9 ways to get healthier in 2024 without putting in much effort

9 ways to get healthier in 2024 without putting in much effort

Walking, biking, or even riding a scooter to get from one place to another increases non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT. Small movements can make a positive difference in your overall health.

Laura Zhao for NPR

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Laura Zhao for NPR

Walking, biking, or even riding a scooter to get from one place to another increases non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT. Small movements can make a positive difference in your overall health.

Laura Zhao for NPR

Sometimes, trying to get healthy feels like just another item on an exhausting, endless to-do list. Here on the NPR health team, we don’t want to add to anyone’s stress. The good news is that it doesn’t take a huge fitness effort or a heroic commitment to good habits to stay healthy. Often small changes can make a big difference.

In 2023, our reporters report on the latest research on how to stay healthy without worrying about it. We’ve highlighted these in our Living Better series, about what it takes to get healthy in America.

Here are some of our best health tips for 2023.

1. Get healthier without going to the gym

Hate the gym? that’s cool. Scientists now say that you can get many of the health benefits associated with exercise simply by increasing how active you are in your daily life. Think about movements that require little effort, such as mopping the floor, strolling down the grocery aisle, climbing the stairs, swinging your leg up and down on your desk, or stirring a pot while cooking. Researchers have studied this type of movement and given it the title NEAT, which stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. Learn how NEAT can keep you healthier and how to get more of it.

2. Turn hunger into satisfaction with this cheap food

Weight loss medications like Ozempic mimic the hormone our bodies naturally make to reduce food cravings. What if we could increase levels of this hormone (called GLP-1) through our diet? Whether we’re trying to lose weight or not, many of us want to feel full longer after eating and be less committed to sweet (or salty) cravings.

It turns out that, yes, you can increase satiety hormones by eating more foods that contain fiber — especially what’s known as fermentable fiber, which is found in foods like oats, rye, whole wheat, and many legumes. Read the full story about satiety hormones in your body.

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In addition, there are a host of other reasons to eat more fiber: it helps control blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol and inflammation. It is associated with a lower risk of issues such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. The good news is that foods containing fiber are often cheap. Adding more fiber to your meals is not as difficult as it seems, we have some tips.

3. Small acts of joy can have big rewards

Small moments add up. From chatting with a stranger, to taking time to reframe a bad day and finding the silver lining, to noticing the beauty of nature, science shows that moments like these make a difference in your well-being. Even petting other people’s dogs can give you a boost. The recently launched Big Joy Project from UC Berkeley is collecting data proving that we can change our emotional state by embracing these “small acts” of happiness.

Learn more about how to increase your happiness quotient – ​​plus how to get involved in an ongoing citizen science project.

4. Beat the dopamine and screens

Over the past few years, neuroscientists have begun to better understand what happens in our brains when we can’t stop browsing social media or stop shopping online, eating fast food or playing video games. These types of activities lead to an increase in the neurotransmitter dopamine. It is now clear that instead of giving us pleasure, dopamine stimulates cravings, the desire for more. It has a powerful, albeit short-term, effect on our willpower. Understanding how this works can help change how you or your children manage your behavior.

Here are four ways to hit dopamine and ease cravings for screens or sweets.

5. Learn from the Japanese way of life

When NPR’s Yuki Noguchi visited her parents in Japan recently, she was averaging six miles a day running errands with her parents on foot. This is because Japanese cities are designed for easy walking, and most people use public transportation and walk wherever they want to go. And that’s not all: fresh food is highly valued there, so even ready-made meals in convenience stores are nutritious and do not contain additives. The country has a “default design” that supports health and makes healthy choices automatic. It’s not easy, in many cases, to recreate that in the United States, but there are ways to adopt parts of the lifestyle — walking whenever you can, choosing fresh foods rather than canned — and live like the Japanese.

6. Fight loneliness through creativity

Loneliness is linked to all kinds of health problems, including an increased risk of heart attacks and dementia. And establishing new social relationships — even with casual acquaintances — can counteract this. But how do you get out of an isolated rut?

Jeremy Noble, MD, primary care physician and author of the new book Not a single projectHe has an idea: Be artistic. Research shows that making or even viewing art reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increases levels of feel-good hormones, such as endorphins and oxytocin. In other words, it can put you in a relaxed mood, which can help create an engaging atmosphere for communication.

And you don’t have to be Picasso; Almost any creative work will do, including cooking, gardening, and even painting. Here are five tips from Nobel’s new book on how to communicate through creativity.

7. Find a therapist you can afford

You can compare finding a therapist to searching for an apartment in a crowded housing market. Demand is high. Availability is limited. It takes perseverance, resilience, and the knowledge that you may not be able to achieve everything you want. Some people get too scared about the prospect of giving up, especially if they’re trying to find someone their insurance covers or someone who’s low-cost. Meanwhile, you may have more options than you know. Here’s a step-by-step guide to finding a therapist that fits your needs and budget.

8. Reduce ultra-processed foods in your diet

Read through the ingredient list of your favorite packaged snack, and you’ll find some things you never stock in your kitchen pantry, like additives that thicken, emulsify, stabilize or preserve food. Not to mention the high levels of sugar, fat and sodium. Eating too many ultra-processed foods such as soft drinks, TV dinners and packaged desserts is linked to health problems such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Most of us probably eat more of these foods than we realize: Ultra-processed foods make up nearly 60% of what an adult in the United States eats and nearly 70% of what children eat.

Do you need to overhaul your entire family’s diet? Researchers say to start cutting back. After all, there’s a reason why busy families love packaged foods: they’re convenient, delicious, and affordable. So how can you make healthy choices without spending a lot of money or cooking late at night? Start by learning how to identify ultra-processed foods and then try these easy ways to cut back, plus some smart swaps for kids’ favorite junk foods.

9. Management of back and neck pain

If you suffer from back or neck pain, you probably know that hunching over screens doesn’t help. You may have tried to improve your ergonomic settings and posture, but exercise research suggests another strategy: doing short bouts of movement throughout the day to release tension and stress in the body.

When the brain feels physical or emotional stress, the body releases hormones that make the muscles tense and tight. Movement breaks down the stress response by increasing blood flow to muscles, tendons and ligaments and sending nutrients to the spine.

Here are five pain-prevention exercises developed by fitness specialists at NASA, an agency in which people work out in high-stress sitting positions.

And sometimes living better with back pain is a matter of making adjustments to how you do the things you love – we’ve got clever hacks for cooking with back pain and adjustments to make so you can get outside and garden.

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