Every day, you’re faced with dozens of directives from doctors, health experts, and well-meaning family members: exercise 30 minutes a day, eat fish twice a week, floss every night. But it’s just not possible to do everything perfectly.
You can’t cut corners on some things, such as quitting smoking or giving up trans fats, but other health mandates offer wiggle room for sane shortcuts. Want real-life advice for healthier living? Here are a dozen easier ways to do good-for-you things:
1. Eat a balanced, healthy breakfast.
Ideally, this will include protein, complex carbs, and healthy fat. Studies show that people who eat regular breakfasts maintain their weight and have a lower risk of diabetes—and they skip the mid-morning, grab-a-donut crash.
Sane shortcuts: Breakfast bars are a tempting shortcut, but many of them have too much sugar, too many calories, not enough fiber, and very little protein. Read labels carefully.
- Keep a supply of boiled eggs in the refrigerator for quick breakfasts.
- Combine whey protein, milk of your choice, and fruit in a blender the night before, so all you have to do in the morning is grab it and go.
- Spread almond butter on a whole-grain toaster waffle.
- Try an apple with a few cubes of cheese or a packet of salmon.
- Keep a bag of (unsalted, dry-roasted) nuts in your car for emergency morning snacks.
2. Boost cardiovascular health with daily activity.
About 30 minutes of vigorous activity every day—or even most days of the week—can improve cardiovascular health, reduce harmful LDL cholesterol, boost beneficial HDL levels, and normalize weight.
Sane shortcuts. If a 30-minute run seems out of your reach, break it up into manageable bursts of intense activity—anything that gets your heart beating faster.
- Park several blocks away from your office and sprint to work (keep running shoes in your car to protect feet and knees), and hoof it as much as possible on errands.
- Use a bike for transportation whenever distance and weather allow.
- Stow a jump rope in your car, office drawer, briefcase, or backpack, and jump rope on your lunch hour.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator; if it’s a short flight, go up and down at a steady clip for 10 minutes.
3. Eat 5–9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
They’re rich in fiber and disease-preventive antioxidants, and they help protect you from heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and many other illnesses.
Sane shortcuts. Fresh, local, seasonal, organic produce is the ideal, but that’s a tall order for many Americans.
The next best thing:
- Stock your freezer with a variety of frozen vegetables for last-minute side dishes.
- Purée a handful of baby spinach leaves, frozen blackberries, and half an avocado into breakfast smoothies.
- Buy bags of precut vegetables and add to chopped romaine lettuce for fast salads.
- Keep cucumber slices, strips of red peppers, and celery and carrot sticks in the fridge for fast snacks.
- Serve tomato juice instead of fruit juice—it has concentrated antioxidants and less sugar.
4. Get at least eight hours of sleep.
Less than that, and you’ll increase your risk of high blood pressure and weight gain; other studies show skimping on sleep is linked to lowered immunity.
Sane shortcuts. Make sure your bedroom is the ideal sleep environment—quiet, dark, comfortable—and follow good sleep hygiene: avoid caffeine in the late afternoon, don’t watch scary movies, and follow a calming pre-bed ritual.
- Take an afternoon siesta. One study showed that nappers lowered their risk of heart disease, so grab a 20-minute snooze after lunch or work.
- Try NADH: 20 mg of this co-enzyme can boost mental alertness and concentration, and help you perform better on mental tasks when you’re sleep deprived.
- Close your eyes and do deep-breathing exercises for 10 minutes during your lunch hour to temporarily refresh your mind.
A number of studies show that a daily meditation practice lowers blood pressure and reduces stress.
Sane shortcuts. The idea behind meditation is to calm the nervous system, slow your heart rate, and lower stress. Close your eyes, listen to your breath, and repeat the word “calm” or “relax.” If spending 30 minutes cross-legged on a cushion is unthinkable:
- Get comfortable (you don’t have to sit on the floor). Choose a comfortable chair that keeps your spine erect, but not so comfortable that you’ll doze off, and start with short—no more than 10 minutes—sessions to establish the habit.
- If your mornings are rushed, try meditating at lunch or right before bed.
- Do mini meditations throughout the day. Set an alarm for 2-hour intervals, and check in for 2 minutes with your breathing.
- Invest in a set of meditation CDs to guide you.
6. Eat fish twice a week.
Fatty varieties—such as salmon, sardines, and tuna—are rich in omega-3s that protect against heart disease, Alzheimer’s, inflammation, and depression.
Sane shortcuts. Flaxseed, walnuts, and a few other plant foods are also rich in omega-3 fats, but in a form that must be converted by the body, so they’re not your best source. Fishy ideas:
- Swap salmon for white fish or shrimp in many recipes.
- Sardines are cheaper than salmon and lower in toxins than tuna. Swap boneless, skinless sardines for tuna in salads.
- Take omega-3 supplements that contain DHA and EPA, and make sure they also include vitamin E, rosemary, or another antioxidant to keep them fresh.
- For effective vegan sources of omega-3s, look for algae-based DHA supplements.
7. Always wear sunscreen.
One recent study found that using sunscreen on a daily basis reduced the risk of melanoma, the most dangerous kind of skin cancer.
Sane shortcuts. The idea is to reduce cancer risk and protect against aging and skin damage. Choose safe sunscreens, and avoid toxic ingredients. The Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) has a complete list of the safest choices. But if you’re not willing to slather on sunscreen every time you step outdoors:
- Use a foundation or moisturizer with built-in sunscreen.
- Carry a lightweight jacket or shirt when you’re sleeveless, wear a big-brimmed hat, and seek out shade.
- Drink green tea. It contains antioxidants that protect against damaging UV rays, and in one study, reduced skin cancer by more than 50 percent.
8. Eat 20–35 grams of fiber each day.
Both soluble and insoluble fiber are linked with a decreased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Sane shortcuts. Don’t count on grains for your daily intake of the rough stuff. Calorie-for-calorie, beans, vegetables, and even some fruits are better bets. Other ways to get more fiber:
- Add beans to soups, salads, or brown rice. Most contain half of your daily fiber needs—between 14 and 19 grams per cup—and lots of protein.
- Serve broccoli spears with dipping sauce for a fast alternative to salad. You’ll get 6 grams of fiber per cup.
- Top salads with a cup of raspberries, for 9 grams of fiber and only 68 calories.
- Take a daily dose of ground psyllium fiber.
- Add ground flax to salad dressings and smoothies.
9. Brush after every meal, and floss daily.
Besides preventing cavities, good oral hygiene protects against disease. In one study, people with periodontal disease were almost twice as likely to have heart disease.
Sane shortcuts. Brush after every meal when you’re eating at home, and tote a toothbrush in your purse, briefcase, or backpack, to brush after meals when you’re out. If brushing is out of the question:
- Chew xylitol gum after meals. It increases saliva production to wash away bits of food, and xylitol protects against cavities.
- Make flossing easier with individual flossers (use the kind with replaceable heads to cut down on waste). Or invest in an electric toothbrush with sonic waves to blast plaque.
10. Lift weights.
Pumping iron encourages bone density and lowers body fat, which increases metabolism and lowers heart disease risk.
Sane shortcuts. Get a personal trainer to show you the ropes. Even one session will give you the tools and know-how to stick to a regular regimen. If you can’t lift weights at the gym:
- Practice squats, lunges, or pushups. They use your body weight as the resistance.
- Dancing, stair climbing, jogging, and any exercise that requires your body to work against gravity also boosts bone.
- Follow a bone-healthy diet, which includes calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D, and take a balanced bone-building supplement formula.
11. Stay hydrated.
Try to get the equivalent of eight glasses of water per day. Staying adequately hydrated helps maintain blood pressure, improves mental and physical performance, and promotes regularity. In a study of 20,000 adults, those who drank five or more glasses of water per day were half as
likely to die from a heart attack.
Sane shortcuts. Eight-a-day has long been the standard recommendation, but it depends on your size, level of activity, and overall diet (e.g., coffee is a diuretic, increasing need for H2O). Additionally, foods high in water content, such as fruits and vegetables, count toward your daily quota.
- How to hydrate without feeling water logged:
- Keep a jug or pitcher of water on your desk. You’ll drink more if it’s convenient.
- Add lemon or lime zest to water for fast refreshment.
- Drink from a straw. You’ll automatically drink more.
12. Wash your hands.
Studies show that frequent hand washing—with warm water and lots of soap—is one of the best ways to prevent colds and flu.
Sane shortcuts. Wash your hands as soon as possible after you return from the grocery store, bank, work, or other highly trafficked public places.
If you can’t wash:
- Use a hand sanitizing gel or wipe.
- Avoid chemicals and chapped hands by choosing natural sanitizers with antibacterial essential oils and aloe vera.
- Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes or nose. Delicate membranes in both can transfer pathogens into the body more effectively than putting your hands in your mouth.
- Strengthen your immune system with daily probiotics, vitamin D supplements, and supportive herbs such as ashwagandha.