It’s challenging to maintain a healthy lifestyle year-round — but neglecting your health, even for a few months, can cause some serious problems.
But even if you have only a few minutes to spare, you can use that time to improve your well-being.
Amy Hooberman, MD, a primary care doctor at Rush University Medical Center, recommends incorporating the following activities and strategies into your day. “They don’t take a lot of time,” she says. “But when these simple steps become habits, they can have a positive effect on your overall health.”
1. Put away the salt.
A saltshaker on the dining table makes it all too easy to consume excess salt, which can lead to high blood pressure. So put the shaker in a cabinet or pantry and bring it out only when you’re cooking.
“It’s also a good idea to taste your food before you salt it,” Hooberman says. “You may find it doesn’t need it.”
You can also try spicing up your food with lemon or lime juice, garlic, red pepper flakes, herbs or a salt-free seasoning blend. Stock your fridge and pantry with your favorite fresh and dried herbs so you’ll always have them on hand to flavor your foods.
2. Take a slow breath.
Whether you’re sitting, driving or walking, you can enhance your health by taking a few seconds to focus on your breathing.
“When you slow down your breathing, it helps you relax,” Hooberman says. This relaxation response releases body chemicals that relieve stress and may improve immune function. Deep breathing can also lower your resting heart rate. People with lower resting heart rates are typically in better physical condition than those with higher rates.
3. Sit up straight.
Next time you’re at your desk or on the phone, take a moment to think about your posture. Then straighten up your back, tuck in your stomach and put your feet flat on the floor with your legs uncrossed. “You’ll feel more relaxed right away,” Hooberman says.
The few seconds this takes can help you avoid back pain — one of the most common health problems in the United States and a leading cause of disability.
4. Take the stairs.
The next time you’re going to a higher floor, bypass the elevator and climb the stairs instead. You’ll get your blood pumping, exercise your lungs and work the muscles in your lower body.
“It’s a great way to add physical activity to your day without having to block out time to exercise,” Hooberman says. “I tell my patients to try to walk 10,000 steps each day. Taking the stairs is great exercise and counts toward that total.”
5. Eat an extra serving of nonstarchy vegetables.
Want a snack? Munch on a carrot instead of a cookie. Making dinner for your family? Serve broccoli or spinach as a side dish instead of mashed potatoes. Add green peas to your brown rice, or slices of red or yellow pepper to your sandwich.