Improving yourself doesn’t need to be complicated. There are plenty of small habits that can make a huge impact on your overall health. Here are 16 mini makeovers that will make you feel happier, help you lose weight, or help build muscle–and they all take less than two minutes.
Smile for your flu shot
The flu vaccine lowers your risk of the illness by only 40 to 60 percent, the CDC reports. But cheer up: Being in a positive mood on vaccination day may boost the vaccine’s effectiveness by tweaking your immune system to enhance its antibody response, a 2017 study suggests. Before rolling up your sleeve, watch a funny video or peruse vacation photos.
Eat this “dessert”
To stabilize postmeal bloodsugar, try eating carbs last. In one study, people with type 2 diabetes ate a chicken sandwich: (1)in its entirety, with 10 minutes between halves; (2) bread first, chicken/veggies 10 minutes later; (3) chicken/veggies first, bread 10 minutes later. Option 3 reduced blood sugar spikes and insulin response for up to three hours.
To improve his balance and joint health, strength coach Jeff Watters ends workouts with a variation on the field sobriety test: Stand with arms extended and eyes closed. Lift one foot and hold, up to a minute. Switch sides and repeat. This strengthens tendons and ligaments in your ankles, knees, and hips. One-leg balance predicts longevity too.
Try a meal replacement shake
A daily meal-replacement shake is among the least utilized tools for weight management, says Spencer Nadolsky, D.O. Blend 30 grams vanilla protein powder, ½ cup blueberries, and a small handful of chopped walnuts with water or milk. No blender? Mix the protein with water and eat the rest on the side. It’s just 300 calories, but quite filling.
Improve your marriage
Researchers followed married British men for 19 years to see how their relationship ups and downs affected their risk factors for heart disease. “Improving” marriages were linked to lower LDL cholesterol and weight loss, while “deteriorating” ones were linked to higher diastolic blood pressure. To keep yours on the upswing, see the next tip.
Bond with your partner
Sit facing your partner with your knees touching and look into each other’s eyes, without talking, for two minutes. “Experiments with couples show that this increases feelings of bonding, even among strangers,” says Alexandra Katehakis, Ph.D., director of the Center for Healthy Sex in Los Angeles. “When you have time, go for four minutes.”
Eat healthy when dining out
Menu engineers (yes, they exist) know that most diners tend to scan the middle part of a menu first; then they move from top right to top left. So that’s where restaurants tend to put items with the highest profit margin, says Aaron Allen, a restaurant consultant. Don’t be fooled: Think outside the triangle to make better nutritional choices.
Learn the best way to sneeze
Taking a couple of minutes to teach your children the “vampire sneeze” will go a long way toward protecting you from the multitude of germs those little buggers carry. Make a game of it, by having them sneeze and cough into the crook of their arm—like Dracula ducking his face behind his cape—instead of into their hands, the air, or onto you.
Maximize the benefits of garlic
To maximize the immunity boosting benefits of garlic, mince a few cloves and let the bits sit for a few minutes. This encourages the formation of allicin, which has antioxidant properties. Mix garlic into salad dressing or stirfry, or blend it with cream cheese to use as a spread, says Victoria Maizes, M.D., of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.
Burn extra calories
In the early 20th century, the average winter temperature in a U.S. home was 64°F. By century’s end it was 76°. The price we pay for T-shirt temps is looking a lot worse in T-shirts. By dialing back to the mid-60s, you’ll make your body work harder to stay warm, increase its energy expenditure by up to 10 percent, and burn up to 300 extra calories a day.
Learn pull ups
To build big muscles, you gotta lift heavy. But there’s a bad side effect: compressed spinal discs from heavy squats, deadlifts, and shoulder presses. “Hanging from a pullup bar stretches back muscles and creates space for bloodflow between the discs,” says strength coach Lee Boyce, C.P.T. Hang for 30 seconds at a time, or anytime you feel tight.
Choose the right salad dressing
Iowa State scientists found that our bodies are better at absorbing eight nutrients (including beta carotene and vitamins A, E, and K) when we eat vegetable salads with soybean or canola oil. And the more oil (up to about two tablespoons), the more nutrients were absorbed. Look for organic non-hydrogenated oils as a base in dressings, or mix your own.
Avoid overeating at restaurants
Worried you’ll overeat at the sports bar? MH nutrition advisor Alan Aragon suggests fixing a two-minute “snack” before you leave home: Mix 20 grams of whey protein with 16 ounces of water. It can help you cut your calorie intake at restaurants, where meals tend to be hyperpalatable and high in calories—“a recipe for overconsumption,” he says.
Forget about kale
The hype surrounding kale is getting a bit stale. For a newer, fresher meal-picker-upper, sub out kale or similar greens and sub in watercress, says Chef Ming Tsai of Blue Dragon restaurant in Boston. Watercress is also packed with nutrients and provides a snappy, peppery bite that takes salads, stir-frys, and even smoothies to another level.
Use hand sanitizer
One of the smartest things you can pack in your carry-on for travel is a packet of Clorox Disinfecting Wipes On The Go. Use them to sanitize your three square feet in coach by swiping disease-carrying microbes from high-threat areas like tray tables, seat buckles, air vent dials, seat pockets, and, of course, when it’s time, bathroom door handles.
It’s hard to be anxious or angry when you’re feeling thankful, according to research by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at UC Riverside. Lyubomirsky advises writing a list—once a week is most effective—of recent things you’re grateful for and then referring to it for a couple of minutes whenever you’re feeling down or upset.
By the Editors