5 small lifestyle changes that make a big difference in your health
The saying go big or go home doesn't apply to your health and wellness routine. The truth is, even small lifestyle changes can make a big difference in your health. Here are five small lifestyle changes to tackle today.
1. Try to step up your activity levels—just a tad.
If you’re caught up thinking you don’t have time to squeeze in some activity, remember that some is better than none. Science is on my side here! In this study, just 4,400 steps per day—just about two miles—was linked with a lower risk of death during the follow-up period, regardless of how sweaty the walking session was. In other words, you don’t have to change gear, or bust a sweat to benefit. Start with 10 or 15 minutes, which can improve your insulin response, help you cope with stress, and maybe live a longer and healthier life!
2. Have one serving of leafy greens every day.
According to a recent study, just one serving of foods, like spinach, kale, collard greens, and romaine can protect your memory. In the study, those who ate the most leafy greens—on average, just 1.3 servings per day—had the memory of people 11 years younger compared to those who ate the least (just under a serving). Here’s the cool thing: A serving was considered about ½ cup of cooked greens or 1 cup of salad. That’s so doable!
Other research points to the fact that older adults with low levels of vitamin K—also found in leafy greens—had more trouble walking just ¼ mile or climbing only 10 steps without resting compared to those with higher levels of the nutrient. You can get more than 100% of your daily needs with just a cup of either spinach or kale.
Here are some easy ways to incorporate more greens:
Add a fistful (about a cup) of raw spinach or kale (fresh or frozen) to fruit smoothies. You won’t even notice the taste!
Scramble eggs with some spinach or serve your eggs alongside a small salad.
Stir some greens into your pasta or pasta sauce or make a pesto sauce with leafy greens, like this one from Epicurious.
3. Spend a total of two hours outside each week.
You probably spend much of your day indoors, glued to a screen, but research shows that even short bouts of outdoor time are tied to better health and happiness. The study analyzed responses from nearly 20,000 participants and found that spending a total of just two hours outside each week—whether all at once or broken up in smaller bits over the course of the week—was linked to a 59% higher chance of feeling healthy and a 23% higher chance of feeling emotionally well compared to those who spent less time in nature.
Don’t worry about going out for an hour-long hike or beach stroll; just get outside for a quick walk or nature break. Other research indicates that it can reduce the mental exhaustion you feel from sitting at your desk so it gives your brain the reboot it needs to carry on.
4. Get an extra hour of sleep.
Getting a good night’s sleep is hard for about 60% of people, according to the American Psychological Association. Sleep experts recommend seven to nine hours a day for optimal health, so if you’re routinely falling short of this target, just aiming for an extra hour each night can lead to significant health improvements.
According to the American Heart Association, the risk of heart attack and stroke both go up when we spring forward and lose a precious hour of sleep, and the opposite is true, too; the risk for heart attack goes down 21% in the days after the fall time change when you gain an hour or rest.
Another study found that compared to those who slept six hours a night, those who got an extra hour had a 33% lower risk of calcium plaque deposits in their arteries. The presence of these deposits is a strong indicator of heart attack risk.
In another small study, researchers focused on improving sleep duration among people with high blood pressure. Yet again, just an extra hour of sleep was linked with significant improvements.
(If you’re struggling to get enough sleep, read my blog post: 8 Natural Ways to Sleep Better. )
5. Have two servings of seafood every week.
Fish and shellfish are considered lean protein choices and they also provide healthful, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Our dietary guidelines suggest eating about 8 ounces (or two servings) each week, which can help lower your risk of memory problems and heart disease. If you’re not already consuming this amount of seafood, aim to up your intake. Include different types, such as salmon, tuna, halibut, shrimp, muscles, and clams.
One of my favorite things about seafood is it cooks up quickly, which makes it a great choice on busy weeknights. Another quick and easy option is canned fish, like wild tuna and salmon. Since canned, albacore tuna is higher in mercury, have it about once per week (less for children) and vary your seafood consumption with other options.
(If you’re looking for some 10 minute meal inspo—including some ways to increase your seafood intake—download my recipe booklet with 10 meals and snacks that take 10 minutes tops!)