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Contrary to popular opinion, bigger isn’t always better. In fact, when it comes to making changes to your diet or lifestyle, minor achievable steps may lead to lasting results that can improve your overall health. A Stanford University researcher suggests that the best way to develop lifelong good habits is to start small and build on that success. Read on for some simple suggestions to benefit your mind and body.

1. Sign off social media 

Yes, Facebook is a great way to keep tabs on family and friends, but all of those vacation photos can lead to feelings of jealousy or inadequacy. According to a 2019 Modern Wealth Survey done by Charles Schwab, more than a third of Americans said their spending habits are influenced by what they see on social media. Many younger respondents also said that they spend more than they can afford in order to enjoy time with friends.

2. Put down the pizza crust

Even if you aren’t on a low-carb diet, it’s still wise to skimp on bread products, as they can be sneaky sources of sodium.

3. Keep a gratitude journal

Psychology researchers have found a strong connection between gratitude and happiness. One study found that participants who regularly wrote down what they were grateful for were more optimistic, exercised more, and had fewer visits to the doctor.

4. Eat greener

Dish up a sizable side of nutrient-rich vegetables with dinner every night. Even one daily serving of leafy greens—like kale, spinach, and lettuce—can help slow age-related cognitive decline.

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5. Enjoy a cup (or three) of tea

Studies have linked drinking tea with a reduced risk of stroke, depression, diabetes, and coronary heart disease. Green tea seems to be especially beneficial. Make sure to skip the sweetener to avoid extra sugar and calories.

6. Up your protein

Protein is a key part of most nutritious diets, but it is especially important for middle-aged adults, with experts linking higher protein levels to improved physical health and functionality in the later years.

7. Don’t forget to floss

Good dental hygiene helps more than your teeth. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, research has connected periodontal disease with increased risk of heart disease and stroke, and it may exacerbate existing heart conditions. 

8. Buy seasonal produce 

Eating fruits and vegetables at their peak helps you spend less (grocery stores offer lower prices in season) and eat better, as produce is at its top nutritional value and tastes best. Visit seasonalfoodguide.org to see what is in season.

9. Move it more

Couch potatoes, this one is for you: Prolonged sitting has been linked to heart disease and mortality risk, among other health concerns. Researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine found that adding just two minutes every hour of walking or lighter activities like gardening or cleaning can help negate the adverse effects of sitting too much.

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10. Explore a new hobby

Discovering an engaging interest may decrease stress, add fun and excitement to daily life, and lower risk for health problems such as dementia. 

11. Watch a funny movie

Laughter is indeed the best medicine, especially when it comes to your heart. Blood vessels dilate when you enjoy a big laugh, improving cardiovascular health. Laughter can also help stress and may even relieve pain.

12. Start a garden

Gardening offers many benefits beyond fresh air and fresher produce. Studies have connected tending to a garden with lowered stress, improved depression, and reduced dementia risk.

13. Uncross your knees

Sitting with your legs crossed at the knees is bad for your blood pressure, although researchers found no significant increase in pressure when legs were crossed at the ankles. 

14. Read a book

A Yale University School of Public Health study found that regular book readers—more than three and a half hours a week—had a 23 percent better life expectancy compared to nonreaders. Enjoying a work of fiction may also improve empathy, which can lower stress and help strengthen personal connections.

15. Drink your milk

A 2009 study found that drinking milk can decrease your risk of dying from coronary heart disease and stroke by up to 15 to 20 percent. One noted longevity expert, who lived to be 105 years old, regularly drank milk at breakfast and lunch (often adding in some cookies for good measure).

An extended version of this story was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of eHealth’s Flourish magazine. eHealth is a national insurance agency that helps people with Medicare find the right health insurance at the right price. Diablo Custom Publishing (DCP) writes, designs, and prints the magazine for eHealth, and it was recently recognized as Best New Publication with a Maggie Award. Learn more about eHealth here.