1. Headline
  1. Headline
Image: green tea
Mario Tama  /  Getty Images
The longer tea steeps, the greater the quantity of health-boosting flavonoids.
updated 9/7/2010 8:28:36 AM ET 2010-09-07T12:28:36

Here's more proof that bigger isn't always better: Several recent studies show that sometimes the smallest changes (like how you brew your tea or when you schedule a medical exam) can have a huge payoff when it comes to improving your health. Whether it's timing, technique, or the type of food you eat, here's how to fine-tune your behavior to get the best results.

1. Take a 'caffeine nap'
Having a cup of coffee before closing your eyes is the most effective way to combat daytime drowsiness, according to research. Sounds counterintuitive, but it takes 20 minutes for the caffeine to get into your bloodstream. So if you take the recommended 20-minute nap (any longer and you can wake up groggy), caffeine's stimulating effects will be kicking in when your nap is ending. "You'll awaken feeling alert from the coffee and refreshed from the nap," says Jim Maas, PhD, a professor of psychology at Cornell University.

  1. Prevention
    1. 20 Celebrity Icons of Breast Cancer
    2. Hide Dark Circles Around Your Eyes
    3. 6 Surprising Moves for a Flatter Belly
    4. Best Natural–Looking Makeup
    5. Breast Cancer Beauty Buys Under $25

Expert tip: To help yourself fall asleep, try to simulate bedtime, even if that just means putting your head down on the desk or reclining in your chair at work. If a nap isn't possible, closing your eyes and meditating is better than nothing to refresh your mind and body, says Maas.

5 clues you are sleep-deprived

2. Walk backward
People performed difficult tasks faster after walking backward than they did after walking forward or even sideways in a recent study. The scientists believe that the "avoidance" mode of walking backward, similar to how you might retreat from a dangerous situation, helps focus your thinking.

Expert tip: Practice backward walking on a treadmill, where the rails can be used for support, advises Janet S. Dufek, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Try walking forward for 5 minutes and backward for 2 minutes, then repeat the pattern throughout your workout. Caution: Walking in reverse is much harder, so slow your pace by at least 50%.

  1. More from TODAY.com
    1. On milestone birthday, Al Roker shares 6 lessons for 6 decades

      First, 50th-birthday celebrations were in order for TODAY’s Hoda Kotb. Now, co-anchor Al Roker, who joined the national br...

    2. Happy birthday, Al! Anchors, fans celebrate Roker's 60th
    3. President Bush accepts Jenna Bush Hager's Ice Bucket Challenge
    4. Parents honor journalist slain by ISIS: An ‘extraordinary son’
    5. Missouri official: Governor making ‘rush to judgment’

Your body's 10 weirdest health clues

3. Eat low-glycemic carbs before the gym
High-fiber cereals and breads and most veggies metabolize slowly, helping you burn more fat — as much as 55% — while you work out, find British researchers. So go for whole grains and produce and avoid refined foods and sweetened drinks, which spike blood sugar and produce higher concentrations of circulating glucose and insulin, in turn inhibiting fat burning. Low-GI foods also produce hormones that suppress hunger.

Expert tip: After exercise, opt for foods loaded with protein, such as Greek yogurt, fat-free milk, egg whites, and peanut butter — the protein helps rebuild muscles.

Simple tasty ways to get more fiber

4. Wait to brush your teeth after meals
Acids in foods and drinks can soften tooth enamel, making teeth more sensitive and vulnerable to damage from brushing. Since you don't always know if a meal contains highly acidic foods, wait an hour before you pick up your toothbrush regardless of what you eat. Bonus: Waiting also gives your saliva a chance to wash away acids and for the enamel to reharden.

  1. Most popular
    1. The Week in Pictures

Expert tip: Rinse thoroughly with water or unsweetened tea to dilute acid while you wait the hour to brush (or if you're not able to brush). Both green and black tea kill germs that cause tooth decay and bad breath, and they're natural sources of protective fluoride.

5. Brew tea for up to 5 minutes
The longer the steep time, the greater the quantity of health-boosting flavonoids, explains Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, professor of nutrition at Tufts University. Drink tea with a squeeze of lemon juice and you'll increase antioxidant levels by up to 80%.

Expert tip: If you like tea with milk, go easy: Milk may reduce the absorption of tea's beneficial components, says Blumberg. This may explain why the consumption of black tea, which is associated with the reduction of heart disease, provides greater benefits to folks in the Netherlands and the United States — but not in Great Britain, where adding milk to tea is more common.

Surprising signs you'll live to 100

6. Get your colonoscopy in the AM
The rate of polyp detection is significantly higher when tests are done earlier in the day, possibly because physicians aren't fatigued. The quality of bowel preparation is also better during morning screenings.

Expert tip: To ease the toughest part of the colonoscopy — the prep to eliminate fecal matter so the physician has a clear view of the colon — ask your doc for a "low volume" prep, which is half the amount previously required for cleansing, suggests Carole A. Burke, MD, director of the Center for Colon Polyp and Cancer Prevention at the Cleveland Clinic. You can also request a "split-dose" regimen. Research shows that taking a dose both the night before and a few hours prior to the procedure results in a cleaner colon too — so polyps are more likely to be detected.

Copyright© 2012 Rodale Inc.All rights reserved. No reproduction, transmission or display is permitted without the written permissions of Rodale Inc.


Discussion comments


More on TODAY.com

  1. On milestone birthday, Al shares 6 lessons for 6 decades

    The co-anchor who joined the national broadcast in 1996, is celebrating the big 6-0 and he’s sharing six lessons he learned along the way.

    8/20/2014 12:08:26 PM +00:00 2014-08-20T12:08:26
  2. Mayor de Blasio, corn maze: Al’s birthday surprises so far

    He's America's favorite weatherman, he makes us smile every day, he's dynamic — and now, Al Roker is 60! "It's nice to be on this side!

    8/20/2014 11:42:03 AM +00:00 2014-08-20T11:42:03
  3. video Watch our favorite viral moments, memories of Al

    video TODAY is celebrating Al Roker’s birthday with some of our favorite viral moments and memories, and we’re tweeting with the hashtag #RokeringAt60. Willie Geist reports from the Orange Room.

    8/20/2014 12:42:40 PM +00:00 2014-08-20T12:42:40
  4. Peter Kramer / NBC
  1. Courtesy of Bush Family

    President Bush accepts Jenna Bush Hager's Ice Bucket Challenge

    8/20/2014 11:04:14 AM +00:00 2014-08-20T11:04:14
  1. Steven Senne / AP file

    video Parents honor journalist James Foley slain by ISIS: An ‘extraordinary son’

    8/20/2014 11:44:55 AM +00:00 2014-08-20T11:44:55
  1. NBC, AP, Getty Images

    The new face of 60: Boomers’ secrets to happiness, staying healthy

    8/20/2014 10:49:23 AM +00:00 2014-08-20T10:49:23
  1. TODAY

    video Missouri official: Governor making ‘rush to judgment’

    8/20/2014 11:43:01 AM +00:00 2014-08-20T11:43:01