A number of studies link a regular mindfulness practice with improved health. “Meditation is overflowing with benefits, and even just a short practice each day can lead to reduced stress, less inflammation, lower blood pressure, better sleep, and easier aging,” says Hyman. You don’t have to sit on a cushion for two hours a day: even a few minutes of meditation elicits the body’s relaxation response and can affect genes involved in the inflammatory response and longevity. Immediate effects include lower stress, reduced blood pressure, increased attention, and the ability to regulate stress.
Get started now: set aside 5–10 minutes in the morning for meditation and deep breathing, and check out apps such as Headspace, Calm, or 10% Happier for easy, guided meditation practices.
5. Eat in
Tie on your apron, break out the pots and pans, and get cooking! Making five meals a week at home can reduce your risk of chronic disease and improve overall health. “Cooking at home is associated with many health benefits, like decreased risk for type 2 diabetes and obesity and an overall healthier diet,” says Hyman. And studies suggest people who cook at home more often have a lower intake of sugar, fat, and calories.
New to the kitchen? Try a beginner’s cooking class, stock up on inexpensive tools that make food prep easier, and enlist a friend to cook with you. And check out Hyman’s cookbook,
Food: What the Heck Should I Cook?, for a guide to making healthy, home-cooked meals. [Editor’s note: see p. 36 for a recipe from Hyman’s book.]
6. Move more
Regular exercise reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer, eases anxiety and depression, and may improve cognitive function and self-esteem. “Get moving at least 30 minutes a day,” says Hyman. “Choose something you actually enjoy so that it feels like play and not a chore.” Dancing, tennis, swimming, and cycling are good options, and even a brisk walk is beneficial. And it doesn’t have to be continuous. Some studies suggest that three 10-minute walks may be as beneficial as one 30-minute walk.
Strong relationships and social engagement are critical for health. “Loneliness is the new smoking,” says Hyman. “So be sure to keep yourself supported with people you can trust and reach out to those you think may be isolated.” Studies suggest that social isolation increases the risk of premature death, while regular interaction improves self-worth and overall health. Plan an activity with friends or family once a week, and widen your social circle. Look for groups or clubs geared toward your favorite hobbies, volunteer for an organization you believe in, or join a class or faith community.
8. Get more green
Jump off the treadmill and take your daily walk outside. Studies show that spending more time in nature can reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, stress, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and early death, says Hyman. Exposing yourself to sunshine and bright light during the day improves sleep at night and boosts mood and alertness during the day. The most benefits come from green spaces, says Hyman —so even if you live or work in a city, make an effort to spend time in the nearest park.
9. Boost your brain
Learning new skills improves memory and cognition, enhances brain health, and protects against cognitive decline. One of the most powerful: learning to play a musical instrument, which engages multiple brain functions and can improve cognition and protect against decline. Ballroom dancing and other kinds of dance also require the brain to learn new patterns and steps; helps sharpen memory; and increases neural activity. Even games, crossword puzzles, or jigsaw puzzles can boost cognition.
And don’t forget to feed your head. Whole foods such as leafy greens, vegetables, berries, nuts, and fish can help protect against cognitive decline and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s—in some research, by as much as 53 percent.
10. Ban the blue light
Flat-screen TVs, computers, electronic notebooks, smartphones, and other digital devices emit blue light—wavelengths that can disrupt slumber and suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Other studies suggest a link between melatonin suppression and obesity, heart disease, and other health conditions. Turn off electronics two to three hours before bed or wear blue light blocking glasses for optimal melatonin production and deeper sleep, says Hyman. Other tips: install an app on your devices that filters blue light at night, and use dim red lights for night lights. They’re less likely to suppress melatonin.
11. Eat mindfully
“To get more enjoyment and satiation out of less food, slow down,” says Hyman. “Pay attention to each bite, acknowledge your environment, and experience the tastes and textures fully.” Studies show that eating mindfully—slowly and without distractions, while focusing on your food—can promote weight loss and manage chronic disease. Instead of scarfing down a bagel in the car, wake up 10 minutes early and have a sit-down breakfast at home. Skip the sandwich at your computer and go to lunch with friends or co-workers. You’ll eat more slowly, and it’s another opportunity to socialize.
12. Stabilize your sleep
We know deep, restful sleep is linked with improved mood, overall health, and longevity. Creating a rhythm around your sleep time can help. “Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to support the body’s natural circadian rhythm,” Says Hyman. “This helps you fall asleep fast, improves sleep quality, and can even boost brain function.”
Some studies also suggest that stabilizing circadian rhythms can improve mood and ease depression.
Be consistent with sleep: choose a bedtime and wake-up time, and stick with it. Before bed, dim lights and create a simple routine, such as having a cup of chamomile tea or writing in a journal. Move your alarm clock across the room, so you can’t roll over and hit the snooze button in the morning. And make small, gradual adjustments. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to change overnight, so shift bedtime and wake-up time by 10 minutes a day until you reach your ideal.
Meet Dr. Hyman
Mark Hyman, MD
What the Heck Should I Cook?
Mark Hyman, MD, is the director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, president of clinical affairs on the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, and founder of the UltraWellness Center. He is an 11-time
New York Times bestselling author whose books include Eat Fat, Get Thin ; and . His latest book The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet is Food: What the Heck Should I Cook?