50 Doctor-Approved Habits You Should Totally Steal
The experts know best.
As humans, we're all creatures of habit. But often times, habits—smoking, drinking, slamming snooze (twice) every morning—are frowned upon. Not all habits, however, are negative. In fact, some can actually improve your life. Don't believe us? We consulted with a pantheon of doctors to find out which tricks you should take up as soon as possible. Read on for the habits approved by medical professionals!
Take all (or most) of your vacation days.
You don't need us to tell you that Americans are more stressed than ever these days—or that it can be tough to unwind and alleviate any anxiety built up over the course of a day, a week, or even a month. Still, recent research suggests that more than half of all Americans don't take advantage of all of their allotted vacation days.
Glenn H. Englander, MD, a physician at GastroGroup of the Palm Beaches in Florida, urges that, if you have the vacation time stocked up, you should put it to good use—for the sake of your health. Not only is taking a trip a total blast, but the American Institute of Stress names workplace stress as a top factor for poor health.
Kick back in a sauna.
The sauna is more than just a place to let your muscles relax after a grueling workout. "Saunas help the body detoxify—remember, the skin is the largest elimination organ—and have been shown to reduce stress and the risk of strokes," says Dr. Richard Harris, the founder of Salutem Magnam, a Houston-based wellness clinic. "Saunas cause the body to increase a specific protein, called 'heat shock' proteins, which have numerous health benefits."
What's more, according to a 2018 study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, saunas can help improve cardiovascular function, change your lipid profiles for the better, and reduce arterial stiffness and blood pressure levels.
Drink water when you get hungry.
"When I feel hungry, I drink water. If I drink water before I eat, I do not eat as much—and it prevents thirst," says Dr. Monique May, a board-certified family physician in Memphis, Tennessee. By the time you feel thirsty, that means you're "actually already dehydrated," says May. Stay ahead of the game by chugging a glass of water every time you crave a snack. And if you're still hungry 20 minutes after that—the generally accepted time it takes for your brain to "catch up" to your stomach—then reach for a bite.
In fact, drink more water in general.
However much water you're drinking, you're not drinking enough. You've no doubt heard the advice, "drink eight 8-ounce cups a day." But you actually want to drink at least 50 percent more than that. In fact, the Mayo Clinic goes so far as to recommend that women drink around 11 cups of fluid per day, while men should consume a whopping 15. (To be fair, "fluid" includes any liquids that are in your food, too.)
If tracking by exact numbers isn't your thing, however, there's an easier test to ensure you're not dehydrated: "I stay well-hydrated by drinking enough water each day so that my urine is clear and not dark yellow," says May.
Always wear sunglasses—even if it's cloudy.
If it's sunny out, you should wear sunglasses. Cloudy? Yep, you should still wear sunglasses. Drizzly? Rainy? Snowy? Yep, yep, and yep. According to optometrists at the Glenmore Landing Vision Center, both ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays are present on overcast days. If you're outside in any capacity, be sure to protect your eyes.
Shop at the edges of the grocery store.
How is your grocery store laid out? Does the natural flow direct you toward the center, where all the chips and cookies and other processed foods are? Well, there's an easier, healthier, doctor-approved way to shop. "I try to stick to the edges of the store," says Jessalynn G. Adam, MD. "This is where all of the fresh and unprocessed ingredients are."
And park next to the entrance.
For an easy way to sneak in some extra exercise, park as far away from the grocery store entrance as possible. Remember, "we were designed as a species for physical, high-performance activity," says Bert Mandelbaum, MD, a sports medicine specialist and the co-chair of medical affairs at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, California. "And yet, we now live in an environment that provides diminishing opportunities to be active."
Sorry, but your parents were spot-on with that whole "eat your veggies" thing. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture says, fruits and veggies are loaded with essential nutrients, like dietary fiber, potassium, folic acid, and vitamins A and C. What's more, they lack any unhealthy additives, and can easily slate into any diet. "I make sure to eat at least five servings of fruits and veggies every day," says Lisa Doggett, MD. "And usually a lot more than five!"
Opt-in to text reminders.
In 2015, a study published in JAMA examined the efficacy of opt-in text alerts on health levels. Those who partook in the system—which fired off four messages per week, all geared toward helping people make positive lifestyle changes—enjoyed lower LDL cholesterol levels, systolic blood pressure, and body mass indexes. They were also more likely to exercise more and quit smoking. Today, there are apps—like Habitica, stickK, and HabitShare—that essentially do the same thing for the general public. Happy texting!
Write down every single thing you eat.
Whether you use an app or a simple pen and paper, writing down everything you eat—and, yes, we mean everything—can make a huge difference in how you approach your diet. As Marissa Wertheimer, M.S., told My Southern Health, keeping strict track of what she consumes has make a huge difference in helping her maintain a healthy diet.
Try out the "80/20 rule."
"Our stomachs are actually satisfied about 20 minutes before we are consciously aware of it," writes Dr. Brad McKay, a general practitioner in Australia. "If you tend to eat quickly, you'll use that 20 minute delay between gut and brain communication to overeat."
To combat this, try out the 80/20 rule. Here's how it works: Eat 80 percent of your normal portion, then pause for 20 minutes. If you're still hungry after that point, feel free to have the rest. However, if you're not hungry—and chances are, that'll be the case—then save it for later.
Journal a bit every day.
Bust out the pen and pad, folks, and take up a doctor-endorsed hobby you might have shelved back in middle school: journaling. "I don't always write a lot, but it helps me process events from the day, track any health issues that pop up, and feel a sense of closure and completeness at the end of the day," says Doggett. "I think journaling is a great stress management tactic and an important way to gain personal insights."
Make goals—and keep track of them.
Journaling is excellent for keeping track of your emotions, but it can also be an incomparable tool for keeping your life on-track, on-schedule, and organized. "I keep a journal with my short-term and long-term goals and track my progress weekly," says Adam. "I'm a visual person, so being able to see my progress (or lack thereof) is key for me."
Don't forget to socialize.
"Prioritize time with family & friends," McKay writes. "When you meet up, make sure it's quality time together. Seek out people who think similarly to you. Nurture relationships with others and if you need help, ask for it."
Maintain an active sex life.
McKay suggests having sex at least twice a week. "It'll make you happier and help manage your stress levels," he writes. "Also there's some evidence that regular sex decreases the risk of prostate cancer for older guys."
Clear your mind with deep breathing.
Everyone needs a break now and then—even doctors. "I take 30 seconds to re-center," says Michael Sinel, MD, an assistant clinical professor at the UCLA Department of Medicine. "This can be done simply by taking three slow deep breaths, by inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for six seconds. This helps me to clear my mind so that I can focus."
Make time for relaxation.
If you want to keep your cortisol (that's the stress hormone) levels low, recharging your batteries is key. "I make time for relaxation, whether it be by traveling or just going to get a monthly facial and massage," says May. "It's essential in preventing burnout and depression."
"It's an important tool for me to deal with stress and anxiety, and it helps me sleep better," Doggett explains of the ancient practice of meditation. "I've used some meditation tactics with patients, and I think it helps them too."
Particularly, do it while connecting to nature.
"A daily gratitude meditation—in which I connect to nature at sunrise and sunset for 20 minutes—allows me to release anxiety and bring awareness to the things for which I am grateful," says Sinel.
Download a meditation app.
Can't seem to find time, energy, or motivation to meditate? There's an app for that. Nataska K. Sriraman, MD, suggests Headspace, an iOS and Android app that helps guide users through the basic steps of meditation. "The importance of mediation is not stressed enough in terms of wellness," she says. "Whether you use an app or just take a few minutes to be with your thoughts before starting a busy day, it's essential for wellness and self-care."
Commute via bike (where applicable).
Sure, those that live several highway exits removed from their office can't exactly bike to work. But, if you're able, it's an easy way to make sure you get moving on the daily. Even just a short bike ride can melt calories and trigger the flow of mood-boosting endorphins. (Bonus: You'll ease your carbon footprint, too!)
"I oftentimes go for a ride between patients and will sometimes go for even as short as a 10-minute ride," says Daniel Ganjian, MD, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. "I also use a bike to get between the different hospitals in which I round on patients and keep my white coat on while traveling. It's quite the sight to see!"
And always wear a helmet.
The importance of wearing a well-fitting bicycle helmet cannot be understated, says Ganjian. "Of course, I wear my helmet to protect myself," he says. "And to teach onlookers the importance of bike safety." Neglect the helmet, and you put yourself at risk of concussion, blunt force trauma, and other serious brain injury.
Sit up straight.
"Sit up straight!" isn't just a common form of parental nagging—it's expert-backed advice. According to the Cleveland Clinic, doing so can reduce the strain on any ligaments, minimize any normal wear and tear on joints, and even prevent early-onset arthritis. Not bad for an easy everyday habit!
And stand up every 30 minutes minutes.
"I don't like to stay seated for more than 30 minutes at a time," Harris says. "I recommend that my clients set timers to get up and move every 30 minutes for at least 30 seconds. Recent studies show that being sedentary all day [can negate] the beneficial impact of exercise." What's more, hunching over a computer monitor for eight hours a day can wreak absolute havoc on your lower back. If your office allows for it, try getting a standing desk.
Cook your own meals.
A breakfast wrap in the morning, a salad at lunch, maybe a quick bite on the way home… it's never been easier to buy your meals on the go. But it's also far less healthy than cooking your own food, where you're able to control every ingredient that goes into the dish—and into your body—right down to the exact sodium content. "I try to cook my own meals as much as I can, and make extra for lunches for my family during the week," says Adam.
Spend more time outdoors.
A 2009 study in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found that, if you're an urban dweller, the more time you spend outdoors around greenery (a park, a field, or even just a verdurous public space), the healthier you'll be. The researchers note that those who have more green space close to home were at a lower risk for obesity, anxiety, and depression than those who lived in urban environments.
Get some form of exercise in every single day.
It's imperative to get into the habit of exercising—at least some form of aerobic or anaerobic physical movement—every day. "I exercise every day—whether that's a run with my wife, a leisurely walk, or a challenging hike," Mandelbaum says.
Put workouts on your calendar.
"I exercise at the same times on the same days each week," says Adam. "This way, it's part of my routine and I don't forget or run out of time. If it's not built into your schedule, it's easy to brush to the side." So put yoga sessions on your calendar, set alerts on your phone for spin classes, schedule weight-lifting sessions as if they're business lunches—anything to get you in the mindset that, like work commitments and doctors appointments, workouts are an immovable aspect of your schedule.
For tougher bones, get into HIIT.
Anthony Kouri, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toledo Medical Center, says that, while exercise has many benefits, you don't have to work out for long periods of time for better bone health. "Research suggests that high-intensity exercise in short bursts can improve bone mineral density," he says. "Those who participate for one to two minutes of high-intensity, weight-bearing activity each day have 4-percent better bone health than those who do less than one minute of physical activity."
Cut back on your alcohol consumption.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, your average drink has about 150 calories. (That figure can go up and down whether you're drinking beer, wine, or liquor, but only marginally.) Thing is, those calories are so-called "empty" calories, meaning their nutritional benefit amounts to exactly zilch. That's why Doggett sticks to a few rules when it comes to drinking.
"I drink alcohol infrequently, and I avoid sugar-sweetened beverages," she says. (Yes, soft drinks have just as many empty calories as booze.) For maximum health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend limiting yourself to one drink a day if you're female, and two if you're male.
Or even limit drinking to special occasions.
Or, if the CDC's alcohol consumption guidelines are too exact for your tastes, just lift a rule from Englander. "I reduced alcohol to dinners out only," he says.
Consider undergoing a custom vitamin plan.
"As a physician of internal medicine, I stay healthy by taking the right combination of vitamins," says Arielle Levitan, MD, co-founder of custom vitamin clinic Vous Vitamin and co-author of The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear the Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health. "My custom all-in-one daily vitamin is based on my diet, lifestyle, and individual health concerns. Finding the right nutrients to take based on my individual needs is essential for my overall health." By reviewing your diet and conducting nutritional testing, your doctor can help identify any nutrients you may be lacking.
Supplement your diet with calcium and vitamin D.
"Many people don't feel the effects of vitamin D deficiency until it's too late," says Kouri. "Hip and vertebral fractures in the elderly are devastating injuries, and have a real risk of death in the aftermath. It's important to prevent these things from ever occurring, and simply taking calcium and vitamin D daily goes a long way." Think of it as supplemental insurance for your future.
Pop some magnesium.
Carolyn Dean, MD, ND—a brain health, diet, and nutrition expert and the author of 365 Ways to Boost Your Brain Power: Tips, Exercise, Advice—says that it's vital to get into the habit of adding some magnesium to your diet. "Particular brain receptors important for learning and memory depend on magnesium for their regulation," she says. "Also, it's hard to get a good night's sleep without enough magnesium, because magnesium facilitates production of melatonin (the sleep hormone). Studies have shown that magnesium [can help] you get a deep and restful sleep."
Take a slow walk.
Hate jogging, but want all the health benefits? Easy: just go for a walk! "A light evening walk is beneficial in many ways. It helps you slow down, relax, and enter a state of mindfulness. Also, you can take time to reflect on things, observe the surroundings, and socialize with people," says Lina Velikova, MD. "This may sound simple, but in the fast-paced world we live in, taking 30 minutes a day for a slow walk can significantly benefit your physical and mental health."
As it so happens, in Italy, slow walks are built into the culture. Before dinner, Italians tend to take a leisurely stroll (known as a passeggiata), a chance to work up a tiny appetite before enjoying some fresh Mediterranean cuisine. Small wonder the Italians consistently rank among the world's healthiest citizens, year after year.
Swap calories from saturated fat with whole food options.
According to a 2015 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, it's not enough to simply cut down on saturated fats, especially if you're replacing them with carbs and refined sugars. Those who do are putting themselves at greater risk of cardiovascular disease than those who opt to eat foods full of polyunsaturated fats (walnuts, sunflower seeds, tofu, soybeans) and unprocessed whole grains (barley, oats, quinoa, whole wheat bread).
Eat more fish.
"Fish and seafood contain plenty of protein to help build up your muscles, and healthy fats that decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke," writes McKay.
Always check the nutrition label.
We all love a bag of Lays or Ruffles now and then. But if you're not in the habit of checking the labels on your snacks, you'd best take it up. The National Institute on Aging says that nutrition labels offer a wealth of information you may not realize about the food you're about to wolf down. By reading diligently, you can stay well-ahead of any allergies or other dietary restrictions.
Skip the diet soda.
Diet soda can seem like a healthier alternative to the regular stuff; after all, it has zero calories and "no sugar." But a 2009 study published in Diabetes Care found that those who drink diet soda daily are at a much greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who don't. Instead of grabbing another soft drink, consider switching to fresh fruit juice—or, better yet, another glass of water.
Cut back on red meat.
If you're a meat lover, it can be hard to pass up a Kobe beef steak. But, according to the National Institutes of Health, loading up on red meat can be detrimental to your cardiovascular health. The good news is you needn't completely eliminate the stuff. According to Harvard Medical School, eating meat one or twice a week doesn't increase your risk. "I still have a juicy burger now and then!" says May, who's cutting down her meat intake.
And on sugar and fat to boost your energy levels.
Yes, sugary treats and fatty foods are delicious. They're also horrible for you—mentally and physically. "It's insane how much people underestimate the negative effect of sugar and fat on human bodies," says Velikova. "If you consume too much, you'll often feel tired and lack energy."
Be sure you're sleeping enough—every night.
With the breakneck pace of this day and age, it can be hard to settle down and get adequate sleep every night. But "getting enough sleep is crucial," says May. "I aim to get at least six hours a night." While six might work for some, if you really want to make sure you're clocking an adequate amount, shoot a little higher. The National Sleep Foundation recommends getting anywhere from seven to nine hours per night.
Exercise when you get up.
"Exercise is my stress-reliever, my antidepressant, and helps prevent anxiety," says Doggett. It's a habit she took up more than 20 years ago, when she was a medical student, and quickly started doing it first thing in the morning. "I run, swim, or do another aerobic activity every morning just after I get up. I do strength-training exercises twice a week. I think exercise is the most important thing I do for my health—by far."
Switch up your workout routines.
Doing the same workout or exercise can lead to boredom and burnout over time. To prevent yourself from falling into a rut, May suggests changing things up. "I exercise at least three to five times a week, and do a variety of activities, such as spin class, yoga, and kickboxing," she says. "I also like to dance as well."
What's more, according to the American Heart Association, periodically switching routines can help you conquer any fitness plateaus that may pop up as a result of muscle memory. Can't seem to beat a 7:25 mile? Start slating in bike workouts. Can't seem to bust out more than 10 pull-ups in a set? Take up a vinyasa class. Every way you keep your body "guessing" will help you hone muscles you didn't even know you had.
Go above and beyond exercise recommendations.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly. It's a tried-and-true way to reduce your chances of cardiovascular disease and heart failure. However, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Circulation, those who went way over the recommended guidelines—two to four times the amount, to be exact—found their risk substantially decreased.
Sit down when you eat.
"When you eat meals while you are sitting down, you tend to eat more slowly, enjoy what you are eating, and may even end up eating less," Lisa Young, PhD, a professor of nutrition at New York University, writes for HuffPost. "When you eat standing, you often do not even realize that you are eating."
Young notes that if you make it a habit and take your time at the table, your health will be better for it.
Try out time-restricted eating.
"Time-restricted eating (TRE) is what most people think of when they think of intermittent fasting," says Harris. "The most popular method is the 16/8 method, where you eat all of your calories in an 8-hour window, and fast the other 16 hours of the day. TRE is a great tool to teach proper food intake and can help re-regulate the appetite craving pathway. It's also an effective tool for fat loss."
Avoid processed meat.
Americans love bacon—and sausage, ham, and hot dogs, too. But a 2018 study in Circulation, which looked at life expectancy and how it relates to people's health habits, found that there was correlation in eating processed meats and a lowered life expectancy. Participants got a better "healthy" score if they avoided such salty processed meats.
Wash your face before bed.
At night, it's all too easy to skip washing your face and head straight to bed. But, to take it from the National Sleep Foundation, that's one of the worst moves you can make for skin health. In neglecting to wash your face, you increase the risk of experiencing breakouts and eye infections, and are more likely to cause wrinkles.
Examine your habits—and bust the bad ones!
Whether it's cracking a cold one on the couch after work or joining your pals on a smoke break, if you do something on a regular enough basis, it'll crystalize into habit. "Look for patterns in your behavior and [see] what triggers the unhealthy habits that you want to change," Lisa Marsch, PhD, told NIH News in Health. "You can develop ways to disrupt those patterns and create new ones." And for more everyday moves to slate into your routine, here are 33 Easy Daily Habits That Will Make You a Smarter Person.
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