You already know that two big ways to improve your health are eating right and staying active. But there’s a whole bunch of little stuff you can do each day to boost your overall wellness. Give these five small (but powerful) healthy tricks a try.
1. Combine your carbs and protein.
Sure, a banana’s good for you, but it’s even better if you combine it with peanut butter. You’ll hold off cravings by taking in some protein with your carbs, says Nancy Clark, a Boston-based registered dietitian and the author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. “Your meal will be more satisfying, you won’t be getting hungry, and it can help curb sweet cravings down the line,” she says. Other power combos: crackers with almond butter or hummus, and oatmeal with nuts.
2. Catch a few more z’s.
Erica Sara Reese, a jewelry designer in Macungue, Pennsylvania, assumed she didn’t need that much sleep and was often up past midnight. But after she got married, when her husband wanted to clock out at 9 p.m., she followed suit. “I’m not as cranky. I can also run my business more efficiently, making wiser decisions because I can think more clearly,” she says. Just one extra hour of sleep makes a health difference too. One study found that an hour more of sleep a night can not only help you be more active, it can even help lower your risk of cancer and diabetes.
3. Stand up.
Prolonged periods of inactivity (like sitting at your desk) have been linked to greater risk of heart disease and diabetes. But combating that is easy: Stand up. OK, so maybe you can’t stand the whole day, but try getting out of your chair as much as you can—even if it’s for a minute or two each hour. If you have a desk-bound job, try standing while you’re on the phone or make of habit of getting up to refill your water bottle throughout the day.
4. Stretch it out.
A period of light stretching, say 5 to 10 minutes, before you go to bed and right when you wake up can help lull you to sleep and get you ready for the day ahead, says Jacque Ratliff, an exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise. A stretch like the spinal twist can be done in bed. Lie on your back, bring your right knee to your chest, and cross it over to the left side of your body. Turn your head to the right and extend your right arm in a T-shape to your body (with your palm facing the bed), then rest your left hand on your right leg. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side. You can also try morning and evening meditation, which Ratliff says helps get you ready to start your day and relieves stress before bed. If you’re new to meditation, start small, with just three to five minutes a day. Focus on your breathing, taking slow, deep breaths. If your mind drifts, that’s OK. Simply refocus.
5. Soak up a little sun.
Getting a few minutes of sun exposure a day can give your body the dose of vitamin D it needs (about 1,000 IUs) to keep bones healthy. That means heading outside without sunscreen for a quick walk around the neighborhood or an outdoor lunch break. (The amount of time you’ll need to shun sunscreen to produce vitamin D depends on your skin coloring and where you live, but a good rule of thumb is about 10 minutes. For obvious reasons you’ll also need to bare as much skin as possible—think short sleeves, shorts, and no hat.) Some research has even shown that vitamin D may help protect against cancer.