Little Health Changes, Big Rewards
Exercising. Eating right. Avoiding sunlight. Curbing your carbs. Getting enough sleep. Taking care of your health can seem like a lengthy list of “to-dos.” Wouldn’t it be easier if you could boost your health with some little—and easy—steps?
You can! We’ve found some surefire ways to improve your health—and none of them takes more than a minute or two. That’s what good health is really about—a collection of small efforts that yield big payoffs. Here’s what we’ve found:
1. Eat Red Grapes
A study in the journal Cancer Prevention Research showed that red grapes can block the formation of tumors that lead to breast cancer. That’s not to say that grapes are like a cancer vaccine, but this study offered some proof that consuming the reservatrol found in grapes can be good for your health. So why not eat a handful every day. And in case you’re thinking that red wine might be just as effective, the study indicated that red wine did not offer the same benefit.
2. Check Your Scalp
It’s not something you can do alone, but make an appointment to have your dermatologist look at your scalp. Why? A study from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Medicine showed that melanomas, a particularly deadly form of skin cancer, are almost twice as lethal when found on the scalp or neck than when they are found on any other part of the body.
“These areas are hidden by hair and the skin cancer is not easily seen,” says dermatologist Stacy Salob, M.D., clinical assistant professor at Cornell University Medical Center and NY Presbyterian Hospital. If you can’t get to the dermatologist immediately, have your hairdresser check your scalp. Says Salob, research has shown that about 50 percent of melanomas are discovered by hairdressers.
Also, if you’re a man over 50, make sure to use sunscreen and wear a hat to protect your scalp. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 39 percent of men older than 50 still believe being in the sun is good for them and they don’t protect themselves from ultraviolet rays. But men over 50 have a higher risk of developing melanoma than younger men, so be sure to slather on the sunscreen before you head out with your head out. Or, wear a hat.
“Hats are perfect—they provide not just complete protection for the entire scalp, but also shade for the face and, if it is a wide brim hat, the ears, and back and sides of neck,” Salob adds.
3. Eat an Apple a Day
It turns out the old adage is backed by scientific evidence. A study from the University of Iowa showed that mice who ate apples each day retained more muscle and avoided obesity.
The benefit seems to come from the apple’s peel, which contains ursolic acid, a substance that increases the production of a protein in the body that stops muscle breakdown. And more muscle is good because it helps you burn more calories throughout the day—and therefore keeps you from getting fat.
Other foods that contain ursolic acid include: basil, peppermint, prunes, cranberries, rosemary, and thyme.
Bonus: Ursolic acid has also been shown to prevent prostate cancer—especially when consumed through cranberries.
4. Keep Healthy Foods within Reach
You can make sure you eat better snacks simply by putting a fruit bowl within arm’s reach. A 2012 study at St. Bonaventure University showed that when a group of university students were left in a room with a clear bowl full of fruit or carrots, they ate more of the healthy snacks than when left in a room where the snacks were out of sight.
In a follow-up study, researcher Gregory Privitera, Ph.D., said the proximity of good snacks works even when unhealthy snacks are lurking just a little farther away.
“We are showing now that participants will eat significantly more apples if they are close, even if a bowl of popcorn is 2 meters away,” says Privitera, a professor of psychology at St. Bonaventure University. “They would rather just eat the apples than get up to eat the popcorn. The take-away message here is to put unhealthy foods in hard to reach places (such as in the cupboards or in the back of the refrigerator) and to leave the healthy foods out in the open within arm’s reach.”
5. Give Up Artificial Sweetners
Most people will look at that advice and say, “I just can’t!” But if you do, you’ll find that you taste the sweetness in other foods—like fruit—much more acutely. You’ll also be healthier and cut cravings, says nutritionist Keri Glassman, R.D., author of The New You (and Improved) Diet: 8 Rules to Lose Weight and Change Your Life Forever.
“Nix soda alone and you’ll cut out one of Americans’ biggest sources of sugars, artificial sweeteners, and potentially dangerous industrial chemicals,” Glassman says. “The main sweetener in soda – high-fructose corn syrup – can increase fats in the blood called triglycerides, which raises the risk of heart problems, diabetes and other health problems. ‘Diet’ options aren’t better. Diet soft drinks contain no calories, but studies have linked artificial sweeteners to increased appetite, weight gain, and damage to beneficial bacteria in the gut.”
Worst of all, she adds, is that artificial sweeteners leave your body expecting more calories after you consume them. The result—you crave more sweetness. Glassman recommends honey or agave or even sweet spices like cinnamon or nutmeg or vanilla as an alternative to artificial sweeteners.
6. Start Your Day with Water
Begin each day with a glass of water as soon as you wake up.
Says Glassman, “Water helps us feel clean, healthy, and refreshed.”
If you’re not a huge water fan, add a slice of lemon to give it a little favor. An added benefit of the lemon: It acts as a cleaning agent in your liver, removing toxins and leaving that organ more able to metabolize the food we consume. (And as we age, our metabolism slows, so it’s a good idea to give it whatever help you can!) And staying hydrated will also help keep you feeling full.
7. Put on Your Shades
Wearing sunglasses in bright sunlight will make you look great, but the right sunglasses offer health benefits as well. Pop your shades on each time you leave the house, and you can ward off skin cancer on your lids, cataracts, macular degeneration, so-called “surfer’s eye” (in which a film spreads from the corner of the eye towards the middle and threatens your vision—also known as pterygium), and sunburn of the eye (photokeratitis).
Your shades don’t need to cost a fortune, but they should defend against UVA/UVB sunlight (a tag on the lens should say so). “Polarized lenses offer comfort by cutting down glare, but don’t actually protect your eyes,” says Boca Raton ophthalmologist Alan Mitchell, M.D., “What truly offers protection from these dangers is UVA and UVB blocking lenses. Cheap sunglass lenses may mean the crispness of your vision will not be as good, but the protection will still be there.”
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