin are associated with cancer‚ heart disease‚ osteoporosis‚ multiple sclerosis and other conditions. Spending a short time soaking up the sun each day will lift your mood and improve your health.
8. Cut back on cola
Sugary soft drinks are a source of empty calories that promote weight gain. They also contribute to tooth decay and increase your risk of diabetes. If you drink several servings of soda a day, try cutting down by replacing one 12 ounces sugary soft drink with iced herbal tea. When you do drink soda, you can help to protect your teeth by rinsing your mouth with water and chewing sugar-free gum. This will dilute the phosphoric acid that eats through tooth enamel.
9. Make the most of commercial breaks
Sitting for long periods suppresses the action of an enzyme called lipase which helps the body to transform fat into energy. If you spend the evenings in front of the TV, try to get up and move during every commercial break. Walk up and down the stairs, do some stretches, or get into a yoga position. If you’re feeling energetic do some sit-ups or jumping jacks. It’s easier to motivate yourself to exercise in small bursts than to commit to a full 50-minute session.
10. Go to bed an hour earlier
Sleeping is a lazy person’s key to better health. Sleep deprivation puts you at greater risk for obesity, depression, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. In contrast, getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night can boost your energy, improve your memory, reduce stress, and give you a longer life expectancy. If you’re sleeping an average of six hours or less per night, consider sacrificing some TV time to hit the sack an hour earlier.