Sometimes ads or folks on social media make incorporating healthy habits seem like an all-or-nothing proposition. Soon whatever resolve you had to, say, train to run a 10K or learn plant-based cooking is spent just in the planning stages, and you’ve made no changes at all.
Well, don’t stress (it’s bad for your health!), because we’re here to help. No matter where you are on the health spectrum, you don’t have to change everything at once to feel results. Here you’ll find little expert-backed moves that will have a major impact on your overall well-being.
We’re all on a mission to drink more water, so find ways to make guzzling it more exciting. Try this formula for infused ice cubes: fruit (berries, citrus, or melon chunks) + fresh herbs (mint or basil) + water. Freeze in ice trays, then drop the jazzed-up cubes into your glass of regular or sparkling H2O. Need help remembering to sip? Download an app like HydroCoach or Aqualert that will send you “Drink up!” alerts.
You already know to exercise, but creating and maintaining a morning movement ritual can be particularly helpful in making you feel energized and ready to take on the day, says Jen Bruno, a holistic health coach and personal trainer in Chicago. Take your morning coffee on a walk, try sunrise yoga, or hop on your bike for a quick ride—the action doesn’t matter as long as you’re moving. If you’re counting it as your workout for the day, aim for about 30 minutes. Another plus: Exercising in the morning jump-starts your metabolism and makes you likelier to be more active through the rest of your day.
Studies show that spending time in nature can boost mood and tame stress, but you may get even more of a benefit if you stroll around your backyard sans socks and shoes. One study in the journal Explore found that making skin-to-earth contact for at least 10 minutes may reduce inflammation and pain and increase blood flow. Some experts believe that contact with Earth’s natural electromagnetic field helps rebalance our bioelectrical systems to support cellular health.
Make getting your steps in more fun by changing the way you move a few times a week. “Try what I call ‘weird walking,’ ” says fitness expert Jen Sinkler, founder of the online fitness community Unapologetically Strong. “Sneak, tiptoe, do calf raises, circle your hips, leap and catch yourself in a squat. Make a game of it and spend time getting to know your body and how it works.” You’ll get exercise and work different muscles than when you simply put one foot in front of the other (and maybe you’ll make some small children laugh!).
Coloring isn’t just for kids! Scribbling between the lines is its own form of zen and relieves stress by allowing the brain to rest and relax, and it’s a mindful experience because it takes the focus off stressors and puts it on the task at hand, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Science backs this up—multiple studies suggest that art therapy can help people cope with anxiety and depression.
Rinsing in cold water for 15 to 30 seconds may help improve circulation and give you a burst of energy in the morning, says Tania Elliott, M.D., an associate attending physician at NYU Langone Health in New York City. When the cold water hits your skin, it gives a quick shock to your nervous and circulatory systems, dilating blood vessels, increasing blood flow to your extremities, and causing your heart to beat faster.
Research shows that antioxidant-rich cherries may improve sleep, boost immunity, and reduce joint and muscle aches—but you’d have to eat a lot of them (45, to be exact!) to match the studies. As that’s more than most of us can stomach, sipping some tart cherry concentrate can also do the trick, says Amber Dodzweit, a fitness coach and founder of Built for Her in Fort Lauderdale, FL. “Cherry concentrate helps reduce inflammation that many of our daily actions, like exercise, can cause,” she says.
Performing a simple gesture of gratitude can give you an instant boost in happiness, found a study in Psychological Science, likely because it inspires you to feel grateful and reflect on positive people or experiences. Get creative with your delivery—buy a pack of pretty note cards and a nice pen, or just shoot off a quick email or text (taking full advantage of some cheerful emojis!).
Yes, deep breathing is a great way to relieve stress, but it can strengthen your abs too. Having a strong core is key to good posture and also helps prevent you from getting hurt doing ordinary tasks like lifting a box or putting away groceries on a high shelf, and just the act of taking deep breaths in and out works those abdominal muscles, says Ife Obi, a certified Pilates instructor and founder of New York City’s The Fit In.
Try it: Take a full breath in and let your belly fill with air, then forcefully exhale as if you’re fogging a mirror. Focus on breathing into your rib cage while trying to keep your abs tight for at least 30 seconds. Start with three times a day and work your way up to one minute per session—if you can do this, it means your core is getting stronger!
Program your phone to notify you every 30 to 60 minutes, then limber up when you hear it. “Stretch your wrists and neck, especially if you work at a computer,” says Steph Gaudreau, a strength-training coach in San Diego. “Stand up and do gentle torso twists, shoulder rolls, and side bends.” Beyond the fact that it feels great, stretching during long periods of sitting helps prevent muscle and joint pain and stiffness.
Too tired to mow the lawn and get in your daily workout? Don’t be too hard on yourself: Science says household chores are a form of exercise too. Multiple studies have shown that engaging in everyday activities that make you move and get your heart rate up can positively affect muscle strength and overall health, from your heart to your brain. Don’t quit your regular workouts altogether, but feel free to count vacuuming and grocery lugging toward your weekly total!
Watching shows might sound like a lazy thing to do, but when you do it on the floor, you can realign your body, says Kelly Starrett, D.P.T., cofounder of The Ready State, a mobility-coaching app. “Sitting on the floor is one of the ways to make the hips stay open, and the spine protects itself and resets,” he says. “Plus, it engages muscles we don’t use when sitting in a chair.”
No need to be in perfect lotus position—you can pop a squat, kneel, or sit with legs stretched out. Each targets different muscles. For extra credit, regularly getting up from the floor without leaning on anything improves your balance, which studies suggest may help reduce the risk of falls that rises with aging.
Throwing veggies and protein on a sheet pan with your favorite herbs and spices and then roasting them is one of the easiest ways to get supper on the table and healthful foods in your belly, says Jessica Stamm, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Los Angeles. “Get creative based on seasonal produce; in summer, I love combining chicken with nectarine, sweet potato, and onion,” she says. Designating a specific day of the week for this type of dinner (it doesn’t have to be Sunday!) gives you the chance to prep ahead so you can try new healthy foods and recipes. Pro tip: Make enough for leftovers so you have a few lunches covered for the week.
Indigestion is uncomfortable and drags down your energy level, and one common cause is eating too much too fast, says Sydney Greene, a registered dietitian nutritionist in New York City. “Our brains need 20 minutes to catch up with our stomachs and recognize that we’re full. Putting the fork down requires you to chew, taste, and sense the food in your mouth, which can help prevent speed eating or overeating,” she says.
Create a set of bedtime steps to get you snooze-ready—dim the lights, listen to calming music while you brush your teeth, or do a quick meditation. And don’t forget to put away digital devices at least 30 minutes before bed to avoid melatonin-disrupting blue light. Your bedtime routine plays an important role in making sure you get the eight hours of sleep your body needs to undergo its complete reset every night.
This article originally appeared in the August 2021 issue of Prevention.