75 Ways To Be Your Healthiest Ever

Smart ways to stay well, eat right, get fit

From the WebMD Archives

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From its first year of publication, GH has urged readers to live healthfully — to take "a walk before breakfast" (1885), "eat more fish" (1932), and get "at least eight hours of sleep" (1933). The tips here, whether from our early days or fresh from the latest journals, have one thing in common: They are based on the best expertise of their time.

Smile Savers

Brushing, flossing, and eating right keep your teeth strong — and promote overall health

Make it tea for your teeth: Fruit drinks, sodas, and citrus juices (like orange) have sugar and acids that wear away tooth enamel. The better dental choice — as safe as just plain water — is tea without milk, lemon, or sugar.

Listen to your hygienist: In a two-week study of identical twins — one brushed and flossed, the other simply brushed — flossers developed significantly less plaque-causing bacteria than their brush-only siblings.

Spoon up some culture: In a new study, people who consumed at least 1/4 cup of yogurt or a lactic acid drink every day were less than half as likely to have serious gum disease. The magic ingredient? Probiotics, researchers believe.

Get plenty of fruits and veggies: The higher your consumption of folic acid from food (produce is a great source), the lower your risk of bleeding gums, research shows.

2 Twofers

With these, you burn calories and curb hunger

Cardio before meals: An aerobic workout cuts your hunger by lowering levels of ghrelin, an appetite-stimulating hormone. Count on about two hours' benefit, including workout time. Weight training helps, too, but not as much. Not exercising at all leaves you hungriest.

A short walk: In a "gotta have chocolate" mood? Hit the sidewalk for 15 minutes. The walk will cut calories and — a study of chocolate lovers showed — curb your cravings as well.

Medicine Chest Must-Haves

These two can be lifesaving while you're waiting for the ambulance to arrive:

Aspirin (325 mg, not baby) to chew on in case you, a family member, or a guest has a heart attack

Liquid Benadryl in case of a life-threatening allergic reaction

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4 Sleep Helpers

In 1896, GH advised insomniacs, "Upon retiring ... take a bowl of hot broth, like oatmeal gruel or clam soup." Our contemporary advice:

1. Chill, baby, chill. A cool bedroom lowers core body temperature, which initiates sleepiness. How cool? The ideal temp varies from person to person (and from husband to wife!), but try 65 degrees to start.

2. Hire a specialist — online. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps even longtime insomniacs sleep better. Try the online course developed by a Harvard researcher at cbtforinsomnia.com($25); also on CD.

3. Turn off appliances. Artificial light (from lamps, TVs, maybe even a glowing clock) can keep you up. But if it's still not dark enough, try a sleep mask. The favorite in GHRI testing: Bucky's 40 Blinks Mask ($13).

4. Practice tai chi. When researchers compared this Eastern meditative martial art with standard health education programs, tai chi won — heads down — in improving both sleep quality and duration.

Coffee Perks

It's fortunate our national java habit (the average coffee drinker downs three cups a day) turns out to be good for us. Coffee is rich in antioxidants, and (surprise) caffeine can also be a health booster. The brew has been linked to:

Lower risk of type 2 diabetes

Better memory and other cognitive functions

Reduced chances of non-melanoma skin cancer

Wider-awake days

But there's a trick to getting the most from your caffeine: Drink two ounces every hour or so through the morning and at lunchtime — then stop in early afternoon. Gulping a grande at breakfast may be followed by a crash later in the day

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Move It!

Get one sweat every day; not a mere glow or perspiration, but a genuine, downright, old-fashioned ... sweat. (March 1916)

If you're sick of the gym, try a fun alternative that burns more calories than walking (246 calories per hour for a moderate pace). Ballet or swimming laps burns 422 calories; biking or playing Ping-Pong, 281.

Take a break. You may burn more fat when you divide a 60-minute workout into two 30-minute sessions with a 20-minute rest in between — and the boost may even continue post-exercise.

Get your hands dirty. Gardening gives you as much of a workout as walking or golf, a recent study reported. Plus: The weight-bearing motions involved in digging and pulling weeds can strengthen bones and muscle.

Do it to music. Tunes that are in sync with your workout rate help keep you going — up to 15 percent longer, British researchers found. (To get started, check out the playlist at goodhousekeeping.com/weekend.)

Add the #1 Veggie to Your Diet

It's kale — based on its contribution to daily nutrient recommendations, including beta-carotene, lutein, vitamins C and K, and folate, plus potassium, magnesium, and iron.

Spinach and collard greens are also stars.

Little Changes, Big Weight Loss

Cook pasta al dente. When you boil spaghetti for five minutes, its glycemic index is 38; after 20 minutes, it shoots up to 61. The higher the glycemic index, the sooner you'll be hungry again.

Munch around the clock. A healthy snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon will keep you from overdoing itat lunch and dinner, for a net reduction in calories.

Keep a food diary. Recording meals and snacks ups your chances of weight-loss success. In fact, among a group of almost 1,700 dieters, diarists doubled their weight loss compared with non-writing folks.

Eat s...l...o...w...l...y. In one study, women who took half an hour to eat a pasta lunch consumed almost 70 fewer calories than those who scarfed it down in nine minutes.

Stop the music! People spend longer at the dining table when there's background music — any tempo or volume.

Watch out for sneak eating. "I just want a taste" (of pie, ice cream, pizza...) can add about 25 calories per mouthful.

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Sip Gingerly

Beyond quelling nausea, ginger also eases menstrual cramps. To brew your own relief, peel 1 inch of fresh ginger root, cut into fine rounds, and put in a saucepan. Cover with 2–3 cups of water and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain, pour into a pretty cup, and sweeten with honey.

If Only It Were That Simple... an excellent and never-failing cure for nervous headache is the simple act of walking backward. (July 1896)

Better Bones

1. Do An Upward Dog: Yoga postures can ward off — and help correct — the dreaded dowager's hump that can occur with age. In a six-month study, even people who already had serious curves in their upper backs improved with yoga classes three times a week.

2. Follow a Big (Low-) Fat Greek Diet: Women who eat Mediterranean-style — consuming plenty of fish and olive oil, and limiting red meat — have the greatest bone density, researchers recently found.

3. Eat Like Popeye: Spinach, along with other fruits and veggies, promotes the best acid-base balance in your body for keeping bones strong.

Don't Bar Chocolate

If you're worried about weight gain, indulging may be a solution. A study found that women who put their favorite snacks on the no-no list actually ate 40 grams more of them when given the chance than those who didn't set such strict limits. (In the case of dark chocolate, that would be 180 extra calories.) The payoffs associated with as little as half an ounce a day: Lower blood pressure

Less-stiff arterial walls

Lower bad LDL cholesterol

Inhibited formation of blood clots

Reduced stress hormones

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Germ Warfare

Be wary of sand castles: Concentrations of E. coli bacteria are often much higher in beach sand than in the water. Wash your hands after playing in the sand. For a cold, try chicken soup: When one researcher tested his wife's family recipe, he found the soup inhibited movement of cells called neutrophils by 75 percent, which could translate into milder symptoms. (For the recipe, go to goodhousekeeping.com/chicken-soup.)

Turn to the pro: Taking probiotics daily helped kids have fewer coughs, fevers, and runny noses, and cut antibiotic use by more than two-thirds in a recent study. Benefits likely apply to grown-ups, too: Look for supplements or yogurt with lots (think billions, not millions) of live, active bacteria.

Wash after cuddling your dog: You're most likely to pick up disease-causing bacteria through fur-to-hand contact (a.k.a. petting).

Do the wave to avoid bugs. Or greet pals with an air kiss. What you shouldn't do: shake hands.

Be a Savvy Patient

Schedule your doctor's appointment for first thing in the afternoon. If doctors do hospital rounds in the early A.M., they're often running late by the time they get to the office, but then catch up by lunch.

In the ER, let the triage nurse know if your condition changes. Otherwise, don't talk to her — let her stay focused so that she can move all those patients ahead of you.

Keep a list of all your medications in your computer, with dosages and how often you take them. Add or delete as needed; print out a copy for doctor visits.

Check out ills on uptodate.com. The site offers a wealth of reliable info on everything from colds to cancer.

Getting a mammogram? Ask for an extra set of eyes (or a computer) to read your X-rays. Either double readings (two doctors) or a doctor plus CAD (computer-aided detection) will boost detection rates.

Originally published on April 1, 2010

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WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine
Reprinted with permission from Hearst Communications, Inc.

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