When I was growing up, there was a dearth of reliable information on making healthy lifestyle choices.
If this information was available, it certainly didn't hit the mainstream media, which at the time included the three major TV networks and the local newspaper. Everything we learned about healthy habits came from the family doctor or from health class in school. School was where they served us “chicken fried” steak and bright pink hot dogs.
Let me share some crazy examples of my healthy lifestyle growing up:
- Being born in the South, my mom (an educated woman) kept a tin of used bacon fat next to the stove. Whenever she cooked any vegetable, she threw in a few tablespoons for flavor. Or she dropped in a slab of fatback.
- Vegetables were routinely cooked to the point of falling apart, and roast beef, pork, hamburger, and occasionally chicken (fried) were present in large quantities for every meal. Salads were made with nutrient-free iceberg lettuce, and the only fish I was served was Mrs. Paul's Fish Sticks and tuna casserole.
- While my mom was pregnant, the doctor advised her NOT to quit smoking because it might make her anxious and harm the baby (really????). Fortunately, she used common sense on this one and quit.
- When my mom tried to lose weight, she bought a “jiggly” machine that was supposed to shake the fat off. All she had to do was stand there. Seriously. No, it didn't work.
- Hormone replacement pills were handed out like candy to menopausal women. My mom, who died from breast cancer, created the perfect storm for cancer by taking these pills, smoking, eating fatty foods, and drinking alcohol daily. My dad died from complications of Alzheimer's, and I have to believe his diet contributed.
- As a child, I used to play on the floorboard of the car when we'd go anywhere. I never wore a seatbelt or sat in a car seat. I never wore a bike helmet either.
Perhaps some day, one of my kids will write about the ignorance of my generation related to healthy choices. But we do know so much more now about preventative healthcare and healthy habits than we did when I was growing up. Just a few small habit changes can make a big difference in your health and longevity.
Here's how to stay healthy with 10 micro habits to use daily:
1. Floss your teeth once a day, every day.
Flossing cleans those tight spaces between your teeth and the gap at the base of the teeth and the gums. These are places that a toothbrush can't reach. Only flossing can remove tartar and bits of food that lodge in these places. Flossing helps prevent gum disease and bone loss that occurs when bacteria builds up.
But a healthy mouth isn't the only reason to floss every day. Medical research has proven the bacteria that flourish in an unhealthy mouth can lead to systemic problems like heart disease, diabetes and respiratory illness.
If you don't have this daily habit, every single day, it's past time to make it part of your regular routine, either in the morning or evening. It only takes a minute or two, but it can have a big impact on your health.
2. Add one additional veggie to one meal.
Increasing your veggie intake by just one additional serving can kickstart other healthy eating choices and provide you with many more nutrients. In fact, vegetables have more vitamins and minerals for the same amount of calories as foods with “empty calories.”
Veggies give you energy, help you eat less because they fill you, and they're naturally low in calories. Add some spinach to your morning scrambled egg or your midday sandwich. Eat a sweet potato with your dinner. Cook some swiss chard or kale to add to your soup. Just don't overcook them!
Pick one meal every day this week, and think how you can up your intake of just one more serving of veggies.
3. Turn off your cell phone when driving.
I thought I was unsafe when I didn't wear a seatbelt, but now there's a new driving danger in town — cellphones. According to the National Safety Council, one in four of all car accidents (26%) are caused by cellphone use.
Believe it or not, only 5% of cellphone-related crashes occur because the driver is texting. The vast majority involve drivers who are distracted while talking on handheld or hands-free cellphones.
4. Up your Omega 3's.
Omega 3 fatty acids found in cold-water oily fish like wild salmon, herring, sardines, and trout have a tremendous number of health benefits. Omega 3 helps cut your risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers (breast, prostate, and colon), and it improves mental, joint, bone, and bowel health. However, the average American doesn't get nearly enough Omega 3 in their diet.
It's strongly recommended to eat Omega 3 rich fish two or three times a week. Sadly, the vast majority of the fish supply is now heavily tainted with industrial toxins and pollutants. The best source of Omega 3 is wild caught Alaskan salmon (rather than farmed salmon) and small fish like sardines.
If you can't afford to eat wild caught salmon regularly and don't like sardines, you can take supplements like fish oil and krill oil. Krill oil seems to have a few more health benefits, so do some reading on both to decide which you prefer. In my research, I found positive recommendations for this Krill Oil .
Create a new habit of taking an Omega 3 supplement daily, or increase the amount of healthy Omega 3-rich healthy fish you eat weekly.
5. Perform the “Scientific 7-Minute Workout” daily.
This short and convenient workout is a high intensity circuit training routine using your own body weight. It is an easy habit to add to your morning or whenever you want to get a quick burst of energy during the day. And according to an article in the New York Times, “it fulfills the latest mandates for high-intensity effort, which essentially combines a long run and a visit to the weight room into about seven minutes of steady discomfort — all of it based on science.”
Here's the sequence in the graphic below. You should perform each exercise in rapid succession for 30 seconds, with a 10 second rest between each one.
6. Use a smaller plate for meals.
When you switch from a dinner plate to a salad plate for your meals, your're confined to less space and must reduce portion sizes. Just cutting back on 10-20 calories a day can really add up over time and contribute to weight loss.
Americans notoriously eat food portions that are too large based on our dietary needs. A smaller plate will make you feel like you're eating the same amount when you put less on the plate.
After you clean your smaller plate, wait 5 minutes before refilling it. Give yourself time to digest the initial servings, and you'll likely find you feel full enough. Just be sure you fill your small plate with healthy choices with an emphasis on fresh vegetables.
Make it a daily habit to reach for the salad plate rather than the dinner plate when serving yourself.
7. Stand when reading or talking on the phone at work.
You've probably read about the dangers of sitting in your chair all day at work, followed by sitting in your car, and sitting in front of the TV or computer at home. Sitting for long stretches raises your risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The risk increases with each two-hour period of sitting time — and it increases more if you are otherwise sedentary.
Break up your long stretches of sitting by standing up to do as much work as possible. If you can elevate your computer so you can type while standing, that's great. If not, make a practice of standing while doing activities that don't require you to sit. When you're reading something on your computer or talking on the phone, make it a habit to stand up and even walk in place to burn a few calories.
Think about the daily activities of your job and decide which tasks can be done standing up. Write a list of those activities, and put a reminder in your office where you can see it clearly. Make standing up while working a daily habit.
8. Carry disinfecting wipes.
Everything you touch carries germs and bacteria. This is especially true of computers, door knobs, elevator buttons, and credit card machine buttons — anything used by multiple people. During cold and flu season, everything you touch carries the potential risk of spreading an infection.
Carrying a pack of disinfecting wipes in your purse or jacket pocket will remind you to wipe down surfaces in your office, car, and when you're on a plane. If you can't wipe down surfaces in public places, be sure to wash your hands with good old soap and water after you touch things.
According to the CDC washing your hands . . .
- Reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 31%
- Reduces diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%
- Reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 21%
Here's how to wash your hands properly.
Create a regular habit of wiping down surfaces and washing your hands often.
9. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier.
A good night's sleep is healing in so many ways. Not only do you feel more rested, but getting enough sleep also helps you maintain a healthy weight, improves your mood, and lowers your risk of injury. Many studies have shown a link between insufficient sleep and serious health problems, like heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes, and obesity.
According to David Katz, MD, founder of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, “Research shows that our bodies need seven to eight hours of sleep in order to stimulate an immune response from our ‘natural killer cells,' which attack viruses. Sleep is my most reliable defense against infection.”
If you aren't getting enough sleep and find yourself tired during the day, move your bedtime up by 30 minutes — or even 15 minutes to begin with — even if it means leaving a project undone. You'll have more energy tomorrow to finish it on a good night's sleep.
10. Drink 16 ounces of water after waking.
Drinking a large glass (or two 8 ounce glasses) of cold water first thing in the morning is a great habit. Water fires up your metabolism, hydrates you, flushes out toxins, gives your brain fuel, and can even make you eat less. In fact, one study showed those who drink a glass of water before every meal lost 4.5 pounds over a three-month period.
Since you're not drinking water during the 7-8 hours you're sleeping, you'll be dehydrated the minute you wake up. You need the immediate intake of water to fuel your brain and help you focus as you begin your day. Plus, all of that water first thing in the morning will clean out the plumbing and hydrate your body and your skin.
Put a glass by your bathroom sink, and before or after you brush your teeth, gulp down a couple of glasses.
Pick just one of these habits this week, and then add more habits over the coming months. By adding just a few micro habits to your day, you can upgrade your health right now and prevent illness and disease down the road. Your body will thank you!
What are some micro habits you perform daily that keep you mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy? Please share them in the comments below.