Here's a secret: It's easier to outsmart human nature than to overcome it. To do that, try these seven easy-to-adopt habits -- guaranteed to help you live healthier.
Keep a grab-and-go set of workout clothes or walking gear nearby at all times. "Give yourself cues that make activity easier to achieve," says Tanya R. Berry, assistant professor of physical education and recreation at the University of Alberta, Canada. "When you're watching your kids play soccer, baseball, or other outdoor sports, take a walk around the field, and encourage other parents to join you."
"If I could suggest one healthy habit for people to adopt, cutting the size of your food portions would be it," says Jane Wardle, director of the cancer research health behavior unit at University College in London. Fill half a 10-inch plate with vegetables or fruit, a quarter with whole grains, and the remaining quarter with lean protein, such as fish or chicken.
"It doesn't get much easier than this and the benefits are amazing," says dietitian Elizabeth Somer, author of 10 Habits That Mess Up a Woman's Diet. A daily glass of OJ reduces your risk of stroke by up to 20 percent, lowers LDL cholesterol, and boosts HDL cholesterol. Orange-colored produce is full of vitamins, potassium, folate, and phytochemicals that can rid your body of cancer-causing substances.
Your forehead is like a mood ring, immediately displaying whether you are relaxed or tense. And long-term stress can affect your health in all sorts of untoward ways. Try this 10-minute technique from Dr. Gary W. Small, professor of psychiatry at the University of California Los Angeles and director of the UCLA Center on Aging.
Sit in a comfortable chair and breathe slowly and deeply. Close your eyes and pay close attention to your breath going in and out. Relax the muscles in your forehead and around your eyes. Then, allow your concentration to move to your cheek and jaw muscles, relaxing them too. Continue to move your concentration down along your neck to your shoulders, focusing on letting go of any tightness and pain you feel. Remember to keep breathing slowly and deeply. Practice this twice a day for a bout five minutes each time.
A seemingly small thing such as a new pillow can ensure good sleep. Poor sleep decreases immune function and increases anxiety and depression, says Michael Breus, author of Good Night: The Sleep Doctor's 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health. Most people don't replace their pillows enough. Because even the best become worn with use, buy a new one at least every 18 months.
Christian K. Roberts, a UCLA physiologist, led a study in which participants walked every day and learned to prepare high-fiber, low-fat meals. After three weeks, about half significantly improved heart disease risk factors, in large part because they learned to cook better. "They were surprised that eating healthy could taste so good," Roberts says. Look for classes through adult education programs. They don't have to be labeled as healthy -- styles of cooking that are inherently better for you include Asian, Indian, and Mediterranean.
"This is the single most important thing I tell people to do," says Martin Binks, director of behavioral health at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, North Carolina. For example, you might think: Since I don't have a free half hour, I'll skip my walk today. Or: Since I ate fried chicken for lunch, my diet is blown and I might as well eat whatever I want for supper. A better way is to say, I don't have a free half hour today but I can walk for 10 minutes. And if you fall off the good-food wagon, just hop back on again.