By Caroline Hwang, Photograph by Laura Doss
These easy changes will help you get slim and feel a lot less stressed -- and they'll add years to your life.
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Think you can put off taking care of yourself? Start thinking differently. "Only one-third of our health is determined by genetics. The rest is due to lifestyle choices," says Gary Small, MD, director of the Center on Aging at UCLA and author of The Longevity Bible. "It's easier to protect well-being than it is to repair damage," he says. To make a U-turn now and head down the road to good health, try these very doable strategies.
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Yes, your weight can fluctuate from day to day, but daily check-ins have been shown to help protect against added pounds.
Our best advice: Step on the scale at the same time every day. "If you're up three to five pounds in a span of a few days, watch your portions and work out longer," advises Kathy McManus, RD, director of nutrition at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. For the big picture, including understanding how your cycle affects your weight, track your readings on a calendar.
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Stand When Getting Dressed
Sounds too simple to make a difference, but forcing your body to balance while you put on your pants or skirt strengthens your reflexes and core muscles. "This will protect against falls and broken bones, particularly as you get older," says Sherry Marts, PhD, vice president of scientific affairs at the Society for Women's Health Research in Washington, D.C.
Our best advice: Stand on one leg, then on the other, while pulling on your jeans. Shifting your weight from foot to foot is what you want to get good at.
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Catch Some Rays
Getting too little natural light not only affects your mood but can also mess with your internal clock, making you drowsy during the day but wired when it's time to sleep, says Gary Aston-Jones, PhD, a professor of neuroscience at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
Our best advice: Although researchers don't know exactly how much natural light we need, Aston-Jones believes that light's influence over our circadian rhythms indicates that even a little bit can be crucial. His suggestion: Go outside for at least 10 extra minutes of sunlight every day. To get the full spectrum of light, which may be the most beneficial, venture out at the brightest time of day. Don't forget the sun block!
Related: 8 Ways to Get a Safe Sun-Free GlowCarve Off Some Off-the-Net Time
As useful as computers and handhelds are, e-mail, message boards, and just plain surfing are highly addictive. "It's incredibly easy to do nothing else, when most of us are already too sedentary," says Jack Guralnik, MD, PhD, chief of the laboratory of epidemiology, demography, and biometry at the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Maryland.
Our best advice: Take off all of your electronic leashes for several hours at least once a day, Monday through Friday -- say, during and after dinner -- and on weekends. (Sorry, the time that you're asleep doesn't count!) Use the hours that you're disconnected to do something healthy, like taking a walk rather than watching TV. When you hop back on the computer to shop or answer e-mail, give yourself a limit. Set a timer for an hour: When it goes off, you log off.
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Head to Bed 10 Minutes Early
About a quarter of women get fewer than six hours of sleep a night (most of us need seven to eight hours). Recent studies link chronic deprivation to a weak immune system and an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, among other dangers.
Our best advice: "Refrain from taking a hot bath or shower within an hour of bedtime, since falling body temperatures can assist in the onset of sleep," says Nancy Collop, MD, medical director of the Johns Hopkins Hospital Sleep Disorders Center in Baltimore. And even though working out improves sleep quality, you shouldn't exercise within two hours of turning in. If you have insomnia, get out of bed rather than toss and turn, but whatever you do to relax, stay away from the computer -- the blue light is stimulating and will wake you up even more.
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