It's a rare person who can reinvent her health habits overnight. And the quick changes aren't usually the ones that last. It's infinitely more manageable to make little tweaks-which can add up to a big difference. Try one of these each week and soon you'll be living healthier for good!
Instead of a bagel with butter for breakfast, try scrambled eggs on whole-wheat toast
This fill-you-up breakfast won't fill you out. More and more research is showing that people who include protein in their breakfasts (eggs are a great source) as part of a low-calorie diet lose more weight. Eggs are also loaded with disease-fighting nutrients like choline (linked to lower rates of breast cancer) and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin (which may help prevent macular degeneration). If you're concerned about cholesterol, limit yourself to one egg a day, or go for egg whites or an egg substitute.
Instead of a steak dinner, try going meatless one or two nights a week
You'll save calories, and it's a great way to introduce aspects of the Mediterranean diet (which is typically high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains like barley and lentils, nuts, seeds and olive oil, with some dairy, fish and poultry and very little red meat) into your own. A growing body of research backs the tremendous health benefits of this eating plan, from lowering the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer to helping you shed a few pounds.
Instead of staying up late to watch Letterman, try calling a friend before you call it a night
Swapping channel surfing for a brief chat can have a positive impact on your mood and your waistline. A recent 35-year analysis of nearly 45,000 adults found that unhappy people watched about 20% more television than their more upbeat peers, who generally spent more of their spare time socializing or reading. In the sleep department, research from the landmark Nurses' Health Study found that middle-aged women who slept 5 or fewer hours a night were 32% more likely to gain 33 pounds or more, compared with those who slept at least 7 hours.
Instead of chicken, try fish
"People who eat fish twice a week have a 20% lower risk of dying prematurely, according to a large body of research," says Eric Rimm, ScD, associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. Omega-3-rich fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel is best: One review of three trials found that people who had omega-3 fats in their diets were up to 45% less likely to experience a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke. Other studies have found that omega-3s may slow cognitive decline in patients with mild Alzheimer's and help halt the growth of brain lesions associated with the disease.
Instead of ice cream for dessert, try yogurt with fresh fruit and honey
Another calorie-and-fat saver (½ cup plain nonfat yogurt with ½ cup blueberries and 1 tsp honey runs about 120 calories and almost no fat, while ½ cup of ice cream has 145 calories and 7 grams of fat). And you'll be helping your stomach: Yogurts that contain live and active cultures (also known as probiotics) can improve digestive function, reduce constipation and may even help prevent cancer. Research has also linked yogurt to stronger immune function and reduced yeast infections. Avoid the fruit-on-the-bottom varieties, which tend to be loaded with sugar, and sweeten instead with a spoonful of dark antioxidant-rich honey.
Instead of drinking diet soda, try sipping green tea
Green tea is a nutritional powerhouse that's been linked to everything from a lower risk of heart disease and cancer to helping with weight loss; it's also a natural source of fluoride that may strengthen teeth. Brew your own and ice it (manufactured varieties can be loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners). Or look for brands like Honest Tea that come with just a tad of sweetener. Even black tea is a good source of disease-fighting antioxidants. And by now you've probably heard about the damage too much diet soda can do: The artificial sweeteners may actually contribute to weight gain, and studies have also shown that soda can cause erosion of tooth enamel.
Instead of driving to do your errands, try using your own two feet to get around
If it's sunny, you'll not only burn more calories (about 115 calories walking for 30 minutes at a moderate pace), you'll also get an additional dose of vitamin D; sun exposure prompts your body to make vitamin D, and experts say this is one of the best ways to get it. Research has shown that women who are deficient in vitamin D are at increased risk for heart attack and stroke, as well as insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes. And one recent study found that young (premenopausal) women who had high levels of D were up to 55% less likely to develop breast cancer.
Instead of sitting to talk on the phone, try standing up to chat
You can burn up to 40% more calories and lower your risk of gaining weight. One study found that obese women sit for 2½ hours more than their leaner peers. Other easy ways to work in more standing time: Forgo the bleachers to stand on the sidelines when your kids are on the soccer field, and do some housework (like ironing) while watching TV.
Instead of beating the 3 p.m. slump with a cup of coffee, try going for a walk
Studies have shown that a brisk 10-minute walk can significantly boost energy levels for hours (not to mention help you rack up the 30 minutes of daily exercise that the CDC recommends getting 5 days a week to reduce your risk of obesity, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and certain cancers). Coffee often causes an immediate jolt that's soon followed by a crash; walking will make you feel more awake and help you stay that way.
Instead of going to the doctor empty-handed, try getting the first appointment of the day and coming prepared
You'll lower your chances of a long wait and make the most of the time you do have with your doctor. Come with two copies of your questions and concerns-one for you, one for her, says Sandra Fryhofer, MD, an Atlanta-based internist and associate clinical professor of medicine at Emory University. That way, you can both be on the same page (literally) during your discussion. Finally, if you need to see several doctors, ask for a copy of your lab results and take them with you to all of your appointments, so you won't have to unnecessarily repeat blood work.
Instead of diving into your favorite candy or cake when you're stressed, try deep breathing
Taking just a few long, slow breaths from your diaphragm (not your chest; concentrate on inhaling from your stomach) goes a long way in helping you relax. Studies have shown that deep breathing can lower blood pressure; it also releases endorphins, your body's natural painkillers, which can help prevent tension-related neck, back and shoulder pain.
Instead of milk chocolate, try dark chocolate
Feel good about your chocolate fixation. Dark chocolate contains loads of phytochemicals called flavonoids, which may help improve heart health, lower blood pressure, increase HDL ("good") cholesterol and lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Look for brands that have at least 60% cocoa. Of course, a chocolate bar is never going to be low-calorie, so stick with just 1 oz (about 160 calories) a day.
Instead of exercising by taking a half-hour stroll, try doing intervals
Intervals-periodic bursts of exercising intensely followed by a brief recovery-are one of the best ways to burn calories and fat. One recent study showed that people who worked intervals into their exercise routines burned 36% more fat afterward than those who went at a steady pace.
For more great tips on healthy living, check out WomansDay.com.