The beginning of a new year is life’s restart button. But if you're like the overwhelming majority of people, your resolutions for 2018 will turn out pretty much like they have every other year — ignored and forgotten.
The problem with most healthy lifestyle changes is that they’re boring. Let’s be honest: Nobody wants to go to the gym. And a salad will never be much competition for a gooey slice of pizza. There’s got to be an easier way!
Here are six small and surprising ways you can change your body and mind this year — no gym membership required.
1. Stop Grinding Your Teeth and Save Your Hearing
Grinding your teeth may seem like a harmless habit, but according to body educator Yamuna Zake, it can lead to hearing loss. Your ears are located next to the joints connecting your jawbone to your skull, and all that clenching and grinding can be linked to hearing loss or even cardiovascular problems, according to a Greek study.
“Place your fingers on each side of your jaw, directly in front of your ears, and hold it there for one minute,” Zake says. “If you notice the muscles tighten, you could be unconsciously clenching all the time.”
2. Stop Stressing About Stress — It’s Not That Bad
Bette Liu, M.D., an epidemiologist and professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia, conducted a 10-year study of nearly 720,000 women in their late 50s and early 60s, monitoring their health and personal happiness. We found that “being happier doesn’t make you live longer, and being stressed doesn’t increase your risk of death,” Liu says.
What?? For years, we’ve been told that happiness and longevity go hand in hand. That’s a lot of pressure to feel happy all the time. What a relief not to feel guilty about being in a bad mood — occasionally.
3. Be Kind to Strangers and Boost Your Immune System
They say nice guys finish last. If by “last” you mean “the last to die,” then, yeah, that’s true.
Michael Poulin, associate professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and Stephanie L. Brown, associate professor of psychology at State University of New York at Stony Brook, have studied how even small acts of kindness, like an unsolicited compliment or helping somebody in need, can reduce your risk of dying. Helping others “serves as a stress buffer,” they write, and other research has shown that caregiving can release beneficial hormones that protects the immune system.
4. Go Shopping and Live Longer
A study by Taiwanese researchers compared the mortality rates of elderly people based on how often they went shopping — the non-Amazon variety, where you have to leave the house and move your legs. The people who went shopping most frequently had a 27 percent lower risk of dying than those who did it all on their keyboard.
It doesn’t mean you have to spend more money. Just break up those trips, going out more often for fewer things. Make a Target run just for toilet paper, and return the next day for batteries.
5. Skip the Milk for Stronger Bones
“As much as the dairy industry might like you to believe that drinking milk can build strong bones, it’s a myth that the science doesn’t support,” says Neal Barnard, M.D., a groundbreaking diabetes researcher and a New York Times best-selling author of The Cheese Trap: How Breaking a Surprising Addiction Will Help You Lose Weight, Gain Energy, and Get Healthy.
One Harvard study followed nearly 78,000 women for 12 years and found no evidence that increased consumption of milk prevents bone fractures or osteoporosis. Barnard suggests getting your calcium from green leafy vegetables like kale and collards.
6. Have a Guiltless Piece of Cake
Elaine LaLanne has spent her life devoted to moderation and self-control. But on her 80th birthday, she told her husband, Jack, “I’m going to have a piece of cake. If I die, I die.”
If you gain an extra pound or two from that cake, you could be doing your body a favor. According to researchers at Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, people who were slightly overweight, with a BMI of 25 to 30, were 17 percent less likely to die during the 12-year study.
Above all, moderation is key. As Jack LaLanne told his wife when she insisted on eating cake, “It’s not what you do some of the time that counts; it’s what you do most of the time.”
Eric Spitznagel has written for Playboy, Vanity Fair and the New York Times Magazine, among others.