If there’s one thing Americans seem to hate, it’s moderation.
Maybe it all ties back to our Puritan roots. Judging by the current state of our health habits, a lot of us seem to believe something can only be good for us if it causes us pain. We don’t just cut back on carbs; we do two-week lemon-water cleanses. We don’t just jog; we run marathons or sign up for INSANITY classes.
But despite what you’ve heard from infomercials and fitness ’zines, you don’t need to adopt a crazy diet or an extreme training regimen to be healthy. With a few small lifestyle adjustments, you can lower your risk for disease, lose weight and improve your mental health.
Here’s what to do.
Yes, running and attending spinning classes are great ways to burn calories. But walking, chewing gum and other “non-exercise” forms of movement can also increase your daily calorie burn, says Pedro Villablanca, MD, a cardiologist at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center.
“Small movements like standing or chewing gum don’t add up to a huge amount of calories burned if you count them in an hour,” he says. “But when you add up all the hours in the day, they can become significant.”
Even shifting in your chair or fidgeting while you drive are non-exercise movements that can help keep your body’s calorie-burning engines humming, he says.
ADD THIS TO YOUR MENU
“Try to incorporate at least one fruit or vegetable with each meal,” says Jim White, a registered dietician and founder of Jim White Fitness.
Every guy knows he should be eating more of these foods. But most of us don’t come close to the four to five daily servings of fruits and vegetables most docs recommend.
That’s bad news, because these foods provide most of the nutrients, antioxidants, and other healthful compounds that keep our organs and cells in good working order.
DRINK MORE WATER
Even mild dehydration can mess with your mood, your thinking and your sleep. If your pee isn’t clear or a pale shade of yellow, you’re not drinking enough H2O.
A good rule of thumb: “Try to consume half your body weight in ounces of water each day,” White says. So if you’re 180 pounds, aim for at least 90 ounces.
SPEND TIME IN NATURE
Scientists haven’t quite figured out why. But spending time in natural environments—forests, beaches, parks—seems to naturally combat stress and improve a person’s mental health. Research from Stanford has even linked time spent in nature with a lower risk for depression.
So quit your job and become a park ranger. Not into that? Then at least try to get away from your TV and devices from time to time to go for a walk outdoors in a place with water or trees.
STOP DRINKING ALCOHOL RIGHT BEFORE BEDTIME
We all love drinking. But while alcohol can help you fall asleep, it will mess with your sleep patterns once your body finishes metabolizing the booze in your system, according to a report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
That may explain why you always seem to wake up around three in the morning. Even if you don’t wake up, drinking close to bedtime may block your body from slipping into the deep, restorative phases of sleep that allow you to wake up feeling refreshed and rested, the NIAAA research suggests.
If you can, stop drinking at least two hours before bed.
TAKE SHORT WALKS
The more researchers look into so-called “sedentary time,” or long bouts of inactivity, the more links they find to disease and premature death.
One 2010 study found guys who spend a lot of time sitting still—whether in their cars, on the couch, or at work—are more likely than active men to be overweight and at risk for disease even if they regularly hit the gym.
Basically, a few weekly workouts aren’t enough to offset the health harms of sitting still all day long.
The antidote: Short walks. “Try to get in at least 50 steps every 45 minutes,” says Tim Church, MD, a professor with Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
GET UP AT THE SAME TIME EVERY MORNING
Nothing messes with your sleep like an erratic schedule. If you’re up at seven weekday mornings, but then you’re lying in bed until noon on weekends, you’re begging for trouble, experts warn.
Ideally, you’d go to bed and get up at the same time all week. But if it’s not feasible to sack out at 11 on weekends, try to get up at roughly the same time even on Saturdays and Sundays. You can catch a short nap later in the day to recharge your batteries.
It won’t always be fun. But you’ll find yourself sleeping better during the week.
PHONE A FRIEND
Like spending time in the great outdoors, there’s just something about hanging with a close friend that relieves stress and improves mental health.
Dozens of studies have linked face-to-face time with a pal to improved mood, reduced anxiety, and a general sense that things will turn out OK.
Yes, meeting up with buddies drags you away from your Netflix queue. But make time for your pals at least once or twice a week, and it’ll pay dividends.