In our culture, we expect results fast. And while it may not be possible to wake up tomorrow 10 pounds lighter or with an insatiable love of salads, there are small changes you can make that deliver immediate health payoffs—the kind that will encourage you to make another small change, and another and, well, you get the idea.
1. Shop smarter at the supermarket.
On a mission to eat healthier? Every time you go to the grocery store, divide your shopping cart in half and put produce in the front (fresh, frozen, whatever) and everything else at the other end. It’s key to have an actual dividing line—like your reusable shopping bags or a purse or coat—as a visual reminder.
2. Meditate every morning.
You don’t have to “om” or even try to empty your mind. Simply sit in a comfy position with your eyes closed and let your thoughts wander. Research shows this method of mindful meditation can leave you feeling calmer, more focused and refreshed, says Susan Albers, Psy.D., author of 50 More Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food. There’s no ideal dose (even 5 minutes can help), so meditate for as long as it takes you to feel better. Do it first thing in the morning to establish a relaxed, positive vibe for the day.
3. Pick up a new pillow.
Getting adequate rest can help combat health issues including obesity, diabetes, depression and high blood pressure. “One of the biggest reasons people don’t get the quality sleep they need is they’re tossing and turning all night trying to get comfortable—and usually that’s due to lack of proper support,” says sleep expert Michael Breus, Ph.D. “Pillows lose their supportiveness after about a year—but no one ever replaces them that often.” So make the mini investment, and snooze better starting tonight.
4. Tap your toes.
You know that being deskbound is bad for your health. Fortunately, researchers at the University of Missouri discovered that fidgeting can reduce the arterial damage that happens from spending too much time on your derriere. In the study, healthy men and women were asked to intermittently tap one foot while keeping the other one still. After three hours, researchers compared the blood flow in each leg and found that the fidgeting one showed improved vascular function, while the stationary leg was worse off. Considering that the average person sits 15 hours a day, a little fidgeting could have very real benefits.
5. Brighten it up.
People who eat in well-lit spaces consume about 39% fewer calories—and make healthier food choices—than those who dine under dim lighting, says research. Why? Bright spaces make us feel more alert, so we nosh more mindfully. In fact, participants who skipped the candles at mealtime ate more slowly, enjoyed their food more and, yes, ate 373 fewer calories.
6. Add fruits or veg to breakfast.
Did you know that eating produce in the morning can help you maintain a healthy weight? A Cornell University study looked at the habits of people with normal BMIs and found that 96% of them ate breakfast (versus skipping it or merely sipping coffee). The most common items on their morning menu? Fruits and veggies. Go ahead, whip up a chock-full-of-veggies omelet or blend a smoothie bursting with fruit.
7. Plant a garden—and dig in.
Growing your own fruits and vegetables not only makes you more likely to eat them, but can be a restorative hobby, as well. Studies show that getting your hands dirty can lower stress and heart disease risk, improve mental sharpness and make you happier. Simply looking at images of outdoor spaces helps, too—which means the benefits will kick in the moment you start creating your gardening inspiration board.
8. Break your sugar habit.
“Sugar shows up in all sorts of foods that have no business being sweet in the first place, like crackers and high-fiber cereals. Over time, this higher level of sweetness corrupts your palate,” says David Katz, M.D., former director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. To avoid this, read food labels carefully and choose lower-sugar options. According to Katz, “Within a week or so, your taste buds will readjust and you’ll prefer things less sweet. You may find that really sugary things, like desserts and soda, now taste too cloying—which will make cutting back even easier.”