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9 Steps to Improve Your Health

Martina Navratilova offers tips for healthy living

Get Enough Shut-Eye

Numerous studies over the years have shown that sleeping too little increases appetite, compromises insulin sensitivity (which can lead to weight gain) and affects hunger hormones. To help yourself stay in shape, do what you can to get a minimum of six hours of sound sleep each night.

Jose Luis Pelaez, Inc./Blend Images/Corbis

Less Is More

Exercise scientists have demonstrated that the first 20 minutes of working out, especially if you're a habitual couch potato, will bestow most of the health benefits of exercise, from greater longevity to lower risk of disease.

Dave and Les Jacobs/Blend Images/Corbis

Food Strengthens Bones

We're bombarded with ads urging women to take anti-osteoporosis medications or to get our fill of calcium supplements. But foods, not pills, are the true bone builders. In research at the University of Surrey in England, women who ate a lot of fruits and vegetables, which are rich in bone-friendly minerals such as magnesium and potassium, had stronger bones than those who habitually shunned vegetables. Research suggests that if you eat broccoli at least three times a week, for example, you greatly reduce your risk of hip fracture.

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Chewing Gum Boosts Your Brain Power

That's right: Chewing gum may make you smarter and more alert. Studies have shown that this habit boosts memory by 35 percent — and can dramatically decrease physical and mental fatigue.

Tim Pannell/Corbis

Own a Dog

Having a dog as a pet is good for your health. Research has shown that dog owners tend to be healthier than other people. Some of the benefits include lower blood pressure and mental well-being. I've owned many dogs over the course of my life, so I should be pretty healthy!

Don Mason/Corbis

Don't Fear the Scale

Want to keep those lost pounds off? Weigh yourself several times a week. In studies of "successful losers," those who weighed themselves regularly after losing weight kept pounds off over the course of a year, while people who avoided the scale put on an average of nine pounds.

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Enjoy Chocolate

I used to think chocolate was bad for your health. Boy, was I surprised when I read that eating chocolate improves insulin levels, reduces blood pressure, lowers triglycerides and enhances HDL, the good-guy cholesterol. Be prudent, though. Don't go overboard on this wonderful treat!

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Cry Yourself a River

It's no secret that laughter is good for us, but the big surprise is that crying may be just as good. Investigators at the University of South Florida say most people feel better after a good cry, probably because crying releases chemicals that accumulate in our bodies after a stressful event. My advice: Let yourself shed some tears and don't hold back. Also, a sad movie that makes you weep, ironically, might be a good health boost.

Lawrence Manning/Corbis

Put Off Retirement

Rather than fully retire, try to keep working part time. A University of Michigan study found that those who stayed employed — at least part time — have fewer health issues than those who stop working altogether. I've "retired" a couple of times, but never could stay fully retired. I love staying in the game, whatever it is, and I'm hoping this will help me live longer.

Diego Cervo/Blend Images RM/Getty Images

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