Thirty Days to a Healthier You
By Kate Wicker
Lord knows you try—a fridge full of lean meats and Greek yogurt, and those regular walks count toward something. But sometimes achieving and maintaining good health can just feel so overwhelming.
It’s worth the effort, though. Not only are we called to glorify God with our bodies (see 1 Corinthians 6:20), health is one of those things we take for granted until one day we wake up and find it’s floundering.
The good news is that you don’t have to start exercising like an Olympic athlete or stick to a diet of salmon, nuts, and kale. When it comes to health, it’s important to take baby steps. Small daily changes can make a big difference in the long run.
For the next 30 days, commit to making little tweaks to your lifestyle. We make it easy by giving you 30 simple ways to give your health a boost.
1. Perform a random act of kindness. Bake some muffins for a new or overwhelmed mom or an elderly neighbor—or pay for the latte of the person waiting in line behind you. Paying it forward is the mark of a Christian, but it’s also a simple way to give your mental health a big boost. People who perform daily acts of charity are more satisfied with their lives, according to recent research from the Royal Holloway, University of London.
2. Declutter your home and workspace. It’s not just frustrating when you can’t find your grocery list in the canary-yellow drift of post-it notes, it also elevates your stress levels.
3. Choose quality over quantity when it comes to food. Look for fresh fruit and veggies that are in season right now. (Hint: asparagus is delicious in April.) When you opt for the full flavor of whole grains, the freshest meat and seafood, in-season veggies, or even a smaller portion of a delicious dessert made with dark chocolate, you may find you’re enjoying less of a good thing.
4. April is Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month, so it’s the perfect time to schedule eye exams for the whole family. Find an ophthalmologist at http://www.aao.org/find_eyemd.cfm.
5. Spice it up. Using more herbs and spices and fewer traditional seasonings like sugar, salt, and fat can help to improve the overall health benefits—and flavor—of the foods we eat every day, says Suzanna Zick, ND, MPH, a naturopathic physician and researcher at the University of Michigan Health System.
6. Take a tech time-out. Not only does being tethered to your smartphone make it more difficult to be fully present and appreciate the little blessings in life—like that fleecy cloud in the sky that looks just like a T-Rex ambling by—but long hours at the computer or handheld puts you at risk for neck strain and carpal tunnel syndrome. Unplug for today or, if work keeps you at the keyboard, try to stretch every 15 minutes and alternate tasks to reduce repetitive moments.
7. Aim to go to bed one hour earlier—a growing body of research shows that getting more shut-eye may add years to your life.
8. Pack in more greens today by slurping a green smoothie. Try this quick and easy recipe: Blend together 1 cup spinach (or another favorite leafy green), 1 cup frozen berries, and 1 to 2 cups water or low-sugar fruit juice.
9. Be kind to your ticker. Exercise, eat well, and make sure you’re on top of those digits that are important to your heart. Blood pressure should be below 120/80, LDL cholesterol lower than 160, and body mass index (BMI) under 25.
10. Shake out the rugs and start the spring-cleaning. Left unchecked, exposure to dust—pet dander to mold spores—can lead to allergies and more severe asthma-related symptoms like wheezing or shortness of breath. Although dust most often affects people with preexisting allergies or other respiratory problems, high enough dust residues can trigger allergy-like symptoms in most people.
11. Make sure you’re being sun smart even if the weather is still on the brisk side. It’s important to use sunscreen year-round to protect against skin cancer and premature signs of aging. Apply SPF 30 sunblock daily.
12. Veg out. Why not continue the meatless Fridays of Lent? Eating vegetarian meals one to two times per week not only cuts grocery costs, but eating a more plant-based diet may lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Find a slew of meatless recipes at VegetarianTimes.com. [Or check out our "Meatless Fridays" board at the CD Pinterest page --ed.]
13. Consider taking fish oil supplements, especially if you don’t eat much food from under the sea. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are beneficial to heart health and may reduce arthritis symptoms. Talk to your doctor to make sure you’re taking the right dose.
14. Stand up straight. Good posture helps boost energy, alleviates back pain, and may even help your digestive system work more efficiently.
15. Sip some red wine. Studies show that drinking red wine in moderation is good for your heart and slows the buildup of plaque in the brain, which may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
16. Steer clear of sugar for today—or for the rest of the month. Read Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease by Robert Lustig, MD, and you’ll understand why this is a good idea. (Says the writer who is dipping cinnamon coffee cake into a vanilla latte as she writes this. Remember, baby steps, folks!)
17. Sprinkle some curry in your morning eggs or dinnertime rice. In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, research on turmeric—the yellow spice in curry—has also shown it to shrink precancerous lesions known as colon polyps.
18. Get a shot. Immunizations aren’t just for pint-sized peeps. Adults should get a booster tetanus shot every 10 years. Visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines to make sure you’re up-to-date with immunizations.
19. Eliminate one car, bus, or subway trip today or later this week and walk or bike instead. If that’s not possible, take a walk or two around your neighborhood.
20. Be grateful. Leave the cell phone behind, stare at a stretch of blue sky or a field of spring blossoms, and lose yourself in the beauty of the day. Give thanks to God for your mind, body, and soul.
21. Rely on your posse. Make a date to get together with your close friends. Having strong social support helps you cope with stress and feel a sense of belonging. Remember, you’re not just somebody—you’re a part of the Body of Christ.
22. Indulge in some chocolate today, but make it the dark kind. According to research conducted at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, individuals who averaged a daily equivalent of one-third an ounce of dark chocolate per day for 15 years had lower blood pressure than those who didn’t consume cocoa. Milk chocolate and white chocolate don’t boast the same benefits because they have fewer antioxidant-rich cocoa solids.
23. Add strength training to your workout regimen. Strength training includes any activity in which you work against resistance using things like dumbbells, your own body weight, or resistance bands, and it boasts many benefits—from strengthening bones and warding off osteoporosis to improved posture.
24. In America, we see growing old as a disease process instead of a rite of passage. For today, try to focus on growing old gracefully and reconsider how you want to approach aging. Wrinkles aren’t something you’re punished with; they’re something you earn, God-willing. Remember, every day is a gift to be unwrapped and lived.
25. Bust a move. Host a living room dance party with your kids, your spouse, and/or your friends. Not only is dancing fun, it’s great exercise, too.
26. Pay attention to food safety. Wash your hands thoroughly before handling food and toss leftovers after three or four days. Learn more about keeping your food safe (especially when it comes to outdoor picnics) at FoodSafety.gov.
27. Trying to quit smoking? Up your daily intake of fruits and vegetables. Smokers are three times as likely to kick the butt when they eat more produce, according to a recent University of Buffalo study.
28. Go on a date with your spouse—and hold hands. The simple gesture of holding hands has been shown to reduce stress even when finger clasping occurs in the heat of an argument.
29. Drink more water. A new Harvard University study gives you a good reason to trade in your morning glass of OJ or afternoon soda for water: For every cup of soda or juice you guzzle, your chance of getting type 2 diabetes shoots up 10 percent, the study reports.
30. Celebrate! Have you changed even one health habit this month? Give yourself a pat on the back, and keep up the good work. Here’s to a healthy, happy April and beyond!