You're just seconds away from a healthier, happier you!
Have a (Very Quick) Quickie
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Relive the high you felt as a teen and make out like high schoolers to increase happiness. "There are more nerve endings in the lips, tongue, and tip of the nose than any other part of the body except for the fingertips and toes," says Lynn Anderson, Ph.D., creator of Aero*boga™. "When we kiss, the body creates an electrical charge of oxytocin—the hormone that makes us feel good—boosts our immune system, and can burn up to 10 calories all in less than two minutes!"
Go Ahead and Stare
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Looking at something awe-inspiring such as the Grand Canyon for a few seconds is enough to help you feel happier and even enhance your quality of life, says a recent study from Stanford University. Students who watched a 60-second commercial featuring images including space exploration, waterfalls, and whales felt they had more time to get things done afterward. Researchers believe that these types of images make us feel more present, expanding our sense of time, which can lead to greater feelings of contentment and happiness.
Feel the Pressure
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Stimulating your "third eye" (the spot directly between your eyebrows) promotes relaxation, says Laurie Binder, an OB/GYN nurse and licensed acupuncturist who specializes in women's health. "Applying pressure to this point may calm and quiet the mind, allay anxiety, and resolve a frontal headache." Press, massage, or gently tap the area with your index finger for about a minute once or twice a day while sitting in a quiet place.
Make Your Bed
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Sorry to remind you of your nagging mom, but this chore is actually—gasp—good for you. Dust mites and small bugs love getting under your covers as much as you do, so covering up the place where you sleep with a comforter can help keep allergy-inducing critters and particles out. Plus, it's a morning ritual that can also double as an active meditation if you keep your mind clear and empty as you tuck in sheets and arrange pillows.
Give a Little (Puppy) Love
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Studies show that the simple, brief act of petting your dog can help lower your heart rate, decrease your body's cortisol levels, and increase your feel-good oxytocin levels. And you can double the health benefits of playing with your pup by adding exercise. Try any of these moves for a quick partner workout with your pooch.
Don't have a Rover? No problem! Grab a stuffed animal. One study found that even just petting a stuffed dog can help boost your immune system.
Massage Your (Other) Dogs
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"With all the acupressure points in the feet, rubbing them can reduce stress and enhance health," says psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. Spend a few minutes massaging them with your hands, or use a foam roller to gently stretch your soles.
Record Your Blessings
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"Gratitude is one of the most health-promoting emotions we can have," says Aditi Nerurkar, M.D., M.P.H., an integrative medicine physician at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Studies show that having an "attitude of gratitude" can do everything from improve your quality of sleep to help you stick with your workouts. Dr. Nerurkar recommends jotting down five things you're thankful for each day or night.
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You can save a few bucks this winter and raise your metabolism at the same time. "Turning down the thermostat just a couple of degrees helps you lose weight," says weight-loss specialist and endocrinologist Scott Isaacs, M.D., author of Hormonal Balance: How to Lose Weight by Understanding Your Hormones and Metabolism. "When you expose your body to cooler temperatures, it responds by generating more body heat, which raises metabolism." Even a tiny dip can help you burn an extra 100 calories a day, and while it may not sound like much, it could translate into a 10-pound weight loss in the course of a year.
Unknot Your Neck
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Take a time-out and stretch your neck, Lombardo suggests. "We carry a lot of tension in those muscles, especially the upper traps and levator scapulae. By stretching these, you release physical and psychological stress," she says. Try this wrap-around stretch to help release tension almost instantly.
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Wash down your daily multivitamin with water infused with a little fresh lemon juice, Binder recommends. "Acidic liquids help to break down minerals, and in traditional Chinese medicine, lemon cleanses the liver, which is essential to the metabolism and absorption of nutrients," she says. Squeeze half a lemon into a large glass of warm water for the best digestive benefits.
Show Some Teeth
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"Not only does smiling enhance your attractiveness, it may also boost your mood in the short term and has positive effects on your environment," Dr. Nerurkar says. And, according to one study conducted by researchers at the University of Kansas, it may also be especially healthy to beam if you are under stress. When subjects smiled during anxiety-inducing activities such as submerging their hands in ice water, their heart rates dropped faster afterward compared to participants who were instructed not to smile. "Grin and bear it" may be a helpful coping mechanism for stressful situations, study authors say.
Sip Some Spinach
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Eat a cup of vegetables, preferably before 10 a.m., Dr. Isaacs recommends. The fiber helps you stay fuller longer, while the antioxidants control inflammation, he says. "Think of it as taking a vitamin or supplement instead of being part of your diet—you can just wolf them down in a few bites."
A super easy way to do this is by tossing a cup of fresh spinach (keep it in the freezer to make it last longer) into your breakfast smoothie. You won't taste it, and you can count one serving of veggies off your list for the day. If you just can't bear the thought of eating vegetables that early, Dr. Issacs says a serving of fruit works, though he notes that most people fall short in their vegetable intake, not their fruit consumption.
Cultivate a Green Thumb
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Studies have shown that indoor potted plants can help with everything from reducing eye irritation and stress levels to improving concentration, productivity, and motivation at work. Next time you are at the store, pick up a plant (ferns, bamboo palms, and spider plants are best for improving air quality), bring it to the office, and put it on your desk to help improve your mood and output. Better yet, get two plants and put the other in your home gym.
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Instead of reaching for an energy drink when you need some pep, work on your hops, recommends Stacy Mobley, M.P.H., a naturopathic doctor specializing in women's health. Do at least 15 seconds of jumping jacks for a natural energy boost that won't lead to jitters or a crash.
Put It in Writing
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At the start of the month, make a short list of the fitness goals you'd like to achieve within the next 30 days or so, suggests orthopedic surgeon Levi Harrison, M.D., author of The Art of Fitness: A Journey to Self Enhancement. Noting specific steps you are willing to take each month such as "I will do three strength-training workouts per week" can help keep you on track to achieve your longer-term goals like reducing your body fat by 10 percent by summer.
Brew This Hue
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"My number-one quick tip for patients is drinking green tea," says Tiffany Sizemore-Ruiz, D.O., an internal medicine physician in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Not only does the drink have a ton of antioxidants, it's also been shown to be helpful in weight loss. For more pound-shedding benefits, she recommends replacing one cup of coffee a day with green tea.
Don't Be Such a Slouch
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More props to Mom: "Sitting or standing up straight can give you the appearance of being taller and thinner, help you breathe easier, and may help prevent back problems," Dr. Nerurkar says. Post a "posture reminder" note somewhere you'll see it often during your day or set up notices in your email's daily calendar at work to reap the benefits of a straighter spine.
Water It Down
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Drinking enough H2O helps keep your hormones in balance and your metabolism humming, Dr. Issacs says. While making major changes to your eating habits can become overwhelming, sipping one extra glass of water is a simple way to get started. And, if double your dose right before a meal, it could help you lose weight as well. Researchers at Virginia Tech found that when people had two glasses of water before their three daily meals, they lost five more pounds in 12 weeks than dieters that didn't.
Initiate a Handoff
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Simple tasks from brushing your teeth to pouring a cup of milk stimulate a specific neural pathway in your brain, and each time you use that pathway, it grows stronger, says Marie Pasinski, M.D., neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of A Beautiful Brain, A Beautiful You. "Doing those same activities with your non-dominant hand will begin strengthening new pathways in your brain," she adds. This can redesign and build up the infrastructure of your noggin, and can help keep you mentally sharp and lower your risk of cognitive decline.
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While this may seem like a no-brainer, most of us could wash our hands more often, especially during cold and flu season! This super simple act is probably one of the most effective ways to improve your health since germs thrive on surfaces that we constantly touch and then introduce to our mouth, nose, or eyes throughout the day, says Ellen Barnett, M.D., Ph.D., board president of the Integrative Medical Clinic Foundation. She recommends scrubbing regularly (and do we really need to remind you before meals and after using the bathroom?) for the length of time it takes to sing "Mary Had a Little Lamb." And be sure to use triclosan-free soap.
Step Up Your Game
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When you're only heading up a few floors, bypass the elevator and climb the stairs, Dr. Nerurkar says. "It will give you a chance to clear your head and increase blood flow to your legs, and building in short bursts of moderate physical activity throughout your day can help you reach the recommended 150 minutes per week."
Get on Your Feet
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The average person spends up to 70 percent of their day sitting at work, on the computer, or watching television, Dr. Issacs says. And numerous studies have shown that prolonged sitting is a risk factor for poor health, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and death, even if you exercise. Since being on your rear for long periods of time decreases your metabolism and shifts your body into energy storage mode, Dr. Issacs recommends standing up—or, even better, walking around—for at least two minutes every hour.