Does it ever feel like you have to spend hours and hours at the gym, change your diet dramatically or jump way out of your comfort zone to reap any rewards in the health department? Think again. Our experts say that these small changes can have significant health payoffs.
1. Floss more often.
According to Robert Emami, DDS, chief of staff at Dental Specialties, a multispecialty practice in Randolph, Massachusetts, a simple piece of nylon string can have dramatic effects on a woman’s overall health. “Flossing is one of the easiest, quickest ways to remove bad bacteria from your body,” he says. “Plaque and bacteria are constantly building up in areas of the teeth that brushing does not get to. If plaque accumulates, it eats away the bone that holds the teeth in place.” Oral bacteria, he adds, can enter the bloodstream; studies have shown that such harmful bugs could exacerbate diabetes and hypertension, and even lead to premature births.
2. Eat every 2 to 3 hours during the day.
Think you’re a saint for going on a long hunger strike at work? If you’re imagining thinner thighs as a result, don’t. You’re likely making your metabolism crazy, says Dallas-based fitness trainer Scott Colby, and possibly setting yourself up to eat more later in the day. Colby encourages women to eat when they’re hungry, which often translates to three meals and at least two snacks per day. “This will help keep you full and satisfied and will reduce the likelihood of binge eating at the end of the day,” he says. “This is one of the best principles you can follow to blast fat and build sexy, lean muscle.”
3. Make your coffee at home.
If a trip to Starbucks is as much of a morning ritual as showering and blow-drying your hair, you might find this advice crazy, but health experts like Gregory J.E. Ladas, author of the book The Couch Potato Diet, say it will not only save you money but possibly hundreds of calories. When you brew your java at home, you “avoid the unhealthy temptations at coffee shops like doughnuts,” he says. And who hasn’t fallen for a sprinkle donut or a piece of fat- and calorie-laden pumpkin loaf?
4. Wear a pedometer.
Boston-based personal trainer Helena Collins calls the affordable little pedometer “the most effective fitness tool known to man”—or woman. “Becoming aware of how much you move is such motivation to move more,” she says. “Not only for you, but for your whole family. Kids love pedometers—it becomes a family challenge about movement, not exercise.” It also may be fun to track how active (or inactive) you are each day. For starters, 2,000 steps is the equivalent of one mile. To boost your physical and mental health, wear a pedometer and challenge yourself to increase your steps every day.
5. Sleep in your exercise clothes (comfortable ones).
Do you always intend to get up and go for a jog or log an hour at the gym before work but…don’t? Motivation may be your problem, and if so, Nicole Glor, an AFAA-certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor at Crunch in New York City, says that she gives her clients some unusual advice that works. “Sleep in your gym clothes and put your sneaks and sports bra by the bed,” she says. “Many of us waste too much time saying we need to work out but dread the process. Trick yourself by just getting dressed for it and not really thinking about the next step.”
6. Do your Kegels.
Experts say that as many as 1 in 4 women over the age of 18 experience episodes of involuntary leaking urine, called urinary incontinence. It’s embarrassing and frightening, but there is something you can do about it, say experts: Keep your pelvic floor muscles strong. According to a review of studies by The Cochrane Library, the pelvic-floor strengthening exercises known as Kegels were found to be an effective way to minimize urinary incontinence issues. Proof: Women who did their Kegels were between 2.5 and 7 times more likely to experience improvement than those who did not do the exercises.
Need a quick refresher course on how to do Kegels? First, to figure out which muscles need flexing, some experts suggest women insert a tampon or a clean finger into their vagina and then try to close their vaginal muscles around it. Contract these pelvic muscles and hold for about 3 seconds; repeat 10 times. Do these as often as you like, and anywhere you like—no one will know!
7. Give yourself a compliment.
The key to feeling happy, confident and proud of your body—flaws and all? According to Stacey Rosenfeld, PhD, a New York-based psychologist who specializes in issues of anxiety, depression, eating disorders and body image, the best thing you can do for yourself is to learn how to marvel at your body’s many abilities. “Focus on what your body can do, rather than on how it looks,” she says. “Too often, we pay attention to how our bodies appear, rather than what they allow us to do. Can your body dance or swim? Can you build sand castles at the beach with your kids? Does your body allow you to enjoy a hot bath or intimacy with a partner? Does your body transport you down the block or up a mountain?” Try this exercise: “Identify what you like about your body,” she says. “See if you can find 10 things you like about how you look, like the sparkle in your eyes, the strength of your calves or your hair.”
8. Get your vitamin D levels checked.
Next time you’re at the doctor’s office, request a simple blood test to evaluate your vitamin D blood levels, suggests Doreen Orion, MD, a physician in private practice in Boulder, Colorado, and the author of the memoir Queen of the Road. “We’re finding that many, many women have a low level of this essential vitamin,” she says. “Low levels are correlated with all sorts of things from cancers to low energy to Alzheimer’s. I’ve had patients who are outside all day, who still have very low levels. The fix is simple and just involves taking vitamin D for several months, then rechecking the level.”
9. Switch from instant to steel-cut oats.
If you eat oatmeal in the morning, give yourself some bonus points. The breakfast of champions, oatmeal fills you up and helps you feel satisfied longer than most breakfasts. But, to get the maximum health payoff, consider switching to steel-cut oats, says Jill Nussinow, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and the author of The Veggie Queen. “Steel-cut oats are less processed, contain more fiber and are more satisfying,” she says. “Make them in the slow cooker overnight or quickly in the pressure cooker in 5 minutes in the morning.”
10. Turn on some classical music at dinner.
“We tend to mimic the pace of the music we’re listening to,” explains David Niven, PhD, author of The 100 Simple Secrets of Healthy People. “To keep yourself from eating too fast—and too much—put on some slow music.” He cites a research study that found people who listened to fast music with meals ate, on average, five bites per minute. Those who didn’t listen to music ate four bites per minute. And the kicker: Those who listened to slow music ate just three bites per minute.