Most of us admit we could probably improve our health and wellness but aren’t sure where to begin. Don’t worry – we’ve got 20 research-backed tips that make it easy for you to start improving your health today.
1. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Want to know how to improve your health in the fastest, easiest way? Change how you eat. Fruits and veggies are nutritional powerhouses, providing many essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which help ward off disease. More than 75% of Americans aren’t getting the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables daily. But science shows that people who eat seven or more portions of fruits or vegetables have a 42% reduced risk of dying from any cause compared to someone who only eats one portion. Even just one extra serving of dark, leafy greens can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 11% and type 2 diabetes by 9%. And getting more of these healthy foods can even improve your mental health!
2. Eat a Rainbow
When you eat more fruits and veggies, don’t just eat the same old one. Aim to select a variety of foods from the five main color groups so you can obtain a broad range of phytonutrients to help protect your body against disease and aging:
- Blue-purple, which supports heart, brain, and bone health, plus antioxidants for healthy aging
- Red-pink, which supports prostate, urinary tract, and DNA health
- Orange-yellow, which supports eye health, healthy immune function, skin hydration, and overall growth and development
- Dark green, which supports eye health, arterial function, lung health, and healthy liver function
- Brown-white, which supports healthy bones, circulatory health, and supports arterial function
3. Eat Less Red Meat
Red meat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease from saturated fat and cholesterol. Research finds that consuming less than half a serving/day of total red meat may prevent death from cardiovascular disease in up to 8.6% of men and 12.2% of women. Instead, choose other sources of protein like fish or poultry if you want to improve your health.
4. Eat More Fiber
Not eating enough fiber can actually raise your risk of developing conditions like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol, as well as increase risk of diseases like obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Eat more fiber-rich foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains at every meal.
5. Get More Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids are well-known for healthy heart function, but research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids dramatically reduce inflammation and are significant factors in the prevention of many chronic diseases, including heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, depression, and even cancer. They may even offer anti-aging benefits by helping slow a key biological process linked to aging known as telomere shortening.
6. Consume Probiotics
These beneficial bacteria are continually being linked to good health. They’ve been found to have a beneficial effect on regulating the immune system, may help promote weight loss and reduce BMI, have a positive effect on digestive health, help with inflammatory skin conditions, including acne, may help reduce blood pressure, and are even being studied for treating depression.
7. Drink More Water
Water is an essential nutrient for survival, and it helps flush out toxins, helps cell function and metabolism, and supports every system in your body. It can even help promote weight loss. But even though our bodies are up to 60% water, many of us don’t get the recommended 8 cups of filtered water daily.
8. Drink Less Alcohol
Alcohol is well known for helping us make bad decisions – we eat more calories and make unhealthy food choices on days we drink. Drinking can raise the risk of inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea, and even moderate drinking (3-5 drinks a week) has been associated with increased risk of certain types of cancers.
9. Eat Breakfast
To improve health, don’t skip that first meal. People with irregular eating patterns weigh more, have wider waistlines and have a higher body mass index, but morning people eat earlier in the day, eat more calories at breakfast and lunch, and eat more balanced meals all day.
10. Exercise Daily
Close to 60% of adults don’t get any exercise. But exercise and physical activity lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation, enhance insulin sensitivity, and play an important role in weight management. Exercise has also been associated with prevention and improvement in depressive disorders and anxiety. And in older adults, exercise helps to preserve bone mass, reduces the risk of falls, and lowers the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Even modest exercise can reduce mortality risk in the least fit people by up to 50%!
11. Lose Weight
About one-third of Americans are overweight, and that number is projected to continue rising. Unfortunately, being overweight and obese increases the risk for serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. Even losing just a little bit of weight, around 5% of body weight, can help reduce the risk for diabetes and heart disease and improve insulin sensitivity in muscle, fat, and liver tissue.
12. Know How Many Calories You Need
Most of us don’t count calories and don’t know how many calories we need to be eating to stay well. This means we often over eat and suffer the health consequences. Eating fewer calories can help with weight control, lower the risk of heart disease, and improve blood pressure, as well as have a beneficial effect on age-related chronic diseases that plague our later years.
13. Know Your Nutrition Facts
Fewer than 50% of Americans pay attention to nutrition facts on labels or in restaurants. But the truth is, they’re an extremely important tool for improving health because they break down everything from serving size, calories, fat content, daily-recommended amounts of various nutrients, to how much salts and sugars are in a food. Reading labels ensures you make healthy choices.
14. Take 15,000 Steps a Day
Walking 15,000 steps or more each day is key to improve health and prevent metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that includes high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, excess abdominal fat, abnormal cholesterol levels, and that increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
15. Join a Gym
Fewer than 20% of Americans go to the gym, but those who do get 14 times more aerobic activity, are 10 times more likely to meet strength-training guidelines, and most exceed standards and get up to 6 extra hours of exercise into their weekly routine. In addition, people who are most fit at midlife suffer the fewest chronic illnesses after age 65 and live healthier lives in their final years.
16. Sleep 7 Hours Nightly
They should rename “beauty sleep” and call it “health sleep,” because getting enough quality sleep is one of the most important ways to improve your health. Your risk of developing a chronic condition like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or stroke increases when you don’t get enough rest. Sleep deprivation also increases your risk of developing depression, and makes you 30% more likely to become obese.
17. Reduce Stress
Easier said than done, but one of the best ways to improve health is to cut stress out of your life. Stress has been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, lowered immunity, can lead to weight gain, and it shortens essential DNA components called telomeres which are linked to overall health. Remember to take a few minutes to decompress when you’re stressed, and consider practicing stress-releasing activities like meditation and yoga on a regular basis.
18. Fall in Love
Being in love offers many health benefits, including lowered risk for cardiovascular (including heart) disease, faster healing, improved immunity to illness, better brain health, lower stress, and increased longevity.
19. Find an Animal Companion
Having a pet has been shown to offer numerous health benefits. Pets may help reduce the risk of developing allergies, boost immune response, lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart attack, boost mood, and reduce stress levels. Plus, having a companion to exercise encourages you to go out and get exercise together.
20. Think Positively
People who are optimists tend to have healthier behaviors, including getting regular exercise, eating better, and getting better sleep, all of which contribute to a reduced risk of death. In addition, higher optimism has been linked to higher antioxidant levels, lower inflammation, and healthier cholesterol levels – all good for heart and overall health.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.