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12 Things You Can Do for Your Health in 5 Minutes or Less

Strapped for time? These bite-size habits can boost your health in just a few minutes

Woman drinking a glass of water in the doorway
Sam Edwards / Getty Images

If your busy schedule keeps getting in the way of better health, we’ve got some good news for you. Experts say there are plenty of things you can do to boost your health that take five minutes or less. In fact, in almost every aspect of wellness, studies show that doing something is better than doing nothing at all.

“If you have a few minutes, take advantage of that time,” says Eric R. Goldberg, M.D., medical director of NYU Langone Internal Medicine Associates. “Don’t just sit there and look at YouTube videos.” Here are some bite-size habits to try.

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1. Take a break from sitting

The more you sit, the more likely you are to die. It sounds harsh, but a raft of studies have confirmed the dangers associated with sitting. A 2017 study, for example, tracked the activity levels of 7,985 adults over age 45 and found that those who had the greatest amount of sedentary time had almost double the mortality risk of those who were less sedentary.

The good news is, the study also found that taking a break from sitting every 30 minutes significantly lowers your risk — and it doesn’t have to be a long break. Try setting an alarm for every half hour to remind yourself to get up and walk around the house for a few minutes.

2. Drink a glass of water

The older you get, the higher your risk of dehydration is. Age blunts your thirst mechanism, so you may not notice as quickly that your body needs fluids, says Ardeshir Hashmi, M.D., section chief of the Center for Geriatric Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. When you don’t get enough fluids, your body systems don’t work as well. Your digestion slows, your kidneys have a harder time filtering out toxins, and your skin gets dry and sallow. You may develop a headache, dizziness, fatigue or brain fog.

Luckily, the fix is quick and simple: Guzzle a glass of water! Even if you don’t feel thirsty, aim to get at least 48 ounces of fluid (six 8-ounce glasses) a day — and more if you’re physically active.

3. Amp up your heart rate

When it comes to exercise, every little bit counts. That’s why federal activity guidelines no longer have a minimum on the amount of physical activity you should get each day. “A few minutes is better than zero,” Goldberg says, “and anything is better than nothing.”

Studies indicate that even just one minute of intense exercise can produce meaningful results. Researchers at McMaster University in Canada found that just 60 seconds of vigorous stair climbing boosted cardiovascular fitness. Another study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology showed that running for a minute improves bone health in women.

Try to work a few short bursts of exercise into your day — run or jog in place for one minute, take a brisk walk around the house or do a quick set of jumping jacks. The benefits are strongest if you work out with some intensity, meaning that you really feel your heart pounding.

Man holding dental floss in front of his face, close-up (Photo by Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
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4. Floss your teeth 

Taking good care of your teeth isn’t just a way to stop cavities and keep your breath fresh. Flossing removes food particles your brush can’t reach and keeps harmful mouth bacteria from entering your bloodstream, potentially causing inflammation and damage. Studies have linked gum disease to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, pancreatic cancer, erectile dysfunction and Alzheimer’s disease.

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Flossing may also help you live longer. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that older women who have a history of gum disease have a 12 percent higher risk of early death. (After you are done flossing, check out other surprising ways you can use dental floss.

5. Build some muscle

People on average lose about 30 percent of their muscle power between ages 50 and 70. But strength training can reverse age-related muscle loss, says Greg Hartley, a board-certified physical therapist in Miami who specializes in geriatric medicine. You can build muscle in just a few minutes, without any special equipment, Hartley notes. Try holding on to the counter and doing a few quick standing push-ups as you wait for the coffee to brew. Or do a set of squats in the bathroom while the shower water heats up.

If you have time for only one exercise, Hartley recommends squats. “You’re strengthening quads and glutes, two of the largest muscles in the body that are very important for getting around,” he says. They’re also important for preventing falls.

6. Try mindful meditation

Mindfulness — the ability to fully focus on the present — has been shown to lower stress, decrease blood pressure and reduce inflammation. You can get the benefits even if you just have a few minutes, says Julie Potiker, a mindfulness expert and author of Life Falls Apart, but You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm in the Midst of Chaos. There are many different ways to be mindful. You could close your eyes and pay attention to all of your senses for a few minutes, or listen to a short, guided meditation using a smartphone app.

To get grounded before you start your day, stand up and drop your attention for a few minutes to the soles of your feet, Potiker suggests. How do they feel? Are they warm or cold? Move your ankles to shift your weight around, and again notice the sensations in bottom of your feet. “You can do it before your day starts, or anytime you need some extra calm and comfort,” she adds. “The more you practice, the easier it gets to tap into mindfulness instead of reactivity when things get stressful.”

Variety of nuts
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7. Eat a handful of nuts

Nuts are a great source of protein, nutrients, fiber and healthy fat, and eating them regularly can pay health dividends, especially if you substitute them for less nutritious alternatives. Consuming nuts has been linked to a lower risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Harvard researchers who followed 120,000 people for 30 years found that nut eaters were 20 percent less likely to die. Another study found that regularly eating nuts reduces your risk of heart attack.

Toss some nuts on your cereal or yogurt in the morning, on a salad at lunch, or on pasta and rice dishes at dinner. Or just grab a handful for a convenient, filling and healthy snack.

8. Make a joy list

Grab a sheet of paper and spend five minutes writing down everything you can think of that brings you joy, Potiker suggests. Your list can include “wish list” items, such as a vacation to a special place, but make sure it also includes plenty of simple joys, like a savoring a good cup of tea, baking, video chatting with a friend or family member, listening to the birds on the porch or simply having clean sheets on the bed.

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Try to do at least one thing from your list every day, Potiker says. Remembering what you love — and treating yourself to those things — can help you take control of your own happiness even during tough times.

9. Work on your balance

Good balance helps prevent falls, and studies show it lowers your risk of premature death. Fortunately, balance exercises take just a minute or two, so it’s easy to incorporate them into your daily life, Hartley says.

As part of your nightly bathroom routine, try standing on one leg “like a flamingo” for up to 30 seconds, and then on the other, within reach of the counter, he suggests. If that’s too difficult, keep your fingertips on the counter at first. Or if it’s too easy, try it with your eyes closed. Next, do a set of 10 heel raises while lightly holding on to the counter. Heel raises help with balance and also strengthen your ankles and calves. 

man and woman walking in the woods
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10. Reach out to a friend

Strong relationships are important for happiness, and they’re also linked to longevity. In fact, when it comes to longevity, studies show that loneliness may be as dangerous as obesity, especially for adults over age 65.

“We are social creatures, wired to interact with others,” Goldberg says. “Especially if you’re living alone, connecting with those around you has huge benefits.” It takes only a minute to call or text a friend to schedule a coffee or dinner date. Even better, plan a regularly scheduled meetup with those you love so that you can ensure you see them regularly.

11. Exercise your pelvic floor

Urinary incontinence and problems with urinary frequency affect a quarter to a third of all men and women, and both problems are especially common among older adults. Studies show that Kegel exercises — where you contract and relax your pelvic floor muscles — are one of the most effective ways to get relief.

For both men and women, doing Kegels a few times a day can help control leakage and those gotta-go impulses. Identify the right muscles by trying to stop your urine mid-flow. Gradually tighten the muscle for three seconds, and then release for three seconds. You can do a set of these exercises anytime and anywhere, and they take less than a minute. Try doing a set every time you are stopped at a red light.

Calm serene middle aged woman meditating with eyes closed inhaling fresh air relaxing indoors, happy healthy old mature lady enjoying resting feel peace of mind doing breathing yoga exercises at home
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12. Take a few deep breaths

One simple way to feel happier and reduce stress is to take a minute to focus on your breath, Potiker says. Studies indicate deep breathing can also help slow your heart rate and stabilize your blood pressure. To get the benefits, simply close your eyes and take a deep breath, all the way into your belly, while you count to four. Pause for a moment, and then slowly breathe out for a count of six. Repeat the cycle three or four times, until you feel yourself relaxing.

Potiker recommends working a few time-outs into each day for focused breathing. “I give people little stickers to put on their makeup mirror, car dashboard or the back of their cellphone, just reminding them to stop and take a breath,” she says. “It does a whole body reset.”