20 Ways To Improve Your Health — And Your Life

Fight disease, strengthen your mind and otherwise bolster your overall well-being with these easy-to-implement tips.

By C.J. Logan | September 9, 2015

Allow us to shift your focus for a few minutes. You’ve been putting much thought into your abs, pecs, quads and biceps — and rightfully so — but there are other muscles and bodily systems that need some love, too: your heart, your brain, your trillions of cell membranes. You know, the things that keep you alive. By all means, keep attending to your more visible bodyparts on a regular basis. Just don’t forget to heed these 20 nuggets of health advice, many of which have very little to do with how you look or how you perform athletically but rather with how you feel and how you function in the long, grind-it-out game of life.

1. Get a Flu Shot ASAP

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 people died of influenza annually between 1976 and 2007. The organization recommends that virtually everybody 6 months and older get a flu shot yearly. And it’s best to get your shot as soon as it’s available, which can be as early as October.

2. Eat Fruits and Vegetables — Then Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

The numerous cells in your body are constantly under fire by evil enemies, and if fruits and vegetables aren’t plentiful in your diet, you’re not truly fighting the good fight. “Antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables protect your cells and neutralize free radicals, rogue molecules that attack healthy cells,” says Mark MacDonald, a health and nutrition expert and spokesman for the health and wellness company MonaVie. “Active people need at least 15 to 18 servings of fruits and veggies per day to look as good on the inside as they do on the outside.” Single-serving examples include one cup of chopped broccoli, carrots or cooked spinach, one small apple, eight large strawberries, and one cup of fruit or vegetable juice.

3. Exercise “During” Your Workday

Excessive stress over extended periods can wreck your health, and few things frazzle people’s nerves like their jobs. It’s well-documented that exercise can help minimize the harmful effects of stress on the body, and breaking up your 9-to-5 shift with a workout when possible — even just a brief one — can further ease the tension. “One of the best ways to relieve work-related stress is to do something during your workday that’s not work,” says Melissa Carsten, Ph.D., associate professor of organizational behavior at Winthrop University in South Carolina. “And given the positive effects that exercise has on stress levels anyway, getting in a workout on your lunch break will maximize stress relief.”

4. Drink a Gallon Of Water On Training Days, Half a Gallon On Off Days

Every system in your body requires water to function properly, and even mild dehydration can leave you noticeably low on energy. In other words, water is your body’s most vital nutrient, both from a health and performance standpoint. How much do you need? John Berardi, Ph.D., president of Precision Nutrition (precisionnutrition.com), recommends drinking seven cups of water daily (just shy of half a gallon) when not exercising. “On training days, however, you may require a gallon or more water per day to stay adequately hydrated,” he says.

5. Take a Multivitamin Every Day

Almost nobody gets adequate amounts of all the vitamins they need for optimal health through food. So buy a multivitamin. Follow dosing instructions on the label. Do this every day.

6. Follow the “60 Percent Rule” With Fish Oil

 

Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids via fish oil lowers heart-attack risk, reduces arthritis, fights depression and does a bunch of other great stuff in the body. But not all fish oil products are created equal; more specifically, some don’t offer adequate amounts of the most beneficial omega-3s: eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. Doug Kalman, Ph.D., RD, director of Nutrition and Applied Clinical Trials at Miami Research Associates , offers this sage advice: “To see if your fish-oil product is a good one for the purchase, look at the label to see how much total omega-3 or fish oil is in one serving. Then add up the EPA and DHA (which will be on the label). If the EPA and DHA are not more than 60 percent of the total fish oil or omegas, it means you may be getting a poorer-quality product.”

7. Move One Foot In Front Of the Other 10,000 Times a Day

Your work in the gym represents the majority of physical activity you need. But complementing your training by simply walking more the rest of the day can round out your health. “Taking as little as 10,000 total steps per day has been documented to help with weight control, reduce risk of many diseases and promote better overall health,” Kalman says. “If you don’t know how much you walk, run or use your feet daily, pick up a pedometer at your local sports store or online.” Just don’t forget to wear the pedometer all day long, even when you’re at the gym.

8. Splurge on Grass-Fed Beef

Why spend more on grass-fed? Because it contains more omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid, B vitamins and vitamins E and K (among many other health-promoting nutrients) than grain-fed beef. That’s why.

9. Make Friends, Not Foes

Research — including a 2012 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health — shows that having a large social network contributes to better psychological well-being in adults. In other words, the guy with lots of friends is generally happier, and healthier, than the hermit. “Make sure you’re surrounding yourself with people who add to your life, not subtract,” says fitness expert, celebrity trainer and TV personality Lacey Stone (laceystonefitness.com). “You’re a direct reflection of who you surround yourself with — surround yourself with all-stars.”

10. If You’re Going to Drink Beer, Make it a Guinness

There’s a misconception that “low-carb” beers like Michelob Ultra are wiser choices than darker, thicker brews. But a good rule of thumb is that the darker the beer, the more antioxidants it has. So order a Guinness, the ultra-popular, literally black Irish stout. One University of Wisconsin study found that drinking a pint of Guinness a day helped subjects prevent heart-attack-inducing blood clots better than lighter lagers. The researchers attributed this effect partly to the stout’s “antioxidant compounds.” Plus, 12 ounces of Guinness isn’t much higher in calories (126) than an Ultra (95).

11. Take a Few Minutes (Or More) To Meditate

Find a quiet room at home or in the office, shut the door, get comfortable, close your eyes and focus on your breathing for at least a few minutes, preferably on a daily basis. According to a 2012 paper published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice, meditating (aka “mindfulness”) has “antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects and decrease[s] general psychological distress.” See Page 47 for more on meditation.

12. Add Chia Seeds To Your Protein Shake

When the smoothie-bar attendant asks if you want any “boosts” or “add-ons,” say “Why, yes,” and go with chia seeds instead of more protein. (Chances are, your shake already has enough whey in it.) Chia seeds are loaded with omega-3s and fiber, and they’ve also been shown to reduce blood pressure and help control blood-sugar levels.

13. Put Some Honey In There, Too

Honey has anti-inflammatory properties, helps regulate blood-sugar levels, benefits the skin and hair, and contains flavonoids that fight heart disease and cancer. When shopping for it at the grocery store, look for “raw” honey, which has not been heated for pasteurization and therefore is more likely to retain all its original nutrients.

14. Wear Sunscreen Year-Round

Cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, have increased 800 percent in young women and 400 percent in young men in the last 40 years, according to the Melanoma Research Alliance (curemelanoma.org). And it’s not only during the summer months that you’re at risk. This winter, if you’re going to be outdoors for any extended period, apply sunscreen of at least 30 SPF to all exposed areas of skin, particularly your face.

15. Adopt An Animal

Countless studies have shown that owning a pet can benefit your health in many ways, from enhancing mood to reducing risk of allergies to lowering blood pressure. Dog and cat owners have even been found to have a reduced chance of dying from a heart attack. If having a dog sounds like too much responsibility and cats aren’t your thing, get a fish; your companion doesn’t have to be furry to bolster your health.

16. Do Romanian Deadlifts At Least Once a Week

Being healthy means staying injury-free, and Romanians target two of the most often injured areas of the body: the hamstrings and lower back. When these two intertwined muscle groups aren’t strong and flexible, chronic pain and debility are usually on the horizon, if they’re not already part of your everyday routine. Do Romanians with a barbell, dumbbells or the sandbag you have sitting in the garage. Do them one leg at a time or both legs. Whatever. Just do them.

17. Every So Often, Skip a Meal

If your primary goal is building mass, disregard this tip. Otherwise, don’t be afraid to bypass a feeding on occasion, especially if you’re not feeling particularly hungry in the moment. Research has shown that intermittent fasting can help keep blood-sugar levels in check, assist in weight management and improve overall health, and going five or six hours without eating can be considered an abbreviated bout of intermittent fasting. If you’re worried that skipping a meal will slow your metabolism, don’t; it likely takes a much longer stretch for your body to go into starvation mode. “The best thing you can do is skip a meal every once in a while,” says Rorion Gracie, author of The Gracie Diet (graciediet.com). “It helps the body clean itself up.”

18. Turn Off The TV and Computer An Hour Before Bedtime

The light from your flat-screen and laptop can suppress production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, and watching TV tends to stimulate the brain instead of relaxing you. Neither of these circumstances is going to help you get the eight hours of quality sleep a night necessary for optimal health. If bedtime is 10 p.m., turn off all electronics (aside from maybe your e-reader) at 9.

19. Train Your Brain Daily

According to the Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org), Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., with more than 5 million Americans currently suffering from it. One way to protect yourself is to regularly stimulate your brain with mental exercise. “Studies show that doing crossword puzzles, playing games that require eye-hand coordination and, of course, exercise all promote brain neurogenesis and biogenesis,” Kalman says. Aim to read something challenging (Fantasy Football websites don’t count) or do a crossword puzzle for 30 to 60 minutes a day.

20. Train Your Loins Weekly

A study out of Wilkes University in Pennsylvania found evidence that having sexual intercourse one to two times a week can strengthen the immune system. Share these findings with your significant other, put this magazine down, then get started.



About the Author

C.J. Logan