Each person’s body is an incredible organism, capable of myriad impressive feats—if we so allow, that is. Unfortunately, because the human body is all about adaptation, it quickly deteriorates when neglected. But the counter to that is we have a lot of control over how healthy our bodies are, and that opportunity should not be taken for granted.
Below are seven simple things that can all become habits. Pick one or two, and repeat them often and consistently for a month straight. Around then, they’ll become a natural part of your day/week. Then start adding more. Most take only a few minutes, so there’s no excuse to skip any.
Strong hands and shoulders with full ranges of motion are important foundations for anyone who wants to follow a proper training program. So do this: hang from any pull-up bar with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Do so until your hands want to let go. Try different grip positions (hand width and wrist angle) too.
Perform one to five sets up to seven per week to reap benefits, including increased grip strength, enhanced shoulder and rotator cuff health, and spinal decompression. It’s a highly functional stretch that also builds real strength—now that’s a win-win.
This is an excellent warm-up and/or cool-down movement.
Tight hips are an increasingly common issue among today’s ever-sitting population. And that can cause a host of additional problems, including lower back pain, poor posture, and a shocking inability to hold a deep squat—once a natural and oft-used position by our ancestors. This lack of mobility does not bode well for heavy squats at the gym.
Aim to hold the deepest squat you can while being as relaxed as possible. If you need support to go low while stretching this way, grab something weighted like a table leg with your hands to balance. Start with up 10-30 seconds for a set. Add time each day, working your way up to multiple minutes. Perform a set when you wake up and another set before you sleep.
Up to three-quarters of people in North America are chronically dehydrated. We are consuming enough liquid, but too much of it contains caffeine or alcohol, and our diets have become higher in sodium in recent decades. Dehydration’s negative side effects include fatigue, foggy memory, and irritability. And the old adage is usually true: if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.
Beer and coffee are simply no match for the magic of H2O.
After sleep, you’re almost certainly in a state of at least minor dehydration. Caffeine has major benefits but your morning coffee isn’t helping replenish your system with the right fluid. Therefore, the best thing you can do for yourself upon waking is to take in a nice, tall glass of water. From there on, sip water throughout the day. Having a full glass of water before a meal will help you feel more full.
Most people should aim to consume a minimum of two litres of water per day—not counting other drinks or food. Sweating from heat, exercise, or even stress demands an uptake in consumption. Aim to consume only filtered water to avoid contaminants.
We all know that sitting is bad for us. A sedentary lifestyle, often led by 9-to-5 desk jobs, has major implications on weight, cardio, and metabolism, among other aspects of health. And physical exercise is unable to negate the negative impact extended periods of sitting inflicts on our bodies (and mind!), reports James Hamblin in The Atlantic.
Research confirms a sedentary lifestyle is correlated with higher incidences of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Sitting triggers all manner of serious, long-term impacts: bad posture by causing anterior pelvic tilt, poor hip mobility, and a slower metabolism.
Standing is better than sitting. Movement is better still. Standing, at least, keeps your muscles active and your metabolism revved, burning anywhere from 25 to 50 calories hourly versus sitting. Stand up and stretch for at least couple of minutes each and every single hour while sitting, lying down, or otherwise sedentary.
Several recently published books, including The Nature Fix by Florence Williams, make strong cases for nature as our ideal gym. They cite studies which point to the benefits of training outside: better mood, clearer mind, more creative thinking. This means you may enjoy your workout more and add more variety to your routine.
There’s also evidence that the effects of performing physical activity in nature can trigger positive mood swings that can last for days, so you can enjoy recovery day more too. Consider trail running, hiking, or mountain biking regularly.
STRETCH AND ROLL
Foam rolling, also known as fascia training, is essentially like performing a self-massage. A foam roller is ideal for sweeping big muscles like the quads and hamstrings, while a lacrosse ball or similar can work wonders on the feet and neck.
Newbies can start with something soft but everyone should graduate to hard materials—some discomfort is necessary to gain the benefits of self-myofascial release, which includes more relaxed and loose muscles, as well as improved blood flow, which aids recovery.
Include rolling as part of your warm-up, cool down, or perform the activity on its own.
You don’t need to workout every day. But just because you aren’t in the gym, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get the heart pumping. The heart will welcome the work, in exchange providing you with cardiovascular health and lower risk of major health concerns like cancer and stroke.
Resistance training is named so because you are resisting a force—most often gravity. Weightlifting is for absolutely everyone, but it’s not the only option. A steep hike, especially carrying a load, is excellent resistance training for your legs, core, and back.
Exercise has a positive effect on our metabolism, which is important for weight management, especially as we age. Your metabolism cannot be improved through gimmicky approaches such as hot chilli peppers or coconut oil, according to myth busters at the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Physical activity, however, has a marked impact on metabolism.
WALK IT OFF
Walking, especially outside and particularly amongst nature, seldom feels like exercise. The restorative effects seem to more than negate the actual effort of moving forward.
That is in part because it’s such a natural movement for us as humans. There are several benefits to regular walking—at any age—beyond just going through the motions, though.
One study found that those who walk five days a week required 43% fewer sick days from work than those walking just once per week, suggesting a boost in immune function. Among the walkers who did get sick, it was noted that their sickness period was shorter, and their symptoms milder. That’s basically a superpower.
Walking promotes blood flow, which helps the body recover from prior exertion—and may be key to maintaining stability and sharpness of mind, too. A more recent study highlights this extraordinary benefit we can obtain from the simple and easy act of regular walking.
As we age, cognitive decline becomes an increasing threat. Memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease are just some of the tragic ways our otherwise healthy lives could be trifled with. It’s not clear what causes mild cognitive impairment in all cases, but one leading factor could be blood flow to the brain.
The yearlong study, published in the National Library of Medicine, found that older people with early signs of memory loss were able to improve their cognitive scores by walking five days per week for at least 20 minutes. Increased blood flow to the brain was noted in patients with improved scores.
A different NLM study from 2013 found something similar: That physical active older men possess superior blood saturation compared with sedentary men of the same age. This proved true whether the men were active or at rest. And yet another study, comparing sedentary and endurance athletes, concluded that greater blood flow in the brain was associated with better scores on cognitive tests.
With virtually no downside associated with regular walking, it’s easy for us to recommend this activity to everyone. And yes, other exercises such as cycling, hiking, and swimming can absolutely work too, so feel free to include plenty of variety in your movement routine.
A study led by Pedro Saint-Maurice of the National Cancer Institute in the US tracked thousands of middle-aged Americans over several years. The conclusion? Reductions in mortality come as a result of overall physical activity, “independent of how activity is accumulated.”
The results of the study suggest that however you want to get your exercise in is just fine—the distribution is up to the individual, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“Despite the historical notion that physical activity needs to be performed for a minimum duration to elicit meaningful health benefits, we provide novel evidence that sporadic [physical activity] is similarly associated with substantially reduced mortality,” the authors note.