Beyond working out and eating right, 25 habits that will improve your health.
Tiffany Gagnon and Brittany Smith 1 / 27
Your quality of life is largely dictated by one factor: your physical health. And when it comes to building and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, we all know that eating right and working out are more or less the keys. But there’s more to being healthy than choosing brown rice over white and hitting the gym five days a week. To take your health to the next level, you’ve got to think details, like meditation, flossing, and sex frequency (don't worry: research says the more, the better). If you’re ready to live to 100, start off with these 14 habits.
Meditation may seem like a passing trend, but the newly-popular practice touts some serious health benefits. Om-ing is optional, but regularly taking 10-20 minutes to unwind and focus on yourself is one of the greatest secrets to longevity. “Meditation is going to help with stress reduction, better sleep, lower blood pressure, improved immunity, and improved cardiovascular function," says Kerry Bajaj, a certified health coach at the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City. It’s also going to make you feel much better because you’re disconnecting from all the stimulation of life.”
It’s no secret that most hard-working guys are sleep deprived, but just because it’s common does not mean it’s OK. Sleep makes or breaks a healthy lifestyle. All that time and effort you spend eating right and working out won’t be as effective—and your physique will actually be harder to maintain—if you’re not getting seven to eight hours a night. Catching up on sleep on the weekends won’t work either.
Research from Rochester University suggests that insufficient sleep disrupts our brains' ability to flush toxins from the body and as a result, can impair brain function. So, when you show up for work after a bad night's sleep and you're unable to focus on anything—that’s why.
Drink more tea. Just do it. Aside from water, tea might be the best beverage for your body. Research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that regular consumption of green tea can improve memory and cognition in men. Green tea is also credited with a host of other health-boosting benefits, like firing up your metabolism, lowering blood pressure, preventing bad breath, boosting immunity, and acting as an anti-inflammatory agent.
Flossing won’t just make your pearly whites brighter, the habit will improve your health on a much deeper level. “If your gums get infected, the bacteria in your mouth can enter the bloodstream and lead to inflammation throughout the body," says Bajaj.
Check in with your gut—a healthy digestive system is often seen as the window to your overall health. One way to boost good gut bacteria and keep things running smoothly: take a daily probiotic supplement. “Probiotics help with digestion, and they’re good for your immunity," says Bajaj. "Fixing the balance of good bacteria in the gut can even improve your mood. A lot of our serotonin is actually produced in the gut, so there’s a big connection between what’s happening in the gut and how we feel.”
Static stretching before a workout doesn’t do your body much good. In fact, research from Stephen F. Austin State University found that exercisers who did static stretching before lifting had impaired strength compared to those who performed a dynamic warm-up, a muscle-warming routine that includes moves like walking lunges and high skips. Get in the habit of performing a dynamic warmup before any kind of workout and you'll not only enhance your performance, but also help prevent injury.
According to research from Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Birmingham, high-intensity interval training (HITT) can result in the same benefits as those you get from endurance training—but you'll spend a hell of a lot less time in the gym. While breaking a sweat of any kind is vital, HIIT improves your fitness while also fighting heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.
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9. Avoid BPA
BPA stands for Bisphenol A, a chemical used to produce many common household products, like water bottles and food cans. In recent years, the compound's effects on health and human development have generated quite a bit of controversy, and for good reason. Research has found links between exposure to BPA and reproductive disorders, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. While the FDA reports evidence on both sides of the debate, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Purchase typically-canned items, like tomatoes, in glass containers instead, and if you’re sticking with plastic containers, check for a recycle code of 3 or 7 on the bottom—those may be made with BPA.
Your skin is your largest organ, so you’ve got to take care of it like you would any other part of your body. That means applying sunscreen daily and being picky about the products you use. “Look at your hair and skincare products, and clean up those products so you’re not putting chemicals on your skin," advises Bajaj. Check labels for Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or Sodium Laureth Sulfate, and toss products that contain these compounds. Sulfates not only strip your hair and skin of necessary moisture and protective barriers, but they also become toxic when combined with other ingredients commonly found in skincare products.
Slapping on sunscreen is incredibly important when it comes to protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. However, it's easy to forget about protecting our eyes. The only way to do so is by wearing sunglasses. Remembering to throw on your shades every day will guard against sunburn, cataracts, and even skin cancer. Choose sunglasses with 99-100% UV absorption or UV 400, and maybe draw some inspiration from your girlfriend's oversize shades—the bigger the glasses, the better the protection.
Fiber is a key component of any healthy diet, and by now we’ve all learned it doesn’t just come from a morning bowl of Wheaties. There's actually very little that fiber can’t do. A diet high in fiber will keep your body running smoothly for a long time, really—research shows that those who increased their intake actually live longer. What's more, a study published in Nutrition found that fiber may aid weight loss. Shall we go on? Fiber also regulates digestion, has been shown to help moderate inflammation, reduces blood pressure, cuts your risk for diabetes, and lowers bad cholesterol.
If you don’t have something green on your plate at every meal, you’re cheating your body out of essential nutrients. According to the USDA, antioxidant-packed dark leafy greens may be some of the best cancer-preventing foods. They also help with weight management and regulate the digestive system. If you’re short on time (or just lazy), try supplementing with a green powder like spirulina. It’s a type of green-blue algae that’s rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, zinc, iron, and beta-carotene.
You don’t need anyone to tell you to have more sex, but it doesn’t hurt that research is piling up about the benefits of getting busy. Regular time spent behind closed doors can make you look and feel younger, reduce stress, boost immunity, enhance sleep, protect against prostate cancer, and improve cardiovascular health. What's more, a 25-year study from Duke University found that the more sex you have, the longer you'll live. Guys, I think we’ve discovered the fountain of youth.
The simplest way to lose, track, and maintain weight loss is to weigh yourself every day, according to research from The University of Manchester. In the study—which was conducted in partnership with Withings, the French connected-health technology manufacturer—975 men and women participated. Users who interacted the most with their smart scale lost the most weight: the equivalent of an extra 2.5 pounds for men and 2 pounds for women over the span of a year.
This may seem nonsensical from a nutritional standpoint, but frying and sautéeing vegetables is better for you, according to a new study from the University of Granada. By cooking veggies in extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) you increase the presence of dietary phenols. These are the compounds said to ward off cancer, promote healthy aging, and have antioxidant effects since they capture free radicals before they can cause damage in your body, which can prevent diseases like diabetes and macular degeneration later on in life. Boiling (which is what you're probably doing now) causes essential vitamins to leach out into the water.
If the weekends are when you cut loose on your diet, drink more booze, and go indulge in unhealthy habits, you're really doing your gut a disservice (in more ways than one), according to a study from the University of New South Wales. Researchers say yo-yo dieting can throw off the 100 trillion microbial cells in your gut, which control and influence your metabolism, immune function, and overall nutrition. But these levels and diversity of bacteria are disrupted, it can spark gastrointestinal conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and obesity.
Are you seriously still smoking in 2016?! Cigarettes increase your risk for heart disease (which accounts for 35 to 40 percent of all smoking-related deaths), emphysema, cancer, stroke, asthma, lung infections, and dementia, and hookah isn't any better, according to a meta-analysis from the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences. Researchers boiled 540 articles down to 17 relevant studies in which they discovered hookah smokers are in fact inhaling a huge amount of toxicants. When compared with a single cigarette, one hookah session delivers approximately 125 times the smoke, 25 times the tar, 2.5 times the nicotine, and 10 times the carbon monoxide.
Growing up you were considered lazy for sleeping in on the weekends, but research from the University of Chicago considers it a sound health investment. In the study, participants who were allowed to have two consecutive nights of extended sleep (an average of 9.7 hours a night) after four consecutive days of sleep deprivation (4.5 hours a night) exhibited a reduced risk of diabetes. After the four-night sleep restriction, the volunteers' insulin sensitivity decreased by 23 percent and their diabetes risk increased by 16 percent. But the two nights of extended sleep restored their insulin sensitivity and risk of diabetes to normal sleep levels, effectively reversing the negative metabolic effect of too little sleep.
Squeeze as many greens you can into your meals and snacks: A 12-year study from the University College London found eating a combination of seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day could decrease your chances of death from any cause by 42 percent (compared to people who consume less than one portion each day). More specfically, seven or more portions of fruits and veggies per day dropped the risk of dying from cancer by 25 percent and cardiovascular disease by 31 percent. And each additional serving of vegetables alone was linked to a 16 percent reduction in mortality.
Yo-yo dieting is bad, but strategic cheat meals are good—very good. "Weekly cheat meals that are higher in calories and carbohydrates can help raise leptin levels and lower ghrelin," says BuiltLean contributor and nutritional scientist Eva Lana, MSc. When your hormones return to normal, they can help reverse or even prevent any negative effects on metabolism, hunger drive, and energy expenditure. What's more, she adds, the increased calories may also help to increase thyroid function, further boosting metabolism; so a scheduled cheat meal may actually help optimize your body’s hormones to avoid weight loss plateaus and prevent chronic metabolism depression."
If you commute by bus or train, take advantage and snooze before or after work for an easy pick-me-up. There are so many health benefits of napping—especially if you don't get enough sleep at night. A quick 20-30 minute nap can boost short-term alertness, according to the National Sleep Foundation, that won’t leave you in a fog or interfere with sleep later at night. A cat nap can even reverse information overload and protect your brain from mental burnout, according to materials from The National Institutes of Health. And a midday nap even appears to lower blood pressure levels and decrease the number of necessary antihypertensive medications in men and women with high blood pressure, according to a press release from the European Society of Cardiology. Find an empty office and snooze away. Just be sure to set an alarm...
A breakfast containing 35g of protein helps prevent weight gain, reduces your daily intake of food, staves off hunger, and stabilizes your glucose levels, according to a study from the University of Missouri Health School of Medicine. Participants who ate high-protein breakfasts (compared to those who ate moderately-high protein breakfasts) reduced their daily food intake by 400 calories and lost body fat. Those who ate the moderately-high protein morning meals gained additional body fat. Combine high-quality proteins like milk, eggs, lean meats, and Greek yogurt and try it for yourself.
Sure, you want to impress your boss and pay your dues at a new job. But after a few years of working 41–48 hours a week instead of a “normal” 35–40 and you're looking at an increased risk of stroke of up to 10 percent. Log 49–54 hours a week? You're upping your odds by 27 percent. And if you're slaving away for 55 hours? You're raising your risk by a shocking 33 percent, according to a study from University College London. Now do as the researchers tell you: Turn off your computer and run for the door.