5 Small Changes That Will Actually Make Your Mind and Body Healthier.
September is the new January, say health and wellness pros, who see a flood of new patients and clients when the anything-goes dog days of summer are over and the back-to-school vibe kicks in. That’s a good thing—you can ride that get-back-to-it energy and get healthier without needing to do a major overhaul of your habits.
So we asked those pros for the best things you can do right now to end the year healthier in mind and body. Not only did they tell us what the research says and offer their best tips on how to apply it. We got health pros to explain how they take these simple strategies and enact them themselves. Because knowing what you should do and what the research says is one thing, but fitting it into your life is another (as we all know).
So here, we offer the best, simple things you can do right now—you don’t have to do all of them!—that can help you end the year on a healthy high note. You really can help improve your longevity, get a better night’s sleep, get your blood pressure under better control (essential, since high blood pressure is hitting younger and younger these days), and stay mentally fit with these moves. So check out what works to make your body healthier starting now. Then, let the experts’ tips for how they actually get these healthy things done inspire you to put these ideas in motion in your own life.
1. To feel younger: Drop and do 40
A study of more than 1,100 firefighters found that those who could crank out more than 40 pushups had a lower risk of a cardiovascular event, like a heart attack or stroke, over the next decade compared with guys who could do fewer than ten. The ability to hammer out those reps is a sign of total-body muscular strength, which is associated with good blood pressure and metabolic health. Can’t do 40 in a row? Do as many as you can in a row, then rest 10 seconds; repeat this until you’ve done 40 total reps. Do this three times weekly; you’ll build the strength to do 40 straight.
Pro tip: “I start most days with 150 pushups,” says John P. Higgins, M.D., a professor of medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston. He uses the Perfect Pushup tool. “It has handles that rotate on a base, which helps me be more stable and use correct form,” he says. “Ever since doing 150 a day, my upper body, breathing, and abs are better. And it really wakes me up.”
2. To do right by your heart: Focus on high-in-fiber carbs
You might love doughnuts and cookies, aka simple, or refined, carbs—ones that are low in fiber and nutrients and raise your blood sugar quickly—but your heart does not. A new study in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that people whose diets contained the most of these foods had a 14 percent higher risk of a major cardiovascular event over ten years (and a 25 percent higher risk of death from any cause) than people whose diets had the least. What this has to do with your heart: Too many simple, low-in-fiber carbs may lower “good” HDL cholesterol and increase triglycerides and unhealthy LDL cholesterol. Discover some incredibly easy ways to eat more fiber here.
Pro tip: Spencer Kroll, M.D., a fellow of the American Board of Clinical Lipidology, noticed that his patients with unhealthy blood sugar and insulin function also had more dangerous blood fats. So he revised his own diet, taking out simple carbs like bread and pasta to cut carbs from 40 to 20 percent of his calories. The remaining carbs are high in fiber. For instance, at breakfast, “I’ll eat a small bowl of nuts, berries, and a barley cereal,” he says. Other meals include higher-fiber grains like quinoa. “I’ve seen significant improvements in my LDL cholesterol,” Dr. Kroll says. “My triglycerides are better, and my insulin function is, too.”
3. To control your blood pressure: Tackle stress
One of the best ways to be healthier is to get your blood pressure under control (even younger guys need to worry about this now. See what’s behind the rise in millennials’ blood pressure). When it’s high, it can damage nearly every organ in your body. And one of the most overlooked ways to help it stay low is to manage stress. All-day stress may push your BP high while you’re awake, says cardiologist Christopher Kelly, M.D., of UNC Health Care in Raleigh. Even if it becomes normal overnight, it still taxes your system. Stress may also lead to overdrinking, smoking, and other choices that don’t help BP, he says. In addition to seeing a doctor about high BP, carve out time to reduce stress. Meditation isn’t the only way to do it. Lean into your own stress shedders, even if they’re quirky, like making playlists or solving a Rubik’s cube.
Pro tip: “I love going to Costco when I need a break,” says Jamin Brahmbhatt, M.D., a urologist with Orlando Health. “Something about that place is calming. I look at the new TVs and might buy something that I may not always need. It’s been a ritual since high school, when my friends and I would go once a week. It brings back memories of those times.”
4. To finally get some sleep: Relax your brain
A big reason we toss and turn instead of sleeping is that “we are really good at learning how to get pumped up, but we are sometimes not particularly good at winding down and don’t give it its proper space,” explains MH advisor W. Christopher Winter, M.D. “The wind-down process doesn’t need to be elaborate; it’s just important to have a process.” Shut down screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime—their light can suppress your body’s production of sleep-inducing melatonin—and do something relaxing. Stop thinking of that time as doing nothing and fill it with something you’re into: a podcast, sex, music, jotting down a few great things about your day or your partner.
Pro tip: As a technology-free transition to sleep, Raj Dasgupta, M.D., of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, works with his wife on 1,000-piece puzzles for 15 to 30 minutes. “With each puzzle piece found and placed correctly, the puzzler gets a little hit of dopamine, which rewards the brain and, in turn, relaxes the body,” he says.
5. To stop languishing: Find what focuses you
Things might be looking up with Covid, but maybe you feel . . . absolutely effing blah. You’re stagnant. Aimless. You’re not depressed but not excited, either. The term for this is languishing, and “I’m seeing an epidemic of it in my practice,” says New York City psychotherapist Allison Abrams, L.C.S.W. Recognizing and naming it is important and helps validate what you’re feeling. One way to help clear it up is to do something that gets you into a state of flow—when you’re fully absorbed and focused on something outside yourself, she says. Take a step toward whatever gets you there: Maybe it’s fly-fishing, rock climbing, painting, or planting.
Pro tip: “I kiteboard once a week,” says Alex Dimitriu, M.D., founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine in Menlo Park, California. He considers it “wind therapy,” which is his oceanic version of forest bathing, a tradition in Japan of recharging by spending time in the woods. It requires focus, and “the feeling of wind against my body makes me feel fresh and alive, especially during days of working from home,” he says.
This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Men’s Health.