Change can be hard, so keep it small. Making little changes are easier to stick with, and over time they can yield large benefits in terms of your health.
“Make small changes; stay flexible; be nice to yourself,” said B.J. Fogg, author of Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything, during an interview. “Forget big changes. Start with a tiny habit.”
In my case, he gave me a tiny way to start lifting hand weights to improve my arm strength. “Just do one,” Fogg advised. If I could do one biceps curl each day, I’d eventually do two a day. Then three. And so on. I’ve slowly worked up to 20, but on days I don’t feel like doing it, I still do just the one — so at least I’ve done one tiny healthy thing that day.
Here are 10 tiny changes that could improve your health. Don’t feel as if you need to do them all at once. Start with one, maybe two. The goal is a healthier you, one small step at a time.
- Put moisturizer on damp skin — it works better that way.
The beauty guru call it the three-second rule: Wash your face, blot off excess water with your towel, then quickly apply moisturizer to damp skin. The American Academy of Dermatology — and a 2016 review of research in the Indian Journal of Dermatology — agree: Moisturizing when skin is damp helps the skin absorb the moisturizer better and lock in hydration for healthier, more protected skin. Same deal for slathering moisturizer on the rest of your body after a shower, or on your hands after washing. Don’t wait until your skin is feeling dry and tight.
- Start and end your day with a bottle of water.
A 2020 Japanese study of hydration in older adults found that adding two bottles of water a day improved their blood pressure and kidney function. The key? Timing. The adults drank an 18-ounce bottle of water in the morning within two hours of getting up and another bottle two hours before going to bed.
- Try exercise snacking.
This popular idea from British researchers promotes exercising for less time, but more often — for example, three intense 10-minute chunks instead of one 30-minute stint. A study published in 2019 in the journal Sports Medicine found there was generally no difference in health benefits between short, snack-size spurts of exercise several times a day versus one longer bout. In fact, for weight loss, multiple short bursts spread out during the day may provide greater benefit because it increases the number of times we boost our metabolism and burn calories.
- Don’t discard the liquid on top of your yogurt.
The clear liquid that can collect in your yogurt carton is whey protein, a natural part of dairy products. If you dump it, you’re missing out on precious probiotics, calcium and protein. Instead, stir it in. Or you can pour it into your smoothie for extra nutrients.
- Wash your sheets more often.
This is an icky fact — a 2021 study by mattress company Amerisleep found that after a week of being slept on, the bacteria count on sheets registered 5 million per square inch. That’s about 29,000 times more bacteria than on a toilet seat. Pillowcases weren’t much better — they had 3 million. Lab tests of the types of bacteria found on the bedding turned up more than 40 percent of the kind that can cause infections, like pneumonia. Most experts recommend washing sheets at least once a week, but consider doing it more often. Even washing pillowcases two times a week may help keep you healthier.
- Eat a banana a day.
It’s a good source of potassium, which can help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke, a 2014 study of 90,000 postmenopausal U.S. women suggests. Potassium helps our nerves and muscles communicate and offsets sodium’s harmful effects on blood pressure. The Harvard Medical School says that most Americans don’t get enough of this mineral in their diet, so add a banana to your morning oatmeal, or have one after exercise.
- Go green — as in tea.
Hey, coffee lovers, help your brain by subbing a cup of super-healthy green tea once a day for one cup of your beloved java. Numerous studies of green tea have found it rich in powerful antioxidants called catechins that are anti-inflammatory and anticancer, but a 2019 review of green tea research published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences also found several studies suggesting that a daily cup or two of green tea has significant brain benefits, including improved brain function and protection against cognitive decline.
- Two apples a day keeps the doctor away.
Yes, the old adage mentioned just one apple, but these days, adults with high cholesterol may need a little extra help. A 2020 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating two fresh apples daily for eight weeks reduced total cholesterol as well as LDL cholesterol (the bad kind that collects on artery walls) and triglycerides in a group of adults with elevated cholesterol levels. In other words, simply snacking on apples every day could be a deliciously easy solution for reducing your risk of heart disease.
- Be kind to yourself.
Life is stressful, if you hadn’t noticed, especially these last couple of years. (Thanks, COVID-19.) In fact, stress may be your heart’s worst enemy, according to a 2021 study in the journal JAMA. But here’s some good news: A 2021 study in the American Psychological Association journal PsycNet found that mindful self-compassion, a technique for dealing with stress and anxiety, benefits not just the mind but also the heart. Older women who scored higher on a self-compassion test had a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, including healthier carotid arteries, the major vessels in the neck that carry blood to the brain. The findings suggest that “self-compassion is essential for both our mental and physical health,” said the study’s lead author Rebecca Thurston of the University of Pittsburgh. So don’t beat yourself up. Remember to give yourself praise that you’re doing the best you can.
- Bigger muscles, better brain.
Lifting weights doesn’t just improve muscle strength, it may also improve brain strength. A 2019 meta-analysis of two dozen weight-lifting studies found pumping iron resulted in improvements in thinking, reasoning and decision-making. What’s more, a 2020 Australian study published in the journal NeuroImage: Clinical found that six months of intensive strength training for older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s resulted in better mental skills, as well as protecting some brain regions from decline during a year of follow-up. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why strength training is mentally beneficial, but as the study’s senior author Michael Valenzuela of the University of Sydney put it: “The main message is that we can reduce our risk for dementia” through exercise.