health hack
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We’re all trying on some level to look better, feel great, live longer, and generally radiate health. Yet most of us find ourselves foot-dragging at the prospect of a major overhaul to our comfortable routines. What to do? Look for hacks! Health hacks are shortcuts that make getting to our destination a bit less overwhelming.

1. Take a cold shower

Sure, hot showers feel luxurious and will warm you up on a wintry day, but what else do they offer? Um, nothing. It’s cold showers that have an impressive array of benefits. And you need nothing other than a hefty dose of willpower to take advantage of them. One cold shower a day (lukewarm water won’t cut it) will improve circulation, increase metabolism, tighten pores, boost immunity and alertness, and speed recovery from a tough workout. To ease your way in, alternate between hot and cold water, a technique known as the “Scottish Shower.” Or switch over to cold water for the last couple of minutes, just like in the James Bond movies.

2. Try intermittent fasting.

You already fast to some degree without thinking about it (“break-fast,” anyone?), but 8 hours is probably your norm, less if you’re a late-night snacker. Longer bouts of fastinghave been shown to help the body remove toxins, shed pounds, even slow aging. Can’t bear the idea of 24 hours without food? Try the 16:8 technique, a more civilized approach to fasting that involves eating normally until, say, 7 p.m. and then fasting (coffee, tea, and water are fine) until 11 a.m. the next day. Choose any 16-hour period. If you’re trying to lose weight, avoid overeating when your fasting period ends; just resume your normal meals. Yes, you’ll be hungry at first, but adjusting won’t take long.

3. Eat without distractions.

For most of us, mealtime is spent multi-tasking: We mindlessly munch on chips while scanning Facebook or inhale a plate of pasta while watching Netflix. Mindful eating is the opposite. It’s the practice of paying full attention to the eating experience: recognizing your hunger and fullness cues, noticing your emotions, observing the aromas, flavors, and textures of the foods. When you eat mindfully, you naturally slow down, eat less, and enjoy improved digestion. The first step toward becoming a mindful eater is to remove distractions, so close your laptop, put away your phone, shut off the TV, and turn your full attention to the food in front of you.

4. Breathe into your belly.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that breathing is something you already have the hang of. Yet most of us take shallow breaths, inhaling just as much oxygen as we need to stay alive. Breathing deeply into your belly — “diaphragmatic breathing” — for just 5 to 10 minutes a day can lower blood pressure, slow the aging process, and improve mental focus and sleep quality. Lie on your back, close your eyes, think good thoughts, and send big, deep breaths to your belly. To enhance focus, place a moderately heavy object, like a kettlebell or encyclopedia, on your belly, and notice it rise and fall with each breath.

5. Brush your teeth with coconut oil.

Coconut oil has become popular for its seemingly endless list of uses (coffee creamer! deodorant! sunscreen!). One of the lesser known uses is as a toothpaste, either straight up or mixed with baking soda. Coconut oil boasts both antibacterial and whitening properties while being free from the chemicals, foaming agents, and artificial flavors found in most commercial toothpastes. If you live in a hot climate, keep your coconut oil in the fridge so it stays solid, and if you don’t want clogged drains, avoid spitting it down the drain.

6. Eat dark chocolate.

It’s no longer wishful thinking: Study after study has proven that a daily dose of about 1.6 oz of dark chocolate is good for your heart, brain, and overall health. But before you rush out to buy a 3-pound bag of Hershey’s assorted miniatures, let’s be clear on the type of chocolate the science is talking about. It’s the cacao that packs the healthy punch, not the sugar, milk, and cream typically mixed in. Choose brands with cacao content of at least 70%. Even better, make it yourself with raw organic cacao powder, coconut oil, and maple syrup.

7. Don’t sit still.

Do you sit at a desk or stand at a counter all day pretty much frozen in position? If so, you’re probably feeling chronic stiffness, even pain, in your lower back, neck, shoulders, or feet. Your body is designed for movement and can be manipulated into countless positions, so no wonder it complains when you park it for hours. Aim to rotate through different body positions every 20 minutes: Stand up straight, stand on one leg, sit on a chair, sit on the floor with your legs crossed and then straight or to one side, sit on your knees, sit on your feet, stand up and stretch. If your job doesn’t allow for that much flexibility, fidget as much as possible while seated, and save the creative positions for home, when you’d normally sit on the couch or in a chair at the kitchen table. Yes, you can even eat while sitting on the floor!

8. Look into the distance.

When you look near (like you are right now), the ciliary muscles in your eyes contract and stay that way. Eventually those muscles tire, triggering eyestrain and headaches. When you look into the distance, however, the ciliary muscles relax. This is because we evolved as hunters and gatherers; our eye muscles are most relaxed when we use our distance vision. So, for every 20 minutes you’re glued to a computer, phone, book, or TV, make a habit of taking a 20-second break to look as far into the distance as you can.

9. Enforce a “no-tech” rule.

With the exception of toddlers and folks living off the grid, most of us struggle with some degree of technology dependence. We’re hardwired to respond to our devices peeping at us, but often the reward is short-lived — and not even rewarding. It never feels great to interrupt a conversation with a friend to read a reminder text from your dentist. Plus, our digital dependence contributes to stress, depression, and sleep deprivation. For a couple hours each day, put your devices out of sight and earshot, and play a board game, read a real book, cook something, go out for coffee, walk in the park, or (gasp!) have a conversation with someone you live with. You might be surprised at how relaxing and freeing it feels to be untethered from technology.

10. Drink coffee.

Coffee has fallen in and out of favor among health experts for decades, but recent scientific evidence has tipped the scale in its favor. The consensus now is that coffee is good for you — great news for the 82% of Americans who drink it every day. Still, let’s be sure we’re all envisioning the same beverage: black coffee. Forget the milk, whip, caramel sauce, and sugar. To reap health benefits, such as a decreased risk of cancer, improved mental focus, and possible protection from Alzheimer’s disease, drink 3 to 5 cups of black coffee daily.

11. Scrub with sea salt.

About 96.5% of the world’s water is salt water, containing roughly the same concentration of minerals and nutrients as the water in our own bodies. So, it’s no wonder sea salt is a natural ally to balance, protect, and restore the body and skin. One of the major differences between sea salt and ordinary salt is the mineral content. Sea salt is rich with magnesium, calcium, sodium, and potassium; minerals vital to our skin’s health and function. If you’ve ever returned from an ocean vacation with clearer, more radiant skin, you can credit sea salt. Mix a good quality fine sea salt (no sharp edges!) with a light oil or a gentle cleanser like Cetaphil, and start scrubbing.

12. Have a mindful moment.

Mindfulness meditation is all the rage, so you probably know all about its many benefits. But if you really don’t enjoy meditating or can’t seem to practice consistently, take a daily mindful moment instead. Pick an activity so mundane that your mind typically wanders while doing it: brushing your teeth, walking to the bus, washing the dishes, blow-drying your hair, taking a shower. As you go through the motions, stay in the moment by using your senses — notice the soap bubbles glistening on the dishes, the hum of the blow dryer, the sensation of your feet making contact with the ground. When you catch yourself thinking about your boss or your lunch plans, gently bring yourself back to the task at hand.

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