10 simple changes to make your life healthier and less stressed

We all know we should live a healthier life, but getting started can feel like climbing Mt. Everest. Do you really have to spend hours at the gym and eat 12 servings of vegetables every day to get in shape? No — the way to get started is to take small steps every day. If you adopt these simple, healthful habits, you’ll quickly feel the benefits. Here are some easy practices to get you started:

1. Strategize for a good night’s sleep. Getting six to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep not only makes you more alert during the day, it reduces your risk of obesity, depression and diseases such as cancer and diabetes, according to the National Sleep Foundation. For better sleep, try to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning. Turn the thermostat down several degrees and make sure your bedroom is completely dark. Turn off all technology 60 minutes before tucking in. Studies have found that using electronic devices before bedtime makes it harder to get to sleep and causes you to spend less time in the deep sleep your body needs to repair tissue and boost the immune system. If you still have trouble sleeping after about 15 minutes, get up and read for a while in a different room. Then go back to bed, and try not to look at the clock.

2. Drink! Drink! Drink! Drinking water helps maintain the electrolyte levels in your muscles and lets your kidneys flush out toxins. It helps you eat less, boosts your immune system and keeps your complexion looking fresh and youthful. According to the Mayo Clinic, men should drink an average of 13 glasses a day, and women, nine glasses. It doesn’t have to be plain water—milk, tea, juices or anything that’s mostly water counts. Try a glass of water with a tablespoon of lemon juice, a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and a pinch of cayenne. This pick-me-up helps control your appetite while cleansing your insides and boosting your immune system.

3. Why wait for the elevator – try the stairs. You may not think of it this way, but climbing stairs is an aerobic exercise that raises your “good” cholesterol and strengthens your leg muscles, making falls less likely as you age. It’s also good for bones and joints.

4. Hate exercise? Make it social. Whether it’s yoga, step, cycling, or kickboxing, exercising in a group setting is more fun. Being with others helps with motivation and accountability, and instructors can help you prevent injuries and get a full body workout.

5. Find clever ways to eat your vegetables. Veggies are low in fat and calories and rich in vitamins and minerals you need for healthy organs and healing. They also protect your bones and reduce stress. But what if you’re not crazy about vegetables? Try juicing them, grilling them, or adding them to pasta, stews, soups, sandwiches, omelets or baked goods.  Or make a party tray with a delicious dip, just for yourself. Your body will thank you.

6. Floss the teeth you want to keep, every day. It not only prevents cavities, tooth loss and gum disease—flossing keeps harmful bacteria from entering your bloodstream, where it can trigger inflammation in your arteries that leads to heart disease.

7. Turn down that “Boom, Boom, Pow.” Excessive exposure to noise builds up over time and eventually can make you deaf. A 2010 study found that the number of teens with hearing loss rose 30 percent over the 1994 rate. Because headphones are right next to your ears, they can actually cause more damage than loudspeakers. We’re all exposed to noises we can’t control: cars, trucks, airplanes, power drills and other machinery. Headphones are one area where you hold the key to preserving your hearing. Use them wisely.

8. Sip some wine. In moderation (one drink per day), alcohol raises “good” cholesterol levels and lowers bad ones. Red wine contains resveratrol and antioxidants that reduce blood vessel inflammation and boost brain functioning. Studies have found that people who drink wine regularly have a lower body mass than those who don’t. Wine also helps build stronger bones, and may even help prevent ovarian cancer and diabetes. Just make sure you don’t overindulge or combine it with driving.

9. Take a breather. To combat stress, close your eyes, inhale slowly, and exhale even more slowly. Do this several times, trying to lengthen your exhale until it is double your inhale time. Let all thoughts go except for counting your breath. Mindful, deep breathing causes a relaxation response. It combats stress symptoms by increasing the flow of oxygen to your brain, stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system and increasing your levels of nitric oxide. Setting aside 20 or 30 minutes a day for deep breathing or meditation will reduce anxiety and promote a sense of calmness throughout your day.

10. Tickle your funny bone. Laughing isn’t just fun — it relieves tension and stress for up to 45 minutes, triggers endorphins, lowers stress hormones, decreases pain, boosts the immune system and improves blood flow. It really is the best medicine.

— By Teresa Meek, Tribune Brand Publishing

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