You probably think of staying in good health as something that’s insanely time consuming—the stuff of extreme diets, expensive gyms or off-and-on cleanses. But the truth is, there are dozens of easy and effective ways you can seriously improve your health in fifteen minutes—or even less—per day. These tiny tweaks, many of which are great fun, can help you strengthen your immune system, boost your mood, and prevent serious diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s—and here, we share them exclusively with you. Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had Coronavirus.
Add a few minutes to each mealtime.
“Eat slowly,” says Mackenzie Griffith, a Precision Nutrition certified coach. “This will give your body time to send you satiety/fullness cues, making you naturally and voluntarily eat less food. Do this by putting down your utensil between bites, talking to the people around you, chewing more thoroughly, or really focusing on the flavors and textures you’re experiencing—become a sommelier of whatever you’re eating. You’ll find you’re more satisfied, don’t feel bloated, and naturally start to shed some weight.”
“An effective way for you to ease stress is by literally changing your view,” says Dr. Richard Carmona, former Surgeon General of the U.S. and Chief of Health Innovation at Canyon Ranch. “Just sitting quietly outside for a few minutes can help. Nature is easy on the eyes and easy on the ears, and by linking yourself to its calmness, you can lower your anxiety and increase brain health.”
Studies have found that having sex on a regular basis can help lower blood pressure, which can decrease your risk of stroke. According to a study published in American Journal of Cardiology, men who had sex at least twice a week were less likely to develop cardiovascular disease compared with men who had sex once a month. That’s likely because sexual activity increases feel-good chemicals in the brain like dopamine and the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, which can lower high blood pressure, the No. 1 cause of stroke.
Have “exercise snacks.”
According to Harvard Medical School, researchers have found that people who exercise for just 15 minutes a day live, on average, three years longer than those who don’t. “New research is proving that ‘exercise snacks’ are great ways to decrease negative health outcomes (high cholesterol, blood sugars, etc) found in many chronic diseases,” says Kathryn Hossack, BSc. CAT(C), owner of Integrative Movement and RideWell Performance. “These include doing short bursts, like 20 to 30 seconds of moderate activity, like walking up a flight of stairs or jumping jacks, once every hour or two in your day. It’s perfect for those who work at a desk.”
Talk to a friend.
Feelings of loneliness and social isolation can increase a person’s risk of having a heart attack, according to a study published in the journal Heart. People who reported poor social relationships had a 29 percent higher risk of coronary disease, and a 32 percent higher risk of stroke, than people who have solid friendships. The reason: Researchers believe loneliness increases chronic stress, a risk factor for ticker trouble. So take time to drop in on, call or text friends or family regularly.
Drink some coffee.
A study published in the European Journal of Neurology found that people who consumed caffeine had a “significantly lower risk” of Alzheimer’s Disease than non-drinkers. Why? Researchers believe that certain compounds in roasted coffee may prevent the build-up of brain plaque believed to cause Alzheimer’s and dementia.
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Eat a handful of nuts.
Several studies have shown that eating nuts like almonds, walnuts, peanuts or hazelnuts can lower LDL (“bad”) blood cholesterol, while raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol — among several other health benefits. “Eating a small amount of different nuts during the day can help your health significantly in the long run,” says Nikola Djordjevic, MD, of MedAlertHelp.org. “Nuts are rich in vitamins such as magnesium, selenium or copper. Plus, they are great antioxidants and can help fight free radicals in blood which can cause cell damage and lead to a variety of diseases.”
Add leafy greens to your meal.
“Most people say a complete meal is healthy fat, fiber and protein, but they always forget the greens,” says Jacquie Smith, a certified integrative nutrition coach in New York City. “Leafy greens are the best type of superfood to add to every meal. They’re packed with antioxidants, B vitamins, Vitamin C and K, and fiber, which aid in digestion and prevent inflammation. This ultimately prevents chronic diseases and illnesses, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.”
According to a study conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) the high flavonoid content in berries, apples and oranges help ward off the disease. Study participants who consumed the most flavonoids were 40 percent less likely to develop Parkinson’s Disease.
Make a gratitude list every morning.
Take time to write down ten things you’re grateful for in your life, no matter how small or basic. It could be your health, your morning coffee, the ability to pay the mortgage (or having paid off your mortgage). That simple exercise has been shown to improve mood. “Gratitude focuses on the good and positives in life,” says Dr. Catherine Jackson, a licensed clinical psychologist and board-certified neurotherapist based in Chicago. “Research suggests the brain literally produces more dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, when gratitude is expressed. A grateful mind will allow you to be less stressed and feel more positive emotions. While thinking about what you are grateful for is good for the brain, studies show writing it down has even greater benefits.”
Have a glass of orange juice.
That’s one of the top ways the Arthritis Foundation says you can help prevent the debilitating joint disease. Studies have shown that consumption of Vitamin C reduces the risk of developing osteoarthritis.
Play video games.
Seriously. Per a study published in the journal Neuroscience, adults who played a lot of action video games sharpened their vision by 20 percent. “Action video game play changes the way our brains process visual information,” said study co-author Daphne Bavelier, professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester. “After just 30 hours, players showed a substantial increase in the spatial resolution of their vision, meaning they could see figures like those on an eye chart more clearly, even when other symbols crowded in.”
Track your meals.
In a March study published in the journal Obesity, researchers found that people who tracked their meals—logging them on paper or online, with an app like Lose It—for at least 15 minutes a day were the most successful at losing weight.
Get 15 minutes of sun.
“Fifteen minutes of sunlight can help naturally boost Vitamin D levels, which help with bone health and immune function and can also keep circadian rhythm in sync,” says John M. Martinez, MD, a primary care physician in La Mesa, California. “I find the 15 minutes of sun helps with patients that suffer with insomnia for that reason.”
Meditate for 15 minutes.
A 2018 study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology found that just 15 minutes of meditation can have the same positive effect on your mood and well-being as taking one vacation day.
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“Few people pay attention to their breathing. However, bringing attention to your breath for at least ten minutes a day can reduce stress and increase relaxation,” says Jackson. “Slow, deep and consistently control breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, reduces the heart rate and relaxes the mind and the muscles. It also triggers your neuron in the brain to calm you down. In a stressful situation, the brain needs that extra oxygen to help it think clearly in order to solve or calmly get through the problem.”
Or legumes, if you’re nasty. A study published in the journal Clinical Diabetes found that participants who ate slightly less than one cup of legumes every day for 10 weeks saw “significantly decreased” systolic and mean arterial blood pressure.
Take a short walk.
“People who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance can lower their blood glucose level after meals by taking a 15-minute walk,” says Nancy Woodbury, MA, MS, RD, LD/N, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Boca Raton, Florida. “The contraction of the larger leg muscles drives excess glucose from the bloodstream directly into the muscle cells, independently of the action of insulin secreted the pancreas. If your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, or your muscle cells are resistant to the action of insulin, exercising can help you reduce your blood glucose. Moreover, physical activity that builds muscle mass will increase your capacity to either use or store the glucose which is produced from metabolizing foods with carbohydrates, so you can eat more of them.”
Do plantar fascia stretches.
“Your plantar fascia is the tissue that supports your arches. If we aren’t actively stretching them in the morning, we pose the risk of developing an inflammatory condition called plantar fasciitis,” says Dr. Benjamin Tehrani, a podiatrist at King’s Point Foot & Ankle Specialists in Los Angeles. “A simple lacrosse ball massage on the plantar sole of the feet will do the trick. Lay on your back and place the lacrosse ball on the heel. Slowly move the ball from the heel to the ball of your foot, being sure to push against the ground with your feet and feel the ball stretching into the fascia. This helps break up scar tissue or any muscle the has become fatigued from either walking or standing too often or from simple wear and tear of our feet. This helps remove lactic acid from foot muscles, allowing our feet to become more energized and ready for the day.”
Practice relaxation techniques.
In a pilot study at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, 48 adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) participated in a nine-week program focused on stress reduction and other healthy behaviors that included relaxation training to be practiced at home for 15 to 20 minutes each day. They not only felt better — they had fewer gastrointestinal symptoms and researchers found marked positive changes in genes involved with their stomach conditions. “The relaxation response reduced the expression of a number of genes directly linked to the key inflammatory processes of IBD. While the mechanisms behind IBS are less well-defined, they most likely involve stress response, which also could be improved by relaxation response practice,” said study researcher Towia Libermann, Ph.D.
Listen to music.
According to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, adults with self-observed cognitive impairment who listened to 12 minutes of music every day for 12 weeks showed a decrease in a cellular biomarker of aging in the blood, as well as improvements in memory, mood, sleep, and cognitive function. Other studies have found that listening to music or playing a musical instrument improves memory in healthy people, too.
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Go for a walk together.
“As a personal fitness coach, I’ve been prescribing challenging fat-loss workouts for years, but as an aging personal fitness coach I’ve also recently discovered the decidedly un-challenging activity of going for a walk with my wife every night,” says personal trainer and nutrition adviser Matt Edwards. “At first it was just to burn calories, and you burn a ton of calories walking, but then I started noticing these other cool benefits creeping in: With no TV, work, phone or other distractions calling for our attention, my wife and I talk. It’s nice. Really nice. It’s quality time that you can unashamedly devote to simply being with your romantic partner, and it can bring you closer together.”
He adds: “No distractions also mean that you’re completely present in the moment, and the emotional benefits of mindfulness, a practice which promotes being fully present, are felt immediately.”
Cook with whole foods.
That’s the recommendation of Dr. Terry Wahls, a clinical professor at the University of Iowa. “Use ingredients, not boxed, processed foods. The industrialized foods are filled with sugar, salt, and food additives that interfere with our microbes in our gut. Food additives and emulsifiers that are common in industrialized food increase the risk of developing leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability. When a person has leaky gut, inflammation goes up along with a higher risk of autoimmunity and chronic disease. I can make a meal in a skillet with fresh or frozen vegetables and meat—or a vegetarian source of protein for those who don’t eat meat—in less than 15 minutes. Doing so will have a profound impact on your health and your family’s health today and far into the future.”
Do a short burst of high-intensity exercise.
“Exercise becomes increasingly important as we age,” says Anthony Kouri, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toledo Medical Center. “Many people think that the only way to benefit from exercise is to do it for a long period of time. However, research suggests that high-intensity exercise in short bursts can improve bone mineral density. Osteoporosis is due to low bone mineral density and is a serious health concern, especially for women. It is a factor in up to 90% of hip fractures. It is often asymptomatic, but can lead to devastating injuries at an older age when our bodies are most vulnerable.”
He continues: “Recent research suggests that women who participate between 1-2 minutes of high-intensity weight bearing activity each day have 4% better bone health than women who do less than 1 minute of physical activity. Furthermore, women who did more than 2 minutes of this type of exercise had 6% better bone health. These activities include running, jogging, dancing, stair climbing, and tennis, among many others.”
“While meditation is not a cure-all, it helps to slow brain aging, acts as an antidepressant and helps improve depression and anxiety,” says Jackson. “It has been found to increase grey matter in the hippocampus, which is important for learning and memory and decreases brain cell volume in the amygdala, an area of the brain responsible for fear and stress and improves attention and concentration.”
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“Stretching for just 15 minutes a day can have benefits such as better bone and joint health, improved balance, better flexibility, and mobility,” says Dr. Thanu Jeyapalan, clinical director of the Yorkville Sports Medicine Clinic in Toronto. “Stretching a few minutes a day will do wonders for your health in the long run.”
Write in a journal.
“Journaling for 15 minutes, or 3 full hand-written pages, can really help you get whatever is buzzing around in your mind and put it down in a physical entity,” says Carla E. Campos of 15 Minutes of Creativity. “While it’ll initially feel like a strenuous exercise, with time, you’ll start to feel better and better about putting all your thoughts, unscripted, and with no edits, down on paper.”
Pause before that second helping.
“Wait 15 minutes after you initial plate before you go back for more,” says Martise Moore, a running coach in Los Angeles. “It may be just enough time to make you feel full and forgo the unneeded calories.”
Pet your dog.
That’s right. According to Harvard Medical School, a large study showed that dog owners had lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels than non-owners—and those differences weren’t explainable by diet, smoking, or body mass index (BMI)! Scientists aren’t sure why. They do believe that dogs’ calming effect can lower blood pressure, reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease. Two paws up.
Design a sleep ritual.
“It doesn’t have to be anything fancy — something as simple as soaking in a bath for 15 minutes before bed, spraying lavender oil on your pillowcases before you lie down, or committing to a short full-body stretch before bedtime can help you sleep better,” says Amanda L. Dale, a certified personal trainer and sports nutritionist. “And better sleep leads to better appetite control, reduced inflammation, a lessened incidence of depression, and a lowered risk of heart attack and stroke.” And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.