8 Small Steps Toward a Healthy Lifestyle

How do you want to look and feel by this time next year? If your goal is to be thinner, happier, or healthier, you can achieve it just by making small adjustments to your lifestyle. See how, over the course of a year, tiny changes can have a surprisingly big impact.

 If You…Lose One Pound a Week

Next year: A pound-a-week loss seems so minimal, and yet think about it: At that rate, you’ll be 52 pounds lighter in a year. But if you are overweight, you don’t have to drop 52 pounds to be healthier: Losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can improve your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And that can reduce your risk of big-trouble diseases, including cardiovascular disease (still the number-one killer in the United States) and diabetes (which currently affects more than 25 million Americans).

 If You…Take a Lap Around Your Local Big-Box Store

Next year: If once a week you take a turn around the inside of a mega-store before you begin shopping, you’ll walk 12 extra miles over a year: That big U shape you trace by walking the outermost aisles of the average big-box store adds up to an extra quarter-mile of walking each time.

 If You…Take the Stairs

Next year: You will have burned double the calories you would by riding the elevator. A 160-pound woman would burn about 4,940 calories a year—1.4 pounds—if she took three minutes to briskly climb the stairs every workday (carrying 1 to 15 pounds of stuff with her). That stair habit could burn the equivalent of 11½ Hershey bars. On the flip side, standing in an elevator for three minutes barely burns 10 calories, for a total of just 2,480 calories over a year, not even enough to torch a pound (to do that, you’d have to burn or cut out 3,500 calories).

 If You…Cut Out One Cookie a Day

Next year: You will have eliminated 21,170 calories. That’s enough to drop six pounds. Cut more, lose more, of course.

 If You…Use Oil Instead of Butter

Next year: You may have reduced your risk of heart disease by 19 percent in a year’s time. In a review published in PLOS Medicine in March 2010, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health noted that drop in risk when they analyzed research on more than 13,000 people who swapped out saturated fat (that’s in butter, as well as red meat) for polyunsaturated fat (in soybean oil and canola oil) for at least a year.

 If You…Cut Out a Few Hours of TV Time

Next year: You may have slashed your risk of an early death. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2011 found that people who watched TV for six hours a day had shorter lives—by about 4.18 years—than people who didn’t watch TV. In fact, the researchers say that every hour of TV watched after the age of 25 reduces life expectancy by 21.8 minutes. But TV itself is not the culprit: It’s sitting for prolonged periods that can shorten your life. In a 2010 study, in the American Journal of Epidemiology, women who logged in some six hours of sitting time during their nonworking hours were 37 percent more likely to die earlier than peers who sat for just three hours over the course of a day (outside of work). Sedentary men, meanwhile, were 18 percent more likely to die earlier than their more active peers, according to the study. It’s possible, the researchers say, that sitting could suppress enzymes involved in the metabolism of fats or may somehow indirectly affect cholesterol, glucose, blood pressure, and other markers of health. Going to the gym daily isn’t enough to change the stats: The key is to find ways to stand and move more during the day. Some experts recommend getting up from your chair every 30 minutes or less.

 If You…Call One Old Friend a Month

Next year: That’s 12 people with whom you’ve rekindled or strengthened your friendship, and research has found that people with stronger personal bonds are 50 percent more likely to outlive their less social peers. There’s no magic amount of phone calls/e-mails/coffee dates that protects you, so if you want to check in with one friend (new or old) every week—or even every day—have at it.

 If You…Go to Bed One Minute Earlier

Next year: Going to bed a minute earlier every night for just two months will earn you an extra hour of sleep pretty painlessly (a minute earlier a day for a year would gain you an extra six hours of sleep each night, which we hope is more than you actually need). There are compelling reasons to get those zzz’s (other than less money spent on coffee). Shortage of sleep is associated with a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart problems, a decreased ability to pay attention, increased chances of car accidents, and diminished memory capacity.

SOURCE: RealSimple.com

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Dr. Kellie Seth, D.C.