Six Healthy Habits That Truly Pay Off

By Guest Contributor Charlotte Andersen, Shape.com

healthyhabits

From meditation to early bedtime, sometimes the things we want to do least are the things we need to do most! Here are six habits that will improve your life in many areas.

1. Meditation

You know you should meditate — everyone from your medical doctor to the person checking you out at Whole Foods raves about its benefits. But is daily inward reflection really worth your time? Yes! In addition to reducing anxiety and improving your overall outlook on life, “meditation has been shown in research to reduce blood pressure, increase attention span, help insomnia, and increase compassion,” says Dr. Samantha Brody, a licensed naturopathic physician and acupuncturist.

And you don’t just have to sit and stare at the wall to clear your mind. “There are many different ways to meditate,” Brody says. “There is mantra meditation where you focus on a word or a phrase, meditation where you focus on your breath, and even moving meditation.” But the real trick, she says, is to stick with it, even when you feel like you don’t want to. “It’s on the other side of the resistance that you’ll find the biggest rewards!”

Check out this beginner’s guide to meditation for everything you need to know.

2.Stretching

Stretching is often overlooked because the results are not as visible as lifting weights and squatting — or so you thought. Stretching can lead to better posture, fewer aches and pains , and even a cheerier outlook on life. That’s because stretching increases your blood flow and circulation for a healthier body and sends oxygen to your brain for a clearer mind and sunnier moods,” says Peggy Hall, wellness expert.

To stretch properly, you can use any number of techniques from yoga to active resistance to dynamic stretching, but it doesn’t have to be elaborate. The key is to make sure you stretch the front and back of your body evenly, says Greg Merseth, a personal trainer and correctional exercise specialist for Lifetime Fitness. “Everyone always stretches their hamstrings and forgets their hip flexors! This pulls your pelvis out of alignment and sets you up for a ton of functional problems.”

3. Going to Bed Before 10 P.M.

“This is an excellent strategy to stay slim, as late nights are linked to craving salty, savory treats and overeating,” says Dr. David Grotto, M.D., author of The Best Things You Can Eat. What’s more, research shows that every hour of sleep you get before midnight is worth two hours of sleep after midnight!

“Sleep is the forgotten aspect of fitness, weight loss, and health,” says Dr. Shawn Talbott, Ph. D., author of The Vigor Diet: The New Science of Feeling Your Best. “But without getting those eight hours, we are overexposing our body to the stress hormone cortisol, which stimulates cravings for junk food, breaks down muscle tissue, and stimulates belly-fat storage.”

Try to establish a bedtime routine, and consider exercising earlier in the day to help tire you out. After that it’s a matter of just doing it. If you’re used to super late-nights, start by pushing your bedtime up 30 minutes or one hour at a time. Dr. Brody cautions that “although we all know what it feels like to be tired, stay up past your body’s signals to sleep and you can get a ‘second wind’ that can keep you from falling asleep.”

4. Food Journaling

Almost every health/nutrition/weight loss expert agrees that most people are unaware of what (and how much) they’re truly eating. And food journaling is the best way to change that! “Very often people will eat subconsciously — a bite here, a snack there — and not realize how many calories or what types of foods are going down the hatch,” Dr. Talbott says. “So food journaling makes us more aware of what we’re eating, when we’re eating it, and why — and it almost always makes us think about making better choices.”

You can always go the pencil-and-paper route, but there are many new apps and sites designed to help you log your daily intake — Dr. Brody recommends Myfitnesspal.com. The best part about food journaling is that you only need to do it every once in a while for it to be effective, even once a week can help you recognize bad habits and see where you might be able to make better nutrition choices.

One caution however: “For people who get obsessive or have an eating disorder history, sometimes tracking food can trigger negative behaviors or self judgment,” Dr. Brody says. If this describes you, talk to your doctor about alternate ways of improving your eating habits.

5. Sleeping on the Ground

While we don’t expect you to give up your plush mattress to sleep on the floor every night, it might be worth a try if you have trouble sleeping. According to Dr. Brody, enthusiasts believe that being on the floor is a more natural state. Plus, sleeping on a thin mat has been shown in some cases to ease back pain, reduce snoring, and encourage a proper sleeping position.

The biggest problem with beds and pillows isn’t really the softness but rather the position in which you sleep, says Dr. Len Lopez, a nutrition and fitness expert and author of To Burn or Not to Burn: Fat is the Question. “Sleeping on your side, in the fetal position for six to eight hours, will shorten (tighten) your hip flexors and hamstrings which leads to back pain. It also shortens your pectoral muscles, one cause of upper-back pain.”

So how should you lay your head to rest? “The ideal way to sleep is flat on your back on something slightly softer than the floor and with no pillow—that way your spine is basically in it’s most neutral position,” Dr. Lopez says. He’s especially not fond of “head positioning” or ergonomic pillows which he says cause more problems than they help.

Dr. Grotto adds that if you are having a hard time adjusting to your new, harder accommodations, “try a handful of tart cherries and walnuts, natural sources of the sleep hormone melatonin” just before bedtime.

6. Lemon Water

There’s nothing like waking up to a nice hot mug of…acidic water? Our experts say “yes!” “Lemon water is great for hydration, and the vitamin C in lemons helps detoxify, repair, and heal the body,” Dr. Grotto says.

Your body is dehydrated after a long night of sleep so try to get in the habit of pouring a glass of H2O with a squirt of lemon juice first thing in the morning. Lemon makes plain water taste better too, so you’ll be more likely to drink more, he adds. Just be careful to wait 30 minutes after drinking to brush your teeth as the acid temporarily weakens tooth enamel.

Continue reading for more healthy habits…

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