40 Tiny Health Adjustments That Can Change Your Life After 40
These small changes to your routine can make a major difference.
Every day presents a new—and important—opportunity to reinvest in your health. And when you're in your 40s and beyond, it's particularly important to seize any chance you get to make a health adjustment. After all, getting healthier doesn't have to mean a top-to-bottom overhaul of every habit or denial of every hankering. By incorporating just a few small changes, you'll become healthier and more energetic, in addition to looking and feeling amazing today, tomorrow, and decades down the line. Keep reading to discover some small health changes that can make a big difference if you're over 40.
Add a few minutes of meditation to your daily schedule.
Just a few minutes of meditation a day can improve your health for days, weeks, months, and years. One 2018 study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that individuals who did between 10 and 20 minutes of app-based meditation over an eight-week period experienced greater overall wellbeing, minimized work-related stress, and reduced blood pressure as compared to a control group.
Warm up before you work out.
You may be eager to jump right into your workout, but adding a few minutes of stretching and warm-up exercises to your routine can mean the difference between staying healthy and finding yourself injured and down for the count. Warming up "gives the muscles and joints a heads-up that they're about to be put to work, as cold muscles are much less flexible and much more prone to injury," explains Bert Mandelbaum, MD, a sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles and author of The Win Within: Capturing Your Victorious Spirit.
Luckily, Mandelbaum says that just five minutes of brisk walking, jumping jacks, or low-intensity movement on an elliptical trainer is all you need to make a major difference.
And add a cool-down period to your workout, too.
"Cooling down is just as important as warming up," says Mandelbaum. "It allows your heart rate to slowly come back to a resting rate and makes recovery easier on the body" by loosening tight muscles, he explains. In fact, one 2015 study published in SpringerPlus concluded that middle-aged men who added stretching to their routines had reduced arterial stiffness—a key factor in reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke—after just four weeks.
Switch up your workouts.
If you're relying on the same workouts day in and day out, you're setting yourself up for repeat use injuries. Instead, Mandelbaum suggests switching up your routine one to two days a week. "This engages a new set of muscles and gives the ones you just worked a chance to rest," he explains, noting that this can "keep workouts exciting and minimize injury risk at the same time."
Do a few weight-bearing exercises every day.
Though we naturally tend to experience some bone loss in middle age, doing exercises like squats and step-ups can help reduce the associated risk of injury. As one 1996 study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research noted, weight-bearing exercises—particularly those that work the lower body—can reduce bone density loss, strengthen muscles, and may even lower your risk of falls and broken bones.
Walk to work whenever possible.
If it's a nice day outside and you're within a reasonable distance, leave the car at home and walk to work. A 2009 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine revealed that actively commuting can help combat obesity, high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, and high insulin levels. And according to research presented at EuroPRevent 2016, just 15 minutes of walking a day can reduce a person's risk of death by 22 percent.
Swap your chair for an exercise ball.
Make your workday healthier and more enjoyable by subbing an exercise ball in for that traditional desk chair. In addition to making those hours stuck behind your desk a little more fun, a 2013 study published in BioMed Research International showed that students whose chairs were replaced with exercise balls had less physical discomfort and greater academic performance.
And improve your posture at your desk.
Good posture doesn't just make you appear taller and leaner—it can also improve your health. A 2017 study conducted at the University of Auckland found that a less slouchy, more upright posture can alleviate fatigue and improve the emotional state of people with depression.
Eat an apple at the start of your meals.
An apple a day really can keep the doctor away—and the dentist, too. A 2009 study published in the journal Appetite revealed that people who ate apples before lunch reduced their total caloric intake by 15 percent, while a 2018 study published in PLOS One showed that eating apples has an effect on bacteria similar to when you brush your teeth.
And add some avocado to your entrees.
Need some extra incentive to pay extra for that guac at Chipotle? Just tell yourself it's for your health. A 2017 study published in the journal Nutrition found that eating avocado with meals reduced study participants' hunger and curbed their desire to eat for a six-hour period. So adding this green fruit could make it easier to shed those stubborn pounds that tend to stick around as you age.
Sprinkle some flaxseed into your morning smoothie.
Make your favorite smoothie healthier in seconds with the addition of some ground flaxseed. Without changing the flavor or consistency of your drink, flaxseed provides a healthy dose of fiber, which a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed can reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.
Limit your alcohol intake.
In addition to adding extra calories to your diet, excessive alcohol consumption can increase your colon cancer risk, according to Anton Bilchik, MD, PhD, a surgical oncologist and chief of medicine at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. If you're going to drink, Bilchik recommends capping it at two glasses a day at the absolute most.
Bring a water bottle with you wherever you go.
A little water can go a long way toward making you healthier. A 2017 study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism revealed that even minor dehydration can affect both mood and cognitive ability, so make sure you're getting at least eight glasses of water every day by bringing a water bottle with you and refilling it periodically throughout the day.
Swap just one daily cup of coffee for green tea.
Swapping just one cup of coffee a day for some green tea can yield major health benefits over time. According to a 2011 meta-analysis published in Obesity Reviews, when consumed together, catechins and caffeine—a combination found in green tea—significantly increased study subjects' energy expenditure and fat burning over a 24-hour period.
Wait one minute before having that treat.
In some cases, making big changes to your health only takes a little bit of time. In one 2017 study from Rush University, when study subjects were forced to wait just 25 seconds to access a not-so-healthy snack from a vending machine, up to five percent of snackers opted for something healthier instead.
Start your morning with eggs.
Eggs are where it's at if you want to improve your health. A 2008 study published in the International Journal of Obesity (London) found that replacing a carbohydrate-rich breakfast with a similarly caloric amount of eggs increases weight loss. In fact, the selenium found in eggs may even reduce your risk of thyroid disease.
Cut red meat from your diet.
Cutting just a few breakfast sausages, steaks, or burgers from your diet can make a major difference when it comes to your overall health and longevity. "Colon cancer has been associated with smoked, processed food and too much red meat," explains Bilchik.
Scarier yet, a 2019 study published in the European Heart Journal revealed that when study subjects consumed approximately 8 ounces of red meat daily, their levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO)—a chemical highly linked to heart disease—increased by up to 300 percent. The good news? After a month of eating white meat or a vegetarian diet instead, subjects' TMAO levels significantly decreased.
Or just opt for a "Meatless Monday."
Shave hundreds of calories off your diet and reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease by implementing a so-called "Meatless Monday." (It's exactly what it sounds like.) By simply opting for veggie-based proteins instead on this one day a week, you can reduce your risk of heart disease and perhaps even shed a few pounds in the process.
Slow down while eating.
Once you pass 40, an easy way to live a healthier life is to turn any quick, sad desk lunches into long, leisurely ones. A 2014 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that eating more slowly increases satiety and reduces total caloric intake in normal-weight individuals.
Add some more garlic to your meals.
Garlic may be bad for your breath, but adding some to your favorite recipes can be a major asset to your health. Not only has garlic consumption been linked to reductions in heart disease risk, but a 2016 study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases and Treatment revealed that garlic's antibacterial properties can even help fight off staph and E. coli bacteria.
Skip the artificial sweetener.
Ditch that artificial sweetener in your coffee or tea and you'll be healthier in no time. A 2010 study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine found that not only do artificial sweeteners increase a person's risk of weight gain, but they make people more likely to crave real sugar, too.
Make oatmeal part of your daily diet.
Oatmeal isn't just cheap and delicious—it's also a great way to improve your health. A 2014 meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that oatmeal can reduce bad cholesterol, slashing your risk of heart disease in the process.
Wear sunglasses on a regular basis.
Those shades do more than make you look stylish—they're actually pretty important for your health, too. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry found an association between exposure to UVA rays and the development of cataracts, so pop on those sunglasses before you head outside.
Get some controlled sunlight.
While sunbathing will likely never be a doctor-approved habit, upping your vitamin D levels with 15 minutes of controlled sunlight exposure a day can yield serious benefits in the long run. A 2015 review of research published in Neurosciences (Riyadh) found that vitamin D deficiency was linked to an increased risk of developing multiple sclerosis, so go ahead and bask in those rays—just briefly.
Make putting on sunscreen part of your daily routine.
You grab your keys, wallet, and phone before heading out the door, but you should be grabbing your sunscreen, too. And the earlier you start this habit, the better: Research published in JAMA Dermatology revealed that individuals who regularly used sunscreen in childhood reduced their risk of melanoma by 40 percent compared to those with sporadic sunscreen use.
"Our study shows that sunscreen use in childhood and adulthood was protective against melanoma in young people 18-40 years old, with their risk reduced by 35 to 40 percent for regular sunscreen users compared to people who rarely use it," lead study researcher Anne Cust said in a statement.
Use a gradual light to wake up.
Instead of rousing yourself with the less-than-dulcet tones of your alarm clock, try a wake-up light instead. According to a 2013 study conducted at the Psychiatric Hospital of Basel's Center for Chronobiology, gradually waking up with a dawn simulator improved study subjects' mood, mental acuity, and overall wellbeing.
Plug in your phone far away from your bed.
Putting your phone just out of reach before bed could yield some major health benefits in the long run. One 2011 study published in Neuro Endocrinology Letters noted that the blue light it emits can reduce your body's melatonin production, making it harder to get a good night's sleep.
Go to sleep half an hour earlier.
Going to bed just a little bit earlier might make all the difference when it comes to the health of your heart. According to a 2019 study of 3,974 adult participants published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, getting under six hours of sleep can increase a person's heart disease risk by as much as 27 percent. So hitting the hay even just half an hour earlier can push you into healthier territory.
Wash your sheets more often.
One simple way to improve your health in no time? Add a couple extra loads of laundry to your weekly routine. Consider that your pillowcase may be harboring up to 3 million bacteria by the end of a week—some of which can make you ill—so make sure you're washing it a few times a week, especially as you get older and your immune system is weakening.
Turn down the thermostat at night.
Dial the thermostat down just a few degrees for better health in a hurry. Researchers at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases found that individuals who slept in a 66°F room over six weeks increased their amount of brown fat, which reduces blood glucose and boosts metabolism.
Floss every day.
You've heard it from your dentist a million times, but it's high time you took his or her flossing advice to heart. According to one 2011 study in the Journal of Aging Research, flossing daily can reduce your risk of death by 30 percent.
Scrape your tongue after brushing.
Before you hit the hay for the night, take a minute to scrape or brush your tongue after cleaning your teeth. A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry revealed that brushing and scraping your tongue are both effective means of reducing overall oral plaque and bacteria, both of which have been linked to increased cardiovascular disease risk.
Wash your makeup brushes every week.
As people age, their immune systems tend to weaken, making them more susceptible to infections like the ones caused by unwashed makeup tools. The good news? The makeup brush cleaners you can get at your local drugstore can remove a significant percentage of the harmful microbes on your brushes, reducing your risk of developing staph or any other brush-related illness.
Write in a journal.
Want to improve your mental health in minutes? Even if you don't have someone to dish your unpleasant feelings to, writing them down in a journal can help ease your mental burden. One 2017 study published in the journal Psychophysiology revealed that individuals with anxiety who engaged in expressive writing effectively reduced their feelings of worry.
Breathe deeper (and with more intention).
Pausing to take a few deep breaths throughout the day can improve both your mood and your overall health. A 2017 study published in the journal Breathe revealed that deep breathing can reduce heart rate variability as well as increase feelings of calmness and overall wellbeing.
Turn off the television and do a crossword puzzle.
Sure, binge-watching your favorite shows is fun, but it can do you some good to swap a single episode for a crossword puzzle every once in a while. A 2011 study published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society revealed a link between doing crosswords and reduced dementia risk, so if you want to keep your brain healthy and sharp, put down the remote and pick up a pen.
Talk to a therapist.
When you're stressed out, talking to a therapist is an easy way to get healthier in no time. And thanks to the internet, you don't even have to go into an office to receive therapist's services; "teletherapy," through the power of the internet, lets you reap the same benefits right in the privacy of your own home.
Stop rubbing your eyes.
Yes, a habit as simple as rubbing your eyes could be putting your health at risk. A 2017 study published in Case Reports in Ophthalmology found a link between eye-rubbing, vision loss, and keratoconus—a change in the shape of the eye—so there's no time like the present to quit this potentially harmful habit while you still have your vision intact.
Hang out with your friends more often.
A weekly game night, drinks with your colleagues after work, or just inviting a friend over to watch a movie from time to time can have major benefits for your health. Not only is loneliness linked to everything from weight gain to heart disease, but a 2015 study conducted at Brigham Young University revealed that social isolation was a significant predictor of early death in individuals under 65 with effects comparable to obesity. A 2015 review of research published in the journal Heart even found that having limited social connections was associated with a 29 percent increase in heart attack risk and a 32 percent increase in stroke risk.
One of the easiest ways to be healthier over 40? Just get outside! In addition to providing you with an opportunity to get some exercise, being outside can also benefit your mental health. As a 2014 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health noted, having access to green space is linked to reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression. And if you want another 40-plus years to look forward to, discover these 100 Ways to Live to 100.
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