Sometimes the best steps for success are small ones. Do one of these easy wins each day to put your progress on warp speed
Switch to Mineral Water
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You already know that drinking water is essential to feeling your absolute best (Need a refresher? Click here for six compelling reasons to drink up). But sipping on mineral water has an added brain-boosting benefit. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, drinking silicon-rich mineral water can help facilitate the removal of aluminum, a known neurotixin, from the body. What's more, for individuals with Alzheimer's, drinking one liter of mineral water daily for 12 weeks not only reduced the body burden of aluminum, it also improved cognitive performance.
Your action plan: Try swapping one liter of regular H20 for one liter of silicon-rich (30mg per liter is ideal) mineral water a few days a week (or every day if you can!). Check the label of your favorite brand to make sure it delivers a healthy dose of silicon (Volvic and Fiji water are both solid choices).
Munch On a Mushroom
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Adding just a single mushroom (any variety will do) to your daily diet can boost your health in a huge way! Mushrooms are packed with cancer-fighting and immune-boosting power, says Joel Fuhrman, M.D., author of Super Immunity. “In one recent Chinese study, women who ate at least 10 grams of fresh mushrooms each day—which equates to about one button mushroom per day—had a 64 percent decreased risk of breast cancer," Fuhrman says. That’s good news for your immune system too, he adds, because the same defenses are activated against microbes and the removal of abnormal cells. “Mushrooms have demonstrated both anti-viral and anti-cancer effects, earning them the position of a super food."
Your action plan: Chew one mushroom as part of your morning routine (just like taking a vitamin). Any kind you like will do, but if you're turned off by the taste, go with mild-flavored button mushrooms. And if you'd rather not chew the miracle fungi plain, portabella and shitake mushrooms offer thicker textures that work well in breakfast dishes like scrambled eggs.
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It's easy to get wrapped up in all the things you don't like about your life, but there's a good reason to flip the focus; Research shows practicing gratitude is an easy way to improve overall health and happiness.
Your action plan: Start today by remembering any experience that recently made you happy—the birthday card you got from an old friend, the compliment your colleague gave you, or the tasty new recipe you cooked for dinner. "When negative events happen, people who regularly practice gratitude cope more positively," says Alex Wood, Ph.D., senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Manchester in the U.K. "They're less likely to run away from the problem or pretend that it's not happening."
Move More Outside the Gym
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Do you regularly hit the gym? Good for you! But what about the rest of your day? According to a recent study, even hour-long workouts every day aren't enough to counteract the ill effects of too much sitting, including obesity, diabetes, or even heart disease. Instead of concentrating your movement into one designated time slot, try to take more steps outside the gym. Wearing a pedometer can make tracking your movement simple (aim for 10,000 steps per day), but even just making a point to get up and move every hour can make a huge difference.
Your action plan: Make it a priority today to spend 10 minutes out of every hour on your feet—stand, walk, dance, skip—whatever it takes to get you up without a major disruption. Pace during phone calls, stand up while brainstorming a new idea at work, walk to a colleague’s desk instead of sending an email—just sneak in short bouts of movement as often as you possibly can.
Evaluate Your "Friendships"
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Think twice before you accept that Facebook friend request! According to a recent report from the University of Edinburg, large social networks lead to anxiety and, unsurprisingly, being "friends" with employers and parents leads to the greatest jump in stress. The study authors say that having a ton of friends increases the likelihood that you'll do or say something that will offend somebody, which can cause you to worry every time you post something.
Your action plan: Take a look at your friends and "defriend" those you only consider acquaintances. Or better yet, take a brief hiatus from social media today. We know, we know—even going a day without checking Facebook makes us break out into a cold sweat. But if you find yourself constantly stressed, a short break could do you good. Why not power down your laptop, log out of your Facebook mobile app, and catch up with a friend in person?
Document a Day in Your Diet
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Spend today writing down everything that goes into your mouth. You might be surprised by what you discover, says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, author of S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Even if you think you stick to a pretty healthy diet, you may find that what you think you do and what you actually do are two very different things.
“Food diaries are like a nutritional checkbook. Without balancing your checkbook, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of your finances, and the same is true for food," Sass says. "Many Americans overestimate how much they have to 'spend' food wise and underestimate how much they eat. Writing it all down can dramatically raise your awareness."
Keeping a food journal may also speed up your weight loss results or help you bust through plateau. “One Kaiser Permanente study involving over 1,600 people found that those who kept a food journal seven days a week lost twice as much weight over six months compared to those who weren’t regular recorders,” Sass says.
Your action plan: Make tracking you intake simple so you're more likely to actually do it. Sites likes myfitnesspal.com are easy to join and totally free to use on your computer or smartphone. Bonus: Click here to see a typical day in Cynthia Sass's diet!
Call Your Mom
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Feeling stressed or anxious? Call your mom! Research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that just hearing your mother's voice can lower levels of cortisol and trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with positive feelings.
Your action plan: Instead of making the mac 'n' cheese she cooked for you as a kid, pick up the phone. Verbal reassurance from mom can be just as soothing as warm hugs and kisses, the researchers say.
Watch Comedy Clips on YouTube
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You're not procrastinating, you're simply boosting your mood. Smiling is an instant stress-buster, according to a study recently published in Psychological Science.
Your action plan: Take a few "smile breaks" today, especially when you catch yourself feeling run down or stressed. A few of our favorite instant mood boosters: adorable puppies and hilarious "spinning instructors." Enjoy!
Take a Breather
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Simply breathing a little deeper a few times a day can have a big payoff. “Small, shallow breaths that use muscles in the chest (rather than the diaphragm) can result in an excessive emptying of carbon dioxide out of the blood, which can lead to a variety of possible issues, including anxiety, fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, heart palpitations, and even insomnia,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. "Breathing from your diaphragm can help reduce blood pressure and heart rate, decrease levels of stress hormone, boost immune system functioning, reduce stress and anxiety, promote better sleep, and enhance physical energy."
Your action plan: Set an alarm on your phone (or in Outlook) to remind you to take seven deep breaths at three different times today. To make sure you're using your diaphragm, Lombardo recommends placing your hand a few inches above your belly button, where your diaphragm is located, to feel your belly expand as you inhale.
Give Yourself a Hand(No, the Other One)
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It's at the top of many people's New Year's resolutions list: Stop snacking! Now researchers have found a great trick that will help you cross that one off, pronto. In a study at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, participants were given popcorn to nibble on as they watched a movie and were told which hand to eat with. Those who used their non-dominant hand ate 30 percent less than those who didn't.
Your action plan: Next time you sit down in front of the TV with a snack, make sure to use your weaker side. "Switching sides disrupts that unconscious hand-to-mouth pattern," says lead researcher David Neal, Ph.D. "You slow down and realize the food is bad for you."
Leave Worries in the Locker Room
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You may think more clearly when you exercise, but for the best results, leave your problems at the gym door. Research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that when people tried to solve math puzzles while performing shoulder moves, they stopped lifting sooner and felt more tired than they did without the intellectual demands. "Physical and mental tasks activate similar areas of the brain," says study coauthor Ranjana Mehta, Ph.D., of Michigan Technological University. "By doing them simultaneously, you limit your ability to carry out either properly."
Your action plan: Focus on the exercise at hand (are you letting those hips sag during plank?) and save the solution sleuthing for your post-sesh shower. You'll maximize the benefits on your muscles and your mind.
Tackle That Lingering To-Do
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You know procrastinating isn't exactly good for your health, but it might be doing even more harm than you think. “Procrastination increases stress, which can adversely affect every organ system in your body,” Lombardo says. “In one study, college students who procrastinated showed lowered immune system functioning, increased gastrointestinal problems, and a higher rate of insomnia. The stress of procrastination can also lead to anxiety, worry, and depressed mood,” she adds.
Your action plan: Commit to tackling one task you've been putting off by the end of today—calling the credit card company to discuss an error in your bill, cleaning out your messy car, writing that thank you note...
Forgive and Forget
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Are you holding a grudge against someone? Practicing forgiveness is a great way to instantly improve your health and wellbeing. “Resentment is a huge source of stress—physically and emotionally—and it can lead to problems with physical health as well as depression, anger, helplessness, and hopelessness,” Lombardo says. Holding onto feelings of resentment or anger can affect your blood pressure, heart rate, and cause everything from back pain, stomach aches, muscle tension, and feelings of helplessness.
Your action plan: Write a little note of forgiveness (you can choose whether or not to send it) to yourself or someone that you're harboring feelings of resentment towards.
Say Goodbye to Little White Lies
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Honesty really is the best policy. According to a recent study from the University of Notre Dame, telling the truth when tempted to lie can significantly improve your mental and physical health. The researchers say this is likely because lying less also helps improve close relationships and fosters smooth social interactions.
Your action plan: Think before you speak. Are you really being honest? Telling just three fewer everyday lies is enough to produce positive health changes.
Lend a Hand
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Helping someone in need—whether it's holding the door open or helping a friend pack boxes for an upcoming move—not only makes you feel happier, it also does wonders for your health, Lombardo says. "People who volunteer tend to live longer, have greater confidence, more happiness, and better health," she says. Volunteering provides a sense of purpose and accomplishment, as well as a connection with others, all of which help boost happiness and sense of self-worth. Even small gestures like giving up your seat on the train or letting a frazzled traveler cut in the security line are just as effective at boosting happiness as bigger actions like volunteering at the soup kitchen or building a Habitat for Humanity house.
Your action plan: Try a random act of kindness today—pay for someone's toll behind you on the freeway or shovel the snow off your neighbor’s driveway. It’ll make both of your days!
Do a Quick Yoga Flow
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Good news: You don’t have to spend an hour or more practicing yoga to reap the health benefits. According to research from the University of California, just 12 short minutes of practicing yoga is all it takes to decrease the stress that can weaken your immune system and raise your risk for heart disease. The researchers believe the moving meditation aspect of yoga offers the most benefits.
Your action plan: For best results, get into a routine of doing your favorite, short flow on a daily basis. Try this 15-minute yoga flow today as a first step toward a stress-free you.
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We know you're busy, but taking a little time to tidy up is well worth the investment. According to a study conducted by a Boston marketing firm, the average American burns 55 minutes a day searching for lost items. That’s almost 14 days a year! Save time, stress less, and maintain your sanity with this simple tip from Liz Neporent, a health and fitness expert and co-author of the Thin in 10 Weight Loss Plan: Leave everything better than when you found it. Squeezing in small 60-second-or-less shots of extra organization can help you free up more time in your day for other healthy habits and reduce anxiety.
Your action plan: Take an extra 30-60 seconds to tackle a small organizational task in the moment: Organize the silverware drawer as you empty out the dishwasher, toss unmatched or ragged socks when putting away laundry, or recycle junk mail as soon as it arrives.
Brain Dump for Better Sleep
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Are you tired until your head hits the pillow and then suddenly you can't stop thinking about everything you need to do the next day? Or maybe you fall asleep soundly but wake up in the middle of the night when your mind starts racing, making it impossible to fall back asleep? Get quality shuteye tonight by using a technique called ‘brain dumping,’ suggests Stacy Mobley, N.M.D., a naturopathic doctor with a private practice in Phoenix, Arizona.
Your action plan: Place a pen and paper next on your nightstand and once you're in bed, spend a few minutes writing down everything that is running through your head (no matter how silly it is) to sleep more soundly tonight.
Curl Up with a Book
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Six minutes could be all it takes to curb that frenzied feeling by 60 percent, say British researchers. (If you have time to spare, feel free to turn the pages longer!)
Your action plan: Catch up on your overdue Hunger Games reading—even if you have to do it one chapter at a time. Six minutes of reading has more stress-busting power than going for a walk or listening to music, according to the University of Sussex study.
Accept a Compliment
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How many times have you brushed off praise with "thank you but… [insert self-depreciating comment here]?” Learning to accept compliments can help boost your self-confidence, which is a key ingredient to happiness, Lombardo says. And accepting a compliment does not make you narcissistic; It helps you appreciate some of your truly amazing qualities, which motivates even more positive behaviors such as helping out others and getting a good night's sleep, Lombardo adds.
Your action plan: Practice flexing your compliment-receiving muscle. When someone compliments you today (whether it’s on your blouse or your work), simply say thank you and smile.
Pump Up Your Probiotics Intake
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Probiotics, or the healthy bacteria found in foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods, promote digestion, improve immunity, and may even play a role in weight loss by affecting how nutrients and calories are absorbed by your body, says Rania Batayneh, a nutritionist and author of The 1:1:1: Diet. That's more than enough motivation to add probiotic-rich foods to your daily diet!
Your action plan: Mix up a smoothie that includes a quarter cup of kefir, snack on Greek yogurt, or have a cup of miso soup with dinner. With so many tasty options, it's not hard to up your probiotic intake!
Meditate (Yes, You Can!)
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It's time to give up the idea that meditation is just for the seriously spiritual or dedicated yogis. Meditation’s value as a stress reliever and all around mood booster is impressive; extensive research has proven that it can lower risk of depression, beat anxiety, and improve mental health. And it doesn’t take much. Studies show that people who practice mindful meditation—sitting quietly with your eyes closed and repeating a word or “mantra” over and over—for just 20 minutes a day reap significant benefits.
Your action plan: Take a breather today. With your eyes open or closed, take slow, deep breaths, counting one for inhale, one for exhale, continuing for a full minute; repeat as necessary. "This focus will calm your nervous system," says Sarah McLean, director of the McLean Meditation Institute for Transformative Meditation Training in Sedona, AZ.
Set the Table
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When you dine in a pleasant environment, you naturally feel more relaxed. As a result, you're better able to really focus on your food, which prevents overeating, says Michelle May, M.D., author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.
Your action plan: Sit at the dining room table tonight (not in front of your TV or computer), break out the good china and silverware, and light some candles. Remind yourself to eat slowly and savor each bite.
Be Even More Specific
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Did your workout routine fall by the wayside during the hectic holiday season? Get back on track by setting a specific fitness goal for this month. Write down (or type in) exactly how many times a week you want to work out and for how long, suggests Robert Forster, P.T., founder and CEO of Phase IV Health and Performance Center in Santa Monica, Calif. and Forster Physical Therapy. “Create progression in your plan from week to week but give yourself some leeway," he says. For example:
- Week 1: Monday and Wednesday 30 minutes of strength training, Tuesday and Thursday 30-40 minutes of cardio
- Week 2: Increase to 35-40 minutes of strength training and 35-45 minutes of cardio
- Week 3: Increase to 45 minutes of strength training and 45-55 minutes of cardio, etc.
Give yourself some wiggle room to change up your routine based on how you feel, but stick with your overall progressive plan. Forster also recommends cutting the duration of your workouts in half during the fourth week to allow your body to recover and help you keep moving toward your goals.
Your action plan: Download the free Fleetly Fitness app today (how about now?) and start earning points for logging in your workouts. You can also chart your progress and participate in fun fitness challenges with friends.
Engage in "Healthy" Gossip
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There's no need to bad-mouth your inappropriately dressed coworker. But if you see someone acting selfishly or exploiting people, feel free to pass it on. If you speak up to protect others, it can actually help lower your heart rate, according to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Your action plan: Since you (hopefully) don't witness selfish acts every day, keep this one in mind for the future. Otherwise you risk crossing into rumor-spreading territory.
Ready, Set, Row!
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Pass by the crowd waiting for an elliptical and make a beeline for a rowing machine. You'll burn up to 50 percent more calories while strengthening nearly all of the muscles from your shoulders to your calves.
Your action plan: Try this 20-minute routine from Anna Cummins, a master rowing instructor for Concept 2. It will take you from rookie to pro in minutes!
Sprinkle in Some Seeds
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Adding one or two tablespoons of chia, flax, or hemp seeds into your daily diet is one of the easiest ways to amp up your antioxidant and fiber intake. They make great mix-ins for almost any morning meal, and you can also add them to baked goods to increase the fiber and nutrient content.
Your action plan: Sprinkle two tablespoons of your favorite seed on your oatmeal, Greek yogurt, or smoothie in the morning. If you choose flaxseeds, remember to eat them ground, otherwise they won’t be fully digested—and you won’t extract the nutrients.
Hop in the Shower
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Hot baths have a soothing rep, but a Pantene survey revealed that showering does the job too, washing away tension for 72 percent of women.
Your action plan: For extra ahh, place a few drops of of jasmine or lavender essential oil on the shower floor and breathe deeply as the scented steam rises, suggests Donna Mastrianni, director of spa and fitness at Sea Island Resort in Sea Island, GA. When you do have time to fill the tub, try Aveda Stress-Fix Soaking Salts ($40; aveda.com), which contain calming lavender and clary sage.
Do Some On-the-Job Training
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Think a midday workout doesn't fit into your get-ahead plan? Consider this: Research from Stockholm University in Sweden found that employees were equally or more productive when they exercised two and a half hours during the week than when they spend that time working—and they felt better about their performance. "Physical activity improves the brain's oxygen consumption, which can boost mood and concentration," says study author Ulrica von Thiele Schwarz, Ph.D. "That leads to greater motivation, increased energy, and more cooperation among colleagues."
Your action plan: Take a post-lunch walk or cut out a little early one day this week for a group fitness class; your inbox will wait.
Learn from Little Kids
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You're walking by a Starbucks. The giant Caramel Frappuccino in the window is calling your name. You want to walk in and satisfy your craving right now. What do you do? One of the most successful tactics for increasing self-restraint is chasing tempting thoughts from your head. It's the same strategy that children used in the now-ubiquitous Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. In the experiment, kids were placed in the same room as a marshmallow. They were told that if they waited 15 minutes and did not eat the marshmallow, they would be given a second one. The kids who didn't immediately chow down distracted themselves by covering their eyes, turning around, tugging on their pigtails, or stroking the marshmallow as if it was a tiny stuffed animal.
Your action plan: Do the adult equivalent. Call your boyfriend or husband, G-chat with a friend, walk down to a coworker's cube, hop on Facebook—distract yourself with social activities. The craving will pass.
Try a New Kind of Carbonation
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If you just can't shake your diet coke habit for good (we all have our vices), swap today's can for all-natural sparkling water. A recent National Institute of Health study found that daily diet soda drinkers may be at increased risk of suffering from strokes and heart attacks, Sass says. And when it comes to weight loss, research shows that drinking diet soda may be even more detrimental than downing the regular stuff.
“In my private practice, I’ve had many clients worry that giving up diet soda was going to lead to weight gain, but actually the opposite was true. Once they kicked the habit, they reported fewer cravings for sweets, and a heightened ability to tune in to hunger and fullness cues. And the additional water they start drinking often led to other benefits, like more energy and glowing skin.”
Your action plan: Sip on sparkling water flavored with a splash of fruit or lime juice. You'll still get the carbonation but without so many chemicals. One of Sass's all-time favorites is Grapefruit La Croix. "I keep my fridge stocked," she says.