51 Brilliant Health Tricks You’ll Want to Make a Habit
Add just a few of these simple healthy habits to your daily routine, and see how much better you’ll feel about your energy, weight, mood, and more.
Eat your meals at the same time every day
One of our biggest stressors is not finances or marriage but the lack of a regular routine, says oncologist David B. Agus, MD, in his book The End of Illness. Even simply eating lunch an hour later than usual can spike levels of the stress hormone cortisol and disrupt your body’s ideal state. Try to eat, sleep, and exercise at the same time every day, 365 days a year.
Pack your suitcase on your bed
Don’t fill your luggage on the floor. Leaning down puts stress on your back, notes spine orthopedic surgeon Gerard J. Girasole, coauthor with Cara Hartman of the book The 7-Minute Back Pain Solution. Instead, pack your luggage atop a towel-draped bed or table so you’re not bending over as much, thereby avoiding one of the everyday habits that give you back pain.
Read away stress
A good read can lower levels of unhealthy stress hormones such as cortisol. Participants in a British study engaged in an anxiety-provoking activity and then either read for a few minutes, listened to music, or played video games. Reading was 68 percent better at reducing stress levels than listening to music. And a little bit of reading goes a long way— six minutes of reading reduces stress levels by 67 percent.
Curse pain goodbye
You’ll feel better if you let loose with some profanity after you whack your funny bone. U.K. researchers found that participants who repeated a swear word could keep their hands in freezing water longer than those who repeated a non-curse word. One caveat: The trick works better if you’re not a regular potty mouth. If you find that hard to believe, here are some more unusual things doctors do to relieve pain.
Steep your tea bag for two to five minutes
Research links tea to lower risks of heart attack, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease. More antioxidants were unleashed in tea steeped for five minutes than for just one or two, according to a British study.
Downsize your meat portion
Is meat good or bad for you? While the debate rages on, steak lovers can indulge with less guilt simply by eating a more reasonable helping. The perfect meat portion is three ounces (about the size of a deck of cards), which is A LOT smaller than many restaurant portions. Cutting back on meat will help protect you from the things that happen to your body when you eat too much meat, too.
Cook one more meal per week at home
Research in the journal Public Health Nutrition that found that people who cooked at home five times a week were nearly 50 percent more likely to be alive after ten years than those who steered clear of the kitchen. The benefits aren’t just from eating healthier but also from grocery shopping, following a recipe, and preparing food, which help your brain develop new connections. Swap out one night of takeout for an easy go-to recipe, then gradually add more recipes/meals to your repertoire over time.
Steer clear of coughers and sneezers
“Most germs are spread by droplets; talking and sneezing produce droplets that fall within a six-foot range,” says Michael Pentella, PhD, clinical associate professor at the University of Iowa College of Public Health. During cold and flu season, he tries to stay three feet away from people who are visibly ill, one of the helpful ways doctors avoid catching cold and flu.
Drink this before driving
Mild dehydration may increase driver inattention and compromise safety as much as alcohol does. A small Loughborough University study tracked men during two simulated driving tests. In one test, they drank large amounts of water the day before and the day of the test. In another, they had limited water both days. When dehydrated, the men made 101 minor driving errors (comparable to a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent) but only 47 errors when hydrated.
Snack on an apple a day for healthier arteries
There may be something to that “doctor a day” adage: Middle-aged participants who started eating an apple a day saw a dramatic 40 percent drop in their oxidized LDL, which is a particularly dangerous, artery-hardening form of “bad” cholesterol. In the small, month-long study, participants who took pills containing the same amount of polyphenol antioxidants contained in apples also saw a decrease, though significantly smaller. Further studies are needed to discover why eating whole apples maximizes the heart-happy benefits, but these 50 foods are definitely good for your heart.
Ask, ‘Doc, are your hands clean?’
One-third of patients surveyed at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said they didn’t see doctors wash their hands, even though the practice is a major way to control infections in health-care settings. But nearly two-thirds of those patients didn’t challenge the doctor about it. Too shy to speak up? Say something like “I’m embarrassed to ask you this, but would you mind cleaning your hands before you begin?”
Make your left hand a fist
Next time you’re facing a stressful situation that requires physical accuracy (such as walking on a treacherous path), squeeze your left hand into a fist. This simple trick helped athletes keep their cool during a game’s high-pressure moments in a 2012 study. Choking under pressure seems to be caused by brain activity in the nondominant hemisphere, and distracting that side of the brain (by clenching your left hand if you’re right-handed) can stop the overthinking that leads to error.
Blow your nose the right way
Betcha didn’t know there’s a good and a bad way to get rid of that mucus-y stuffiness. Turns out, honking both nostrils at the same time can create too much pressure in your nasal cavities and can push mucus deeper into your sinuses, making you feel worse, Business Insider reports. Instead, blow slowly, one nostril at a time. In addition to blowing your nose wrong, you’re probably also making these other 32 everyday mistakes that raise your risk of catching a cold.
Get rid of your magnifying mirror
It makes you want to pick and squeeze your pores, pimples, and other imperfections, which are all everyday habits that are ruining your complexion.
Try this craving-fighting trick
Jonesing for chocolate-covered pretzels? Have one or two—then wait 15 minutes to see if you really want more. That’s the lesson from Cornell research on 100 adults who ate either a small or large serving of the same snack. While the group who ate the bigger portion consumed about 77 percent more calories on average, both groups reported equally fewer cravings 15 minutes later—a sign that it’s the pleasure of eating, not the portion size, that satisfies. How’s that for simple but effective portion control tricks to help you snack less?
For a healthier heart, don’t ignore the 3 D’s: delay, denial, and death
An artery that is only 50 percent blocked can become fully blocked in a matter of hours, leading to a life-threatening heart attack, says cardiologist Joel K. Kahn, MD. “I tell my patients to never ignore chest pressure, shortness of breath, or sudden fatigue. These may be symptoms of a forthcoming heart attack.” If you’re concerned, get checked ASAP and make sure you’re doing these other 30 things that reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Beat a bad mood—with your garbage can
When students were asked to write bad thoughts about their body and then toss the paper in a garbage can, they were later more positive about their body image than those who hadn’t discarded them, found Ohio State University research. When they tucked positive thoughts about a healthy diet into their pocket, they were more likely to want to follow that diet later than those who threw such thoughts away. How you treat your thoughts affects behavior—these 23 easy mood-boosters you’ll want to make a habit prove that much!
Walk to work
Workers who hoof it to the office are 40 percent less likely to have diabetes, 20 percent less likely to be overweight, and 17 percent less likely to have high blood pressure than those who drive, according to a study of 20,000 U.K. residents in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Taking public transportation or cycling was also associated with better health. This and other studies suggest it’s not always necessary to go to the gym to reap the health benefits of physical activity.
Wash your hands before you cook
Many instances of food-borne illness are due to improper food handling at home, according to research from Elizabeth Scott, co-director of the Simmons Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community in Boston. About 60 percent of people aren’t diligent about cleaning their hands before prepping food, even though this may eliminate nearly half of all cases of food poisoning as well as these other bad things that can happen if you don’t wash your hands.
Trouble sleeping? Maybe you should invite your pooch to bed
Sleeping with your dog can be comforting. But is it a good idea? Maybe. Researchers found that having a dog in the bedroom doesn’t necessarily hurt sleep quality, although snoozing with too many pets could increase how many times people wake up in the night, per the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders study. The dogs’ position on or off the bed, however, makes a difference. Experiment with your pup to find what works for you both.
“Close” your kitchen after 7 p.m.
Your body needs a nighttime break from eating to repair metabolic functions, says Dr. Kahn. Skipping this fast—say, with a midnight snack—can cause a rise in inflammation, blood sugar, blood fats, and cell aging. Putting a mental “closed” sign on your kitchen after dinner, ideally around 7 p.m., is one of the best ways to improve your eating habits in just one day.
Make nuts your go-to snack
People who ate one ounce of nuts a day (that’s about 25 almonds or 50 pistachios) were less likely to die over a 30-year period than people who didn’t eat them at all, found a study of 119,000 people published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Study authors believe that the high levels of healthy unsaturated fats in nuts may lower cholesterol and inflammation, reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, and more. Meanwhile, avoid these everyday eating habits that are horrible for your cholesterol.
Open your windows
The air inside your home might be even more polluted than the air in the world’s dirtiest cities, says Dr. Kahn. There are dozens of possible sources—hairspray, candles, fumes from the nonstick coating on your cookware. While any might be harmless in small amounts, the caustic brew they create when mixed together can turn up inflammation, raise blood pressure, and harden arteries. Open windows on milder days, and use a fan to circulate the air to reduce indoor air pollution levels.
Stick to wrapped candy
Peeling off the wrapper requires effort and increases your awareness of how much candy you’re eating, research shows. This is a good thing because eating too much sugar is making you sick in these 25 ways.
Upgrade your sunscreen to SPF 50
Still think SPF 15 is totally fine? SPF 50 offers significantly better sun protection, especially over time. Sunscreen with SPF 15 allows 7 percent of UVB rays to be transmitted to your skin, while one with SPF 50 permits 2 percent of rays to pass through, says Steven Wang, MD, director of dermatologic surgery and dermatology for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. This means that an SPF 15 sunscreen allows more than three times as many UVB rays as SPF 50, which makes a big difference when you consider cumulative exposure over months, years, and decades.
Fake a good night’s sleep
Believing you slept well—even if you didn’t—may improve cognitive function the next day, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. Researchers asked 164 participants how they’d slept the previous night, then hooked them up to a sham machine that purportedly revealed to scientists their REM sleep. People who were told they had above-average REM sleep performed better on cognitive and attention tasks than those who were told their REM sleep was below average, regardless of how they’d actually slept. So if you’re tired, try not to dwell on it, which could make you feel even more exhausted. Once you do get to bed, make a habit of doing these little changes that can help you sleep better in just one day.
Top your burger with avocado
After people ate hamburgers, UCLA researchers documented a harmful reaction in their arteries within two hours. When the people topped the burgers with a slice of avocado, the harm nearly disappeared. Nutrient-packed produce (even an avocado, with high-fat content) seems to neutralize the inflammatory effects of meat, and that’s only one of many tricks to make your guilty pleasure foods healthier.
Vent about your stress—to someone who’s also anxious
Unleashing your worries can make you feel better—but only if it’s to someone who feels just as anxious. Researchers from the University of Southern California tasked 52 women with giving a videotaped speech. Before speaking, the participants were paired up and urged to express their feelings. Researchers assessed the women’s emotional states and measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol before, during, and after the speeches. When each woman in the pair had similar emotions, discussing their feelings made both less stressed. But when one felt nervous and the other felt calm, communicating did not minimize the worriers’ anxiety.
Make milk one of your daily drinks
Your knees may thank you one day. Low-fat or fat-free milk may help slow the progression of arthritis in the knee, found a Brigham and Women’s Hospital study. Researchers asked 1,260 women with arthritis in at least one knee about their food intake and assessed the women’s knee health for up to four years. The more milk the women drank (from less than one glass a week to seven or more), the more slowly their arthritis progressed. Cheese intake seemed to worsen the disease, possibly because its saturated fat may trigger inflammation, and these other foods can worsen your arthritis symptoms too.
Getting a flu vaccine? Work out beforehand
Flu vaccines are the best way to prevent the virus, but they’re only 50 to 70 percent effective. Exercising before or after getting the vaccine may prime your immune system to produce more infection-fighting antibodies. In one study, Iowa State University students who jogged or biked at a moderate pace for 90 minutes after receiving the shot had nearly double the amount of antibodies of those who were sedentary.
Public potty? Don’t squat
You think this keeps your behind free from bacteria lurking on the bowl, but lately urology experts have been saying that squatting could lead to a urinary tract infection. Hovering above the toilet contracts pelvic muscles, which can prevent your bladder from completely emptying and allow bacteria to grow. If you’re really freaked about germs, cover the seat with toilet paper instead and avoid these other ways you’ve been using the toilet wrong.
Stop driving in flip-flops
These sandals can slip off and either get stuck under the brake and gas pedals or depress both pedals at the same time, says former police officer and certified traffic safety and crash expert John E. Langan. “Driving is the most dangerous activity the average person will do in his lifetime. Why would anyone want to make it even more dangerous by wearing the wrong shoes?” he says. The next time you must get behind the wheel wearing flip-flops, just slip them off and set them on the seat next to you. “Driving barefoot is better than wearing flip-flops,” says William Van Tassel, manager of driver-training programs at AAA’s national office. And there are actually more scary reasons you should stop wearing flip-flops, even when you’re not behind the wheel.
Don’t treat exercise like a chore
iStock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund
How you think about exercise might make a big difference in how much weight you lose. In one study, participants walked the same one-mile course, but half were told it was exercise, while the rest thought it was purely for the pleasure of listening to music. Afterward, the “exercisers” were more tired and grumpy and scarfed down more sugary treats at a lunch buffet. Focus on the fun in your physical activity, and you may feel happier and less like snacking later.
Sneak in an exercise “quickie” before you eat
The best pre-meal appetizer: ultra-short bursts of activity. A New Zealand study found that overweight people who did just six 60-second bursts of intense activity before a meal (such as walking quickly up a steep hill) saw a 13 percent greater drop in blood sugar after they ate than those who did a moderate-intensity workout for a half hour. The effect lasted for up to 24 hours afterward and can protect against diabetes, just like these other easy diabetes-fighting habits.
Traveling somewhere exotic? Pack hand sanitizer
Travelers in developing or tropical areas often encounter diarrhea, but clean hands can protect guts. About 30 percent of people who didn’t use hand sanitizer fell sick during travel, compared with only 17 percent of those who used a germ-killing gel, French researchers found in 2014. Sanitizing before meals can help you avoid bacteria like E. coli, a common cause of diarrhea.
Eat a bigger breakfast
Diabetes patients who ate a large, nutritious breakfast for three months had a reduction in blood sugar and blood pressure three times greater than that of people who ate a smaller meal, according to a 2013 Israeli study. Breakfasts high in protein may lower levels of ghrelin, the “hunger hormone.” Don’t miss these other 17 common, “healthy” breakfast mistakes you’ve probably been making.
Skip that sandwich
You may want to reconsider your daily midday meal selection. Sandwiches contribute about 30 percent of the daily sodium limit of 2,300 milligrams recommended for most Americans, according to a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For those ages 50 and older, they contribute nearly 50 percent. In the study, sandwich eaters also consumed an average of 300 more calories and 600 more milligrams of sodium than those who munched on other fare.
Keep roses near your bed
Prone to nightmares? Place a potted rosebush or a rose bouquet near your bed. In a German study, women who slept in a rose-scented room reported experiencing pleasant dreams, while those exposed to a rotten-egg smell were more likely to have negative ones. Experts say smell can affect the brain’s emotional responses, and since pleasant smells like roses are often linked to happy memories, they can promote more agreeable dreams. You’ll be on your way to better sleep, especially if you try these other ways to sleep better straight from sleep doctors.
Check email (a little) less often
Here’s a simple way to feel less stressed: Sign out of your email. For two weeks, Canadian researchers assigned more than 120 adults to either check their inboxes only three times a day or to check as often as possible (about the same number of times they normally would). After the first week, participants switched scenarios. For most people, checking email less frequently significantly lowered overall daily stress levels.
Got dry eyes? Take a deep breath
Japanese researchers asked 20 women to breathe either normally or abdominally (inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for six) for three minutes. Tear volume remained constant after normal breathing but increased by 48 percent within 15 minutes of the deep-breathing session. Deep breathing may restore balance to the part of the nervous system that is linked to tear production. If this method doesn’t work to help your dry eyes, find out the signs you may have dry eye syndrome.
Test your brain health—in 20 seconds
Can you balance on one leg for at least 20 seconds? Japanese researchers asked more than 1,000 participants (average age: 67) to lift one leg for up to 60 seconds, then compared their performance with scans of their brains. Those who couldn’t balance for more than 20 seconds were more likely to have cerebral small blood vessel disease (linked to stroke and dementia) even if they didn’t have classic symptoms.
Use honey to cure a canker sore
In a Saudi Arabian study, people who dabbed honey on irritating canker sores had less pain and healed faster than those who used other treatments (a steroid cream and an over-the-counter canker sore paste that forms a protective barrier). After two days, the people who used honey reported that their pain was completely gone; it took up to eight days for users of the other treatments to feel better. Researchers suspect that honey’s anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties help ease pain and promote wound healing, just like these other home remedies for canker sores.
Ditch the iPad before bed
During a two-week study, Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers assigned 12 participants to read either an e-book on an iPad or a printed book before they went to sleep each evening for five nights. Then they switched formats and read for another five nights. When people read on the iPad, they took longer to fall asleep and spent less time in REM sleep than with the traditional books. Researchers say using devices that emit blue light—including cell phones and laptops— before bedtime can have negative long- term health effects.
Eat this before you grocery shop
At the start of a shopping trip, Cornell researchers randomly gave 120 people a sample of an apple, a cookie, or nothing. Those who received the apple bought 28 percent more fruits and vegetables than those who got a cookie and 25 percent more than those with no snack. Simply eating an apple is definitely one of the handiest secrets to help you shop healthier at the grocery store.
Watch where you walk
Texting and driving is dangerous—but what about texting and walking? The National Safety Council reports that distracted-walking injuries are on the rise, many the result of a fall and often in the victim’s own home. Pedestrian fatalities have increased 46 percent in the last decade, with 6,000 pedestrian deaths by motor vehicle in 2016 alone. Stay alert, even if you know your way around.
Look at your right arm
British researchers counted moles (an important predictor of skin cancer risk) on nearly 4,000 female Caucasian twins. Those who had more than 11 moles on their right arm were likely to have more than 100 moles throughout their body, which could indicate a significantly increased risk of skin cancer. Visit a doctor for a full checkup if you discover more than 11 moles on your arm or any moles that have changed color or shape in the past few months. Learn more about how to check your moles for skin cancer with these easy tips.
Write by hand
Stimulate your mind with handwriting. Typing is more mindless, and writing the old-fashioned way lights up other sections of the brain, according to Newsweek. It’s easier to remember something once you’ve written it down on paper. Make sure you know these other everyday habits that keep your brain healthy, too.
Count your sugar grams
Then aim to eat no more than 24 grams (or six teaspoons) of added sugar in 24 hours. One teaspoon/cube equals four grams. When you see sugar grams on a label, divide by four to get the number of teaspoons. A packet of oatmeal can have 12 grams of sugar— that’s three teaspoons or half of what major health organizations recommend for the day. Yogurt can have more than 24 grams—your whole day’s allotment. Even if you can’t commit to low-sugar lifestyle indefinitely, try tracking your sugar intake for one week. You will be shocked.
Scope out the buffet before you fill up your plate
Heavier diners were twice as likely to start picking out food before perusing as thinner eaters, Cornell research showed. Other study-backed ways to eat less in this environment: Sit farther away and in a seat that doesn’t face the food. Now that you know which habits to add to your routine, find out which ones you’re already doing that you didn’t realize were actually healthy for you!