We're counting down to the New Year, when a lot of folks put their health front and center on their resolution lists.
But being healthier for 2017 doesn't have to mean revamping your entire routine. Sometimes, all it takes are a few simple changes. It’s all about the small moves you make that reap huge health benefits down the road.
Remember, these tips are starting places. Don’t jump into them all at once. If some of these tips don’t work for you, move on and try something that does.
I checked in with Dr. Gillian Lautenbach, associate professor of clinical medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. David Seres, director of medical nutrition and associate professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center's Institute for Human Nutrition, for the best tips going into 2017.
1. Say good morning with lemon water
Lemon water is easy to prepare and has a couple of health benefits. It’s as simple as waking up and squeezing some lemon into a tall glass of water. The mixture helps improve your immunity because of the vitamin C and encourages digestion. Many people feel tired because they are dehydrated, so this is an easy way to make you drink more water. But remember, lemon has citric acid, which can erode tooth enamel. Try drinking lemon water with a straw and rinse your mouth afterwards to avoid the citric acid effects.
Lautenbach recommends drinking water to the point you are hydrated and encourages her patients to carry a water bottle with them. The best test to see if you are hydrated is to check your urine. If it’s light in color, you're in good shape.
2. Do a refrigerator makeover
When you’re hungry, you’re more likely to grab a quick and easy snack, which often isn’t the healthiest. Try putting the healthier foods front and center in your fridge, keeping the indulgent foods out of sight, and doing some prep work. The technical term for this is “choice architecture.” Instead of keeping the fresh fruits and veggies in the crisper, put them in clear containers at eye-level — those will grab your attention when you open the door. It’s also helpful to do a weekly inventory check. Throw out those takeout containers, because they may fuel your eating habits.
Seres advises putting the chocolate syrup in the back of the fridge. When you're standing in front of the refrigerator, you’re already caught up in your urges to eat. Make it easier to choose something healthy by having it at eye-level and ready to grab.
3. Try 'deskercises'
Avoid being a couch potato! Or rather, a work potato. There are waves of research that report having a more sedentary lifestyle puts you at increased risk of negative health effects compared to living a more active routine. Just because you’re spending 9 to 5 at the office doesn’t mean sabotaging your health. Get moving, no matter how briefly. Also, stop stress and channel your mood with these simple “deskercises:”
Chair squats: To work out those glutes, stand about 6 inches in front of your chair and lower yourself down until your butt hits the edge, then pop back up. Repeat.
Book press: To tone those triceps, grab the heaviest book you can find around the office. With your elbows overhead, hold the book behind your head. Slowly lower the book down by your neck and then extend your arms up. Remember to keep elbows close to your ears. Repeat.
Lautenbach suggests performing these exercises if you’ve been sitting for more than an hour. She also offers another option: walking meetings. Grab your colleagues and walk on a pre-mapped route outside. Make sure to put phones away. Walking boosts your blood flow, which leads to better thinking, so you'll get more out of your meetings with a light workout.
4. Boost brain power with chocolate
Sounds too good to be true, right? Research shows you can increase your alertness by eating dark chocolate. That’s thanks to flavanols, which are key components in dark chocolates. They work in dilating blood vessels, which allows more oxygen and blood to reach important parts of the brain. You also feel happier and more content. Flavanols are also found naturally in tea leaves and in certain fruits and vegetables, but the amounts vary.
Lautenbach recommends consuming dark chocolate squares that are unsweetened, since they have fewer calories and a more concentrated dose of flavanol. Don’t reach for the milk chocolate candies and stick to a modest consumption of high-calorie chocolates, the darker the better for the benefits.
5. Treat yourself with a massage
Let go of 2016 stress and treat yourself. The healing touch actually has some scientific backing. According to Mayo Clinic, studies of the benefits of massage demonstrate it’s an effective treatment for reducing stress, pain and muscle tension. Massage is generally considered part of complementary and alternative medicine. It’s even used in physical therapy.
According to Lautenbach, massages reduce headaches and other pains since we carry a lot of stress in our neck and shoulders. They don’t need to last an hour to reap the benefits — 10-15 minutes works well. But they are not for everyone; if it feels painful or uncomfortable steer clear.
6. Buddy up
Find a health or fitness buddy, a friend, colleague or spouse who holds you accountable to agreed workouts and meals. You see this system in weight loss programs all the time where you build a sense of community. You and your health buddy can motivate each other while staying on track to a healthier lifestyle. Sharing your goals with others makes you want to achieve them.
Seres loves the idea of having a fitness buddy. From his personal experience and seeing how boring exercise can be, having a buddy should make a big difference. This encourages people and breaks up the boredom. Making it a social event hopefully motivates people to keep doing more of it.