Cheater’s Guide to Better Health

Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on September 22, 2021
couple walking

You know what your body needs for good health: nutritious foods, exercise, quality sleep, and not much stress. But a busy schedule can make it tricky to find the time and energy to work on the healthy habits that lead to a better you.

A healthy lifestyle isn’t an all-or-nothing game. With a few small course corrections, you can steer yourself in the right direction.

Save face.

One in 5 Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetime. Lower your risk by slathering on sunscreen in the morning before you leave home for a no-brainer health boost. Keep a bottle in the bathroom near your hairbrush, or stash some near your car keys to jog your memory.

Pick a water-resistant choice that’s between SPF 30 and SPF 50. The label also should say “broad-spectrum” or that it offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays. And most important, buy a sunscreen you like. If you don’t care for the smell or feel of it, you’re less likely to put it on.

When in doubt, choose color.

The more colorful your plate, the more likely it is to be filled with fruits and veggies. “Eating the rainbow” is an easy way to pack in the vitamins, minerals, and fiber you need to keep your heart healthy and blood pressure down.

Can’t think of a side for your lunch or dinner? Go for something green. Feeling snacky? Reach for a red. Around 4.5 cups of fruits and veggies a day is the goal, so choose your favorite hues and fill up.  

Focus energy on one bad habit.

Sometimes just a single change can have a big effect on your health. Smoking is a great example: It only takes 24 hours of being smoke-free for your body to feel good effects. After only a few weeks, your lungs work better and your chances of a heart attack drop. And one year later, you’ll have cut your chances of heart disease fully in half.

The key is not to bite off more than you can chew. Tackle one unhealthy habit and kick it to the curb. Savor that success, then move on to the next goal.

When you can’t subtract, add.

If the thought of going cold turkey on fried foods or slashing the amount of sugar you eat stresses you out, try a different approach. Keep your favorites, but add in the healthy stuff, too. For example, top your ice cream with fresh fruit and raw nuts, or pile some veggies on your pizza.

Break up workouts into smaller bits.

If your schedule is so jam-packed that even a half-hour workout seems impossible to fit in, try smaller spurts throughout the day instead. The important thing is to get those 30 minutes in each day, however you can. Take a brisk 10-minute walk in the morning, do 10 minutes of squats, lunges, and full-body planks mid-day, and work in 10 minutes of weights at the end of the day.

Fit in a floss.

You already take time to brush your teeth daily, so what’s another 2 minutes at the sink for a big hike in your health? Good gum hygiene goes a long way. Regularly cleaning between your teeth helps prevent cavities, plaque, and tartar buildup and makes you less likely to have gum disease.

Plus, poor oral health may lead to more serious issues elsewhere in your body. If normal floss doesn’t do it for you, ask your dentist about dental picks, pre-threaded flossers, wooden plaque removers, or small brushes that fit between your teeth. And don’t beat yourself up over a skipped day here and there. Every little bit helps.

Put relaxing on your to-do list.

Things like deep breathing, calming mantras, tensing and releasing your muscles, yoga, and mental imagery can ease stress levels. That can lower your blood pressure, slow your heartbeat and breathing, help you digest food, and get better sleep.

Set a reminder on your phone that will nudge you every few hours to pause and re-center, even if it’s only for 5 minutes.

Show Sources


American Academy of Dermatology: “Sunscreen FAQs.”

American Heart Association: “Eat the Rainbow.”

American Lung Association: “Benefits of Quitting.”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Changing Your Diet: Choosing Nutrient-rich Foods.”

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “30-Minute Workouts for Any Schedule.”

American Dental Association: “Flossing.”

Mayo Clinic: “Relaxation techniques: “Oral health: A window to your overall health,” “Try these steps to reduce stress.”

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