13 Healthy Habits to Improve Your Life

Disregard them, and you may well be taking a big gamble with your mental and emotional well-being

By Dulce Zamora
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

  1. Eat Breakfast Every Morning
  2. Add Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids to Your Diet
  3. Get Enough Sleep
  4. Make Social Connections
  5. Exercise for Better Health
  6. Practice Good Dental Hygiene
  7. Take Up a Hobby
  8. Protect Your Skin From Skin Damage
  9. Snack the Healthy Way as part of a Healthy Diet
  10. Drink Water and Eat Dairy
  11. Drink Tea
  12. Take a Daily Walk
  13. Plan

There are 13 ways to boost your chances of living a happy, healthy life. More can be added to this list, but, for simplicity's sake, we'll stick with this typically unlucky number.

Instead of bringing misfortune, however, the 13 habits promise a life of vigor and vivacity. There are, of course, no guarantees, but many of the practices mentioned here have been published in scientific journals. Disregard them, and you may well be taking a big gamble with your mental and emotional well-being.

Healthy Habit No. 1: Eat Breakfast Every Morning

Breakfast eaters are champions of good health. Research shows people who have a morning meal tend to take in more vitamins and minerals, and less fat and cholesterol. The result is often a leaner body, lower cholesterol count, and less chance of overeating.

"That one act [of eating breakfast] seems to make a difference in people's overall weight," says Melinda Johnson, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). She says breakfast can hold off hunger pangs until lunchtime and make high-calorie vending machine options less enticing.

Not only that, researchers at the 2003 American Heart Association conference reported that breakfast eaters are significantly less likely to be obese and get diabetes compared with nonbreakfast eaters.

Another study in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition showed that people who consumed breakfast cereal every day reported feeling better both physically and mentally than those who rarely ate cereal in the morning.

For kids, breakfast appears to enhance alertness, attention, and performance on standardized achievement tests, reports the ADA.

To get the full benefits of breakfast, the Mayo Clinic recommends a meal with carbohydrates, protein, and a small amount of fat. They say that because no single food gives you all of the nutrients you need, eating a variety of foods is essential to good health.

Yet, even with so much scientific support that breakfast does the body good; many people still make excuses not to eat in the morning. They include not having enough time and not feeling hungry. For these people, Johnson suggests tailoring breakfast to the day.

"When I'm getting ready in the morning, I don't really want to take the time to eat breakfast because that would mean sacrificing sleep," says Johnson. "So I bring my breakfast with me, and I know I have an hour when I'm reading emails in the office when I can eat it. By that time, I'm hungry because I've been up for almost a couple of hours."

Healthy Habit No. 2: Add Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids to Your Diet

The AHA recommends a serving of fish two times per week.

Besides being a good source of protein and a food relatively low in the bad type of dietary fat called saturated fat, fish has omega-3 fatty acids -- which have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon, are rich in two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Foods such as tofu, soybeans, canola, walnuts, flaxseed, and their oils contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which convert to omega-3 in the body. Even though the benefits of ALA are controversial, the AHA still recommends foods containing it as part of a healthy diet.

In addition to their heart-health benefits, there is some evidence that omega-3 fatty acids may also soothe an overactive immune system, says Johnson. Even though this benefit is still being studied, she says there appears to be a link between getting more omega-3s in your diet and reducing allergies, asthma, eczema, and autoimmune disorders.