Who among us doesn’t want to be healthier? So at the start of each year, you promise yourself this is it ― and resolve to start exercising and eating better. But when it comes time to put your plan into action, it all just seems so…daunting.
We feel you; it’s hard. But even though it might seem overwhelming, your health simply cannot wait. We partnered with Sleep Number to bring you eight small things you can start doing today that will lead to a longer and healthier life tomorrow.
Skip Screens Before Bed
Newsflash: Sleep is super important. Inadequate, or inferior, Zs can lead to a wide range of chronic health problems, and research is exploring a possible link between sleep loss and shorter lifespans.
You’ve probably heard that exposure to your phone’s “blue light” prior to bedtime can keep you awake longer — but did you know it might also lower your quality of sleep?
In 2014, Harvard neuroscientist Anne-Marie Chang performed a study that compared the effects of reading a printed book before bed to reading on a light-emitting device like your phone.
“Participants who read on light-emitting devices took longer to fall asleep, had less REM sleep [the phase when we dream] and had higher alertness before bedtime,” Chang told Scientific American. “We also found that after an eight-hour sleep episode, those who read on the light-emitting device were sleepier and took longer to wake up.”
So seriously: Try to hold off and check Instagram in the morning.
Stand Up Every 20 Minutes
Sitting is the new smoking, or so we’re told. So what’s a lazy person to do? Every 20 minutes, stand up for about two minutes. That’s enough to make a difference, according to New York Times Phys Ed columnist Gretchen Reynolds.
“That sounds so simple,” Reynolds told NPR. “But that actually has profound consequences. If you can stand up every 20 minutes — even if you do nothing else — you change how your body responds physiologically.”
Who knew preventing health problems could be so easy? If you’re worried about remembering to stand, try an alarm or a browser extension to remind you.
Cut Back On Sugar
Overconsumption of sugar can lead to a host of diseases, with some estimates indicating that it’s linked to a whopping 30 to 40 percent of health care expenditures in the U.S.
And unfortunately, sugar’s in everything. Salad dressings, granola bars, sports drinks and flavored yogurt are just some foods with gobs of sugar lurking within.
“I try to keep it simple,” suggests Dr. Gary Steward, a family physician in central New York. “Eat a healthy diet with fresh ingredients and moderate portions, and avoid processed foods.”
Processed foods are where a lot of that nastiness lies — so take your time reading labels, and reduce your intake of foods with added sugar (and be sure to read up on the many other names for sugar so you don’t miss anything).
Invest In A Quality Bed And Bedding
As mentioned above, high-quality sleep is absolutely essential to good health.
“Sleeping has a huge impact on your mental health, impacting stress levels, concentration and clarity of mind, as well as your physical health, directly correlating to weight management and risk of developing long-term chronic diseases,” said Dr. Lisa Benya, founder of CURE by Dr. Benya.
And one of the best ways to improve your sleep? Improve the platform you’re sleeping on. We spend up to one-third of our lives sleeping, according to the National Sleep Foundation, so it’s kind of crazy how little thought we give to our mattresses.
Even though they’re usually with us for at least several years, beds don’t get the same amount of careful scrutiny we employ when choosing items with more turnover, like cars or computers. If you want to quickly improve your sleep, take your time, do your research, and find a bed (and bedding) that provides the comfort and support your body needs.
Break For Lunch, Every Day
Say goodbye to sad desk salads! Getting away from your cubicle and dedicating time to eating and socializing is good for your health in the long run.
“Lunch breaks are crucial because they break up the work cycle of concentration and focus needed for your work day,” explained Benya. She said they’re a great way to reset your mind and make healthy choices like hydrating, stretching and selecting quality food.
“Although easy to neglect, it is important to prioritize lunch breaks as they can significantly help to manage stress and nutrition, largely benefitting mental and physical health,” she adds.
Take The Stairs
Or something like it. Even if you’ll never be a yogi or a gym rat, find ways to move your body each and every day.
As reported by The Washington Post, research has revealed that exercise can reduce heart attack risks, lower inflammation, help manage weight and lift one’s mood, among other myriad benefits.
Though the more you exercise, the bigger the payoff, even small amounts are better than nothing. So if you’re starting from zero, try to incorporate five minutes of exercise into your day, then 10, then 20. The next time you watch TV, do some squats. Instead of happy hour, meet your friend for a walk around the block. Just find a physical activity that interests you — hula hooping, pilates, whatever gets you moving.
Practice Controlled Breathing
Some stress is good and natural, but chronic stress is not; it can put people at an increased risk for health problems like anxiety, depression, headaches, heart disease, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment.
Try this stress-reducing exercise (you don’t even have to get out of bed):
“Before you go to sleep and before you start your day, take an extra five minutes in bed to give your brain the stress break it needs,” suggested Adam Anderson, chief neuroscience officer at Zenytime and an associate professor at Cornell University.
“Slow your breathing down to six breaths per minute, which is known as .1 Hz breathing. This decreases the brain’s ability to communicate stress signals to the body, acting as a built-in stress filter that you can access every day. Participating in controlled breathing helps you get the energy you need to start your day, reduces stress to help you sleep at night and decreases your risk of long-term effects like cardiovascular disease and a weakened immune system.”
Meet Up With Friends
Most experts agree social bonds might help you live a longer life (though there’s some debate as to whether it’s family or friends who have more impact).
“Since the late 1980s, studies have suggested that this is true,” writes Dr. Michael Craig Miller. “People who enjoy close relationships with family and friends are more likely to live longer than people who are isolated and lonely.” Even more impressive: “It’s twice as large as the longevity benefit that comes from regular exercise, or maintaining a normal weight.”
So whatever you do, don’t let those bonds slip away. Make regular dates with your friends and family — and if they’re far away, stay in close contact via phone and email. With today’s technology, it’s easy to stay in touch.