You want to get healthier, but where do you start? Should you do a cleanse or see a nutritionist? Join a yoga studio or hire a trainer? If it seems overwhelming and you're just not sure what direction to head in — start small. You don't have to revamp your whole life all at once. You can move toward a healthier lifestyle simply by incorporating any of these 11 healthy habits into your daily routine. They only take a couple minutes, and they all have tremendous health returns.
1. Focus on Breathing
When you feel anxious, you disrupt the ease and flow of your breath. You might not even notice these slight disruptions because your body can manage the additional work, according to the American Psychological Association. But reestablishing normal breathing restores your energy and focus.
There are several different breathing exercises you can try, but some may take longer to do. Belly breathing, per Michigan Medicine, is a basic exercise that's a quick stress-reliever. Sit or lie in a comfy position, then place one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other on your chest. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out (your chest shouldn't move). As you breathe out through pursed lips, feel the hand on your belly go in and use it to push the air out. Repeat three to 10 times and go slow.
2. Chew Slower
How you eat is just as important as what you eat. Not chewing food well can lead to indigestion, bloating and poor nutrient absorption. The longer you chew, the longer food is exposed to saliva, according to Hillcrest Hospital, and saliva helps break it down so your body can better absorb it. More thorough chewing also helps keep your teeth strong and prevent plaque build-up.
"Chewing slowly can help you practice mindful eating. It slows down the eating process, so you can recognize fullness and hunger levels a bit better," adds Leah Kaufman, RD, CDN. "One way to practice chewing and eating slowly is to set your fork down in between bites."
3. Sip Warm Lemon Water
Swapping out ice water with warm lemon water first thing in the morning is a great way to rehydrate your body and quench your thirst. "Warm lemon water decreases inflammation, promotes hydration and aids in digestion," Kaufman tells LIVESTRONG.com. "Lemons contain a high amount of vitamin C and soluble fiber that increases these health benefits. We often do not consume lemons whole, so adding lemons in water is a great way to utilize the benefits of this fruit."
4. Take Movement Breaks
Your body thrives on movement, so your morning workout alone doesn't cut it. Movement throughout the day can ward off stiffness, aid in circulation, boost energy, increase focus and burn more calories. "Studies have shown that the connection between the brain and the body is a two-way street. Exercise and movement throughout the day can change the way your brain works," says Jim White, RDN, dietitian, ACSM-certified health fitness instructor and owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios.
"'Sitting disease' is real, and to increase your longevity, you should stand up every 30 minutes for at least a minute," White says. "These small breaks can reduce your chances of getting heart disease. If possible, make your commute to work physical activity. Use a standing desk at work or take more breaks to stand and walk around. Try taking the stairs and parking farther back in the lot."
5. Straighten Up
Proper posture — with the spine aligned and the joints stacked — puts your body at ease, increases flexibility, reduces tension and strain, support digestions and ensures that muscles and tissues are well oxygenated, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine. "Changing your posture can reduce stress, depression and anxiety. Good posture tends to lead toward a feeling of wellbeing," White adds.
To improve posture, you first have to be mindful of it. When standing, keep your shoulders back with your stomach pulled in. With your head level, put most of your weight on the balls of your feet (that should be shoulder-width apart) and let your arms hang down naturally. While sitting, make sure to switch positions often, stretch those muscles, make sure your feet are touching the floor, relax your shoulders and keep your back supported.
6. Go Barefoot
One of the greatest health tools is right under your feet — literally. Walking or standing barefoot on the ground for a few minutes a day, also known as earthing or grounding, sounds simple enough, but how often are you actually doing it? A January 2012 review published in the Journal of Environmental Public Health found that direct contact with the electrons on Earth's surface can basically recharge your body. Health effects include improved mood and sleep, and reduced inflammation and chronic pain. Just try to steer clear of branches, rocks, nails, animal poop…you know.
Read more: Is It OK to Exercise Barefoot?
7. Dry Brush Your Skin
Your skin is your body's biggest organ, so you should be taking care of it. The mechanical action of dry brushing, according to the Cleveland Clinic, can reveal your skin's natural beauty — especially in the winter — by exfoliating dead skin cells and unclogging your pores. The practice also aids in detox, as it promotes lymph drainage and increases blood circulation, and it stimulates your nervous system, which can make you feel energized.
Buy a brush with natural, stiff bristles. With dry skin and right before the shower, start at your feet and brush in long, sweeping motions on your limbs, and circular motions on your chest and back. Move in an upward direction without applying too much pressure on more sensitive areas. You can do this for a couple minutes every day.
8. Set an Intention
When you want to break out of your comfort zone or start a new healthy habit, you need to have a strong intention to do so. Intention-setting is a powerful mindfulness practice that's different from goal-setting, according to Edutopia. Goals are clear targets to hit, while intentions are guiding principles.
You can set an intention for every action in your life. Before eating, set an intention to eat mindfully. Before working out, connect to your intention. Ask yourself, "What am I aiming to achieve?"
9. Apply that SPF
One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Those are some scary statistics. To reduce your risk, use an SPF 15 sunscreen daily.
Look for a sunscreen with the mineral zinc oxide for UVA protection. If you're going to be outside for at least two hours, be sure to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 that's sweat- and water-resistant.
Read more: The 27 Safest Sunscreens and 3 to Avoid
10. Express Gratitude
Today's society is constantly saying that you need to be more, do more, have more and achieve more. It can be depleting, overwhelming and depressing to say the least. But filtering out the noise and filling yourself up with gratitude can lead to happiness and other positive emotions, improved health and stronger relationships, and can help you deal with adversity, according to Harvard Health Publishing. With gratitude, people recognize all the good they already have in their lives, and as a result, this helps them connect to something larger than themselves.
So, jot down what you're grateful for in a journal each day. Try writing affirmations — positive things about yourself and your life. Or write a thank-you note to someone to say how grateful you are to have him or her in your life — it'll make you feel good and brighten someone else's day.
Is This an Emergency?
- American Psychological Association: "Stress Effects on the Body"
- Michigan Medicine: "Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation"
- Hillcrest Hospital: "Four Reasons to Chew Your Food Properly"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Guide to Good Posture"
- Journal of Environmental Public Health: "Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth's Surface Electrons"
- Cleveland Clinic: "The Truth About Dry Brushing and What It Does for You"
- Edutopia: "Intention-Setting in the Classroom"
- Skin Cancer Foundation: "Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier"
- American Council on Exercise: "8 Ways to Add More Movement Throughout Your Day"
- Skin Cancer Foundation: "All About Sunscreen"