turn your life around in nine steps this year!

January 6, 2014

These are 9 Healthy Habits worth printing and pinning up on your fridge. Not to look at, but to implement into your life on a daily basis this year. While new year resolutions may be over hyped, these are healthy boosts or reminders that can improve your life, relationships, sleep patterns, stress patterns and more, on a daily basis towards a more healthier and confident you. Bought to you by Pilates Style:

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From breaking the soda addiction to starting a meditation practice, these health practices will pay off big dividends — by Stacy Baker Masand


Unfortunately, we can’t pop a magic pill that will ward off disease, keep us happy or help us lose weight. In fact, the most worthwhile heath benefits result from time, effort and a little extra legwork. We’ve found nine healthy habits that aren’t as easy as taking a vitamin, but with a little dedication, they come with big rewards to your mind and body.

1 Meditate daily.

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Meditation has been around for centuries, and it’s no wonder: This ancient practice delivers a bounty of health benefits. Studies show that meditating as few as 10 minutes a day can improve your mood, lower your heart rate and strengthen your cognitive abilities. Bobette (Bobbee) Kellner, a marriage and family therapist based in Santa Barbara, CA, uses it in her psychotherapy sessions to help patients change how they deal with problems, and in turn, lower stress, improve relationships and feel happier.

“Increased awareness is the greatest benefit of meditation,” Kellner explains. “Sometimes we get caught up in thinking about the past or the future. Being in the moment [during a meditation session] allows you to let go of those thoughts and feelings quickly and go back to focusing on your breath.”

Kellner meditates every morning when she wakes from 15 minutes to an hour, plus leads meditation groups. During each session, she lets thoughts move into her mind and then float away. She uses that same strategy in the real world, which allows her to let go of negative situations; instead, she simply goes back to focusing on breathing. “I don’t waste my time dwelling on issues or people that bother me—I flow more in every area of my life,” she explains. “It’s the same mindfulness and awareness I take to Pilates. I’m in the moment, centered with my breath and aware of the movements as I’m doing them.”

She recommends starting slowly, making the practice a habit and not getting locked into how it looks. Though music or an audio download of a guided meditation may help (or check out Kellner’s meditation videos on Pilates Anytime), the only things you really need to do are to stay seated and focus on your breath. It’s that easy.


2 Keep a food journal.

One of the best tools for weight loss may also be the least expensive and the easiest: keeping a food journal. Tracking everything from calories to ingredients to portion sizes keeps your goals in focus throughout the day, resulting in less cheating and better results. In fact, a new study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that women who tracked their daily food intake lost an average of six or more pounds in a year than those who didn’t.

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Food journals don’t have be expensive or fancy; a no-tech option like an old-school notebook can work as well as the latest high-tech tracking app. Researchers say the secret is to list everything you eat (the fries you steal off a friend’s plate count), include meal-prep details (baked versus fried, for example) and keep up the habit every day (weekends and holidays, too).

If you need extra motivation to stay consistent, opt for a smartphone app such as LoseIt or MyFitnessPal. Most include access to tools that will make self-monitoring easier, including a community of other dieters, barcode scanners, food and calorie databases and progress trackers with virtual gold stars for a job well done.


3 Monitor your skin.

You’ve no doubt heard the admonitions to apply “broad-spectrum” sunscreen (those that shield both UVA and UVB rays; check the label) with an SPF of 30 to 50 year-round before going outdoors. Especially in the abundant sunshine we have in the UAE!

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But early detection is key to treating skin cancer, so in addition to an annual appointment with a dermatologist, the Skin Cancer Foundation also recommends doing a 10-minute head-to-toe examination every month to look for changes in spots, moles or freckles. Keep track of them on a body map, which you can download at www.skincancer.org. A quick self-check will help you identify anything that looks suspicious early on so you can see a doctor as soon as you find a warning sign.

 


4 Maintain your friendships.

Research shows that friendships improve nearly all areas of mind and body fitness, from increasing happiness and boosting confidence to increasing the chances that you exercise regularly, follow your diet plan and kick unhealthy habits like smoking.
Strong social connections also reduce stress, help you heal faster and boost immunity. A Stanford study found that breast cancer patients who were involved in support groups reported less pain and outlived those who didn’t participate. Other studies have shown that people with close relationships live longer than those with less social contact.

But staying connected won’t just happen without concerted effort. Make a point of talking to someone you love at least once a day; for instance, safely call a friend while you commute to and from work or on your lunch hour. You don’t have to have marathon gab sessions in order to reap the benefits; if you’re limited on time, say so at the beginning of the conversation to help set boundaries.

And good news for busy bees: Newer methods of communication are just as valuable. Text during commercials or while you’re waiting to board your next flight. E-mail while your pedicure is drying. Even engaging via social media for several minutes a day can keep you in the loop.

Meeting new friends also enhances your life and health. Chat up fellow Pilates students at the studio, volunteer in the community or participate in local activities you love, like art festivals, music events or walking groups.


5 Nix your cola fix.

By now you’ve heard countless warnings about the evils of soda, but how bad can a soft drink or two a day—or even a week really be? Turns out, a lot. A typical 20-ounce soda packs more than 240 calories and up to 18 teaspoons of sugar. Soda’s high sugar content—along with the chemicals and colorings—has been linked to everything from obesity to diabetes to cancer.

 

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Substituting with diet soda isn’t any better. A new National Institutes of Health study shows that people who drink four or more cans of soda (it doesn’t matter if it’s regular or diet) every day are about 30 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression than non-soda drinkers.

If you have a serious soft drink habit, it’s best to go cold turkey by stopping all soda for two weeks, advises Melissa Li, RD, LDN, a dietitian, fitness trainer and director of PhysioLife Studios in Chicago. This helps break the addiction to sweets, even if you’re drinking artificial sweeteners. A good trade-off is sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon or lime, which satisfies the need for effervescence without sacrificing flavor. Or, when you want something sweet, eat an apple with almond butter or another combination of fruit with protein to get you through the craving.

If you still need a midday pick-me-up, unsweetened black coffee or green tea is a healthier choice. Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health found that people who drank four or more cups of caffeinated coffee a day are 20 percent less likely than non-java drinkers to be diagnosed with depression, and green tea is packed with antioxidants.

 


6 Veg out.

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If you’re a carnivore, substituting such plant foods as fruits, vegetables and beans for one serving of red meat a day cuts your saturated fat intake by 15 percent and reduces your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Eating a single three-ounce serving of meat daily was linked with a 16 percent greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease and 10 percent from cancer, according to an Archives of Internal Medicine study.

The risks for lovers of bacon are even higher: A new study from University of Zurich found that eating hot dogs, sausages, cold cuts and other processed meats increases your risk of prematurely dying by 44 percent.

Going veg for one or more meals a week can reverse the risks. An easy way to get started is with Meatless Monday, a public-health initiative created in association with Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health inspired by studies that show that people are more likely to stick to healthy resolutions on a Monday. Skipping meat doesn’t have to be a sacrifice: asparagus risotto, black bean chili or vegetable lasagna are all delicious ways to go vegetarian.


7 Tell it like it is.

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It may seem easier to tell someone you’re late because you got stuck in traffic than to say you wanted to see the end of a TV show, but a recent study from University of Notre Dame shows that honesty is far better for your health. People who told fewer minor lies over a 10-week period reported fewer mental and physical issues, like headaches, irritability, anxiety and sore throats. Even small fibs can add significant stress to your life, researchers found.

Think your pants aren’t on fire? In fact, we’re not even truthful about how much we lie. Research from the Science Museum of London found men stretch the truth roughly three times a day, while women average at least twice daily. Another study from the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology showed that when meeting strangers, participants lied an average of three times within 10 minutes. (To jog your memory about your own factual accuracy, refer to any recent conversation you may have had with an overbearing relative or demanding boss.)


8 Sneak a cat nap.

Powering down for as few as 10 minutes a day does more than perk you up; it also boosts productivity, heightens creativity and improves brain and body performance. A Harvard study showed that just a few minutes of afternoon zzz’s enhanced memory and learning processes. Other studies have linked napping to reduced heart disease, stress, weight gain and stroke.

If a short snooze isn’t enough, try this one-two punch, based on a study from Loughborough University, called the “caffeine nap”: a cup of coffee followed by 15 minutes of sleep. The idea is that it takes the java about 15 minutes to kick in. While you wait, close your eyes and crash. When you wake, you’ll be refreshed—and refueled.


9 Stay active.

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Talk to any medical researcher and she’ll tell you that one of the secrets to staying youthful and healthy is to keep moving. But what if you’re one of the four out of five Americans whose job involves little-to-no activity? Then it’s time to get creative about sneaking in calorie burning and movement. A study in the British journal BMJ Open found that reducing periods of sitting, like using the computer at work or watching TV in your downtime, to less than three hours a day can add two years to your life expectancy.

Even if you think it can’t be done at your workplace, breaking up sedentary periods on the job is easier than you think, plus movement increases productivity, says Melissa Li. She checks e-mails while squatting against her office wall and does sets of 30-second Planks as she reviews articles. If you don’t have that kind of privacy, make sure you get out of your chair and find creative ways to move around. Stand and stretch every hour on the hour, walk to a colleague’s desk to discuss an idea rather than send an e-mail, and take the long way to the water cooler to refill your bottle. Height-adjustable desks and walking workstations also allow you to keep moving (or at least avoid sitting) and don’t have to break the bank.

Of course, one of the best ways to get moving and improve your health is with regular Pilates sessions—or even by sneaking in a few standing Pilates moves (Wall Roll-Downs, Standing Rolling Like a Ball, Single-Leg Stretch) throughout the day.


Stacy Baker is a health and fitness writer whose worked has appeared in such magazines as In Style, Self, Shape, Fitness, DuJour and Women’s Health. She collaborated with fitness expert Tosca Reno on the New York Times bestseller, Your Best Body Now (Harlequin, 2010); her latest book, The Rockstar Remedy (HarperCollins, 2014), will be available next spring.


This story was printed in the July/August edition of Pilates Style.