7 Small Health Moves that Pack Serious Benefits

by Elizabeth Goodman Artis for SHAPE.com

These small health moves add up to big changes.These small health moves add up to big changes.You know you "should" meditate, bypass the elevator for the stairs, and order a salad instead of a sandwich-they're the "healthy" things to do, after all. But when you can't relax, ran that morning, and are craving bread, it's easy to think one tiny choice doesn't mean anything. However, recent research shows that some seemingly insignificant acts may have significant payoff when it comes to your physical and mental wellness, waistline, and work performance. Make these seven picks and never again worry that you did the wrong thing.

1. Your go-to lunch is a salad.

Studies show: A significantly reduced risk of dying from chronic disease

If your noon order default is a bunch of leafy greens buried under other fresh veggies-and you rarely get ham and cheese on rye-you are drastically decreasing your chances of meeting your fate from non-communicable chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. In fact, a recent study from the World Health Organization found that 63 percent of deaths in 2008 worldwide were due to these diseases-and poor diet was a significant factor. By comparison, people who live in cultures who primarily consume plant-based diets rarely fall victim to these conditions.

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2. You make time for meditation.
Studies show: Less anxiety and lowered blood pressure

A 2012 study found that just seven days of daily 30-minute mediation reduced participants' blood pressure and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Meditate regularly for eight weeks, and you may find yourself happier and more compassionate: Mindful meditation-the most common type, which focuses on breathing and awareness-produced positive lasting changes in the areas of the brain that govern emotion in a recent Chinese study. Not sure how to start? We like Living Meditation ($16.50; amazon.com) with David Harshada Wagner.

3. You're the first to try that new tapas place.
Studies show: It's a healthier way to eat fried food

Spanish tapas is typically small dishes made up of various meats, grains, and veggies-and much of it is fried. While that can rack up the calories, the Spanish culinary tradition of frying food in olive or sunflower oil may not increase your risk of heart disease, according to a study reported in the British Medical Journal. So skip the French fries in favor of patatas bravas when a craving for fried food strikes.

4. You pop an aspirin for a headache.
Studies show: Decreased risk of melanoma

If you reach for good old-fashioned aspirin to calm a head banger, you could be slashing your likelihood of skin cancer. According to a recent study published in the journal Cancer, women who take the painkiller regularly had a 21 percent lower melanoma risk relative to non-aspirin users. Researchers theorize that the medicine's power to lessen inflammation may be responsible for the benefit.

5. You never skip Starbucks.
Studies show: Greater information comprehension and retention

Your morning fix really can perk you up: Research conducted at the University Collage of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, India, found that consuming just 3 milligrams of caffeine helped adults process relevant information faster. Since a cup of java has about 80 mg, the next time you're faced with an info-heavy assignment at work-analyzing spreadsheets or anything that requires absorbing and understanding facts-be sure to hit the coffee shop first.

6. You're happy to tackle a flight of stairs.

Studies show: The potential to shrink almost two sizes

Dropping 12 pounds in a year is as easy as choosing the steps over an escalator or elevator nearly every day, says Sonu S. Ahluwalia, M.D., clinical chief of orthopedic surgery at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. Aside from fitting into your back-of-the closet jeans (at least that's where ours go when they don't fit), the perks here are big: Numerous studies show that losing just 10 percent of your body weight can lower blood pressure, reduce "bad" LDL cholesterol, and decrease internal inflammation-which means lower risk of stroke, heart attack, and certain cancers, respectively-as well as put less pressure on joints.

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7. You hit the sushi bar often--and always order edamame.
Studies show: Protection from liver, lung, and colon cancers

You're already making a healthy choice since fish is loaded with disease-fighting omega-3 fatty acids. Starting your meal by munching on edamame, however, may amp up your protection even more: According to a 2013 study published in Food Research International, soybeans contain a compound called oleic acid, which researchers found inhibited cell growth by 73 percent for colon cancer, 70 percent for liver cancer, and 68 percent for lung cancer. The higher the dose of oleic acid, the more benefit researchers saw, so considering making sushi and edamame night a regular thing.

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