Healthy Habits to Improve Your Life (cont.)

In addition to preventing disease, flossing and brushing can help keep your pearly whites intact for more than just cosmetic reasons. Teeth help you chew food, speak properly, and smile -- which, according to Price, can help you keep your dignity.

Healthy Habit No. 7: Take Up a Hobby

Look up the word "hobby" in the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, and you will find the definition as "a pursuit outside one's regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation."

Since they are relaxing activities, hobbies are usually enjoyable. Some people find joy in craftwork, bird watching, sports, going to flea markets, walking in the park, or playing cards.

The joy may help people live healthier and recover better from illness. For one thing, taking part in hobbies can burn calories, more so than just sitting in front of the TV.

In a study of people who had undergone surgery, Jenkins found that people who were involved in hobbies before their operation had better recovery six months later, compared with people who did not have hobbies.

The participants with hobbies tended to have more drive and interest in things and other people, says Jenkins. "It was a more active orientation to life."

Healthy Habit No. 8: Protect Your Skin

Our skin starts to age as soon as we are born and, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the best way to protect it and look younger is to stay out of the sun.

The sun has harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that can cause wrinkles, dryness, and age spots. Overexposure can cause sunburn, skin texture changes, dilated blood vessels, and skin cancers.

Avoiding the sun, however, is not always ideal or practical. To reduce the risk of skin damage, the AAD offers the following tips:

  • Always wear sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.
  • Don a hat with a brim and wear other protective clothing.
  • Don't deliberately sunbathe.
  • Try to avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Healthy Habit No. 9: Snack the Healthy Way

The ADA recommends five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day as part of a healthy diet. These plant foods can do many things to boost good health, including:

  • Reduce the risk of some cancers
  • Beat the signs of aging
  • Improve memory
  • Promote heart health
  • Enhance the immune system

One way to incorporate fruits and veggies into your diet is to have them as snacks. "If you can do one thing [to improve your health], concentrate on getting fruits and veggies," says Johnson. "They are low in calories and high in nutrients."

She says baby carrots and cut-up produce make tasty, convenient munchies. Other healthful snacks include low-fat yogurt and nuts (in moderation).

The best time to snack is when you are hungry between meals, says Johnson. But beware: Cravings could easily be mistaken for hunger cues, especially for people who are dieting.

Healthy Habit No. 10: Drink Water and Eat Dairy

Water and milk are essential fluids for good health, but they can also help with shedding pounds.

The body needs water to keep properly hydrated and individuals vary widely in how much water they need. Joints need it to stay in motion, and vital organs such as the heart, brain, kidney, and liver need it to work properly.

If you don't get enough water, the body goes into emergency mode, and clings to every single water molecule it can find, reports the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center. The stored molecules appear as extra weight. The weight is only released once the body gets enough water.

The calcium in dairy, on the other hand, is known to be important for strong bones and teeth. Studies have also shown it can help prevent high blood pressure, kidney stones, heart disease, and colon cancer.

In the weight loss arena, three 8-ounce glasses of low-fat or fat-free milk appear to encourage body fat loss while maintaining muscle mass, according to the ADA. The dairy consumption must be part of a balanced reduced-calorie meal plan.

Healthy Habit No. 11: Drink Tea

"Decaffeinated tea is better," says Fleming, noting that the caffeinated variety can be dehydrating, and sugary drinks can lead to weight gain.

There is some evidence that tea may help in improving memory, and preventing cavities, cancer, and heart disease. Fleming says, though, that the overall research is still inconclusive.

"There may well be some beneficial effects of tea, particularly the potential antioxidant effect, but we don't have great data on that right now that is that specific."

However, there's no doubt that a cool iced tea can be a refreshing treat during hot days. Try flavoring your tea with juices, fruits, cinnamon sticks, ginger, and other condiments.

Healthy Habit No. 12: Take a Daily Walk

We already mentioned the merits of exercise in habit No. 5. Now, here's a tip on how to incorporate physical activity into your daily life: WALK.

We're not talking about taking the time out of your busy schedule to work out -- that's important, too -- but infusing life- and limb-saving movement into your waking hours.

"Just move. Pace during phone calls, while you're brushing your teeth, while watching your son's soccer game," says Bryant, noting that every 20 steps a person takes is 1 calorie burned.

An eight-year study of 13,000 people also showed that people who walked 30 minutes daily had a significantly reduced chance of premature death compared with those who rarely exercised, reports the American Council on Exercise.

And there are plenty of opportunities to move those legs:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Walk to the store.
  • Window shop at the mall.
  • Leave your desk and visit your co-worker instead of sending him an email.
  • Walk and talk with friends instead of meeting for a meal.



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