by Robert S. Dinsmoor
Changing your habits and lifestyle isn’t easy, but even small changes can reap big rewards, especially when you add them up over time. To get you started, here are 100 tips for a happier, healthier, wealthier life. Pick and choose those tips that you think will be most helpful for you.
1. Learn to read food labels. That way, you can keep track of what’s in your food, including how many calories and how much fat and saturated fat you consume. Also take note of the “Serving Size.” It may be smaller than you think.
2. Save cooking time by making big batches of your favorite dishes and freezing meal-sized portions. This works especially well for such dishes as lasagna, spaghetti sauce, and chili.
3. To help lose weight, choose low-calorie snacks you can munch on during the day. That way, you won’t be tempted to eat too much during your next meal. Some good snack choices are fresh and dried fruit, raw vegetables, yogurt, and — in moderation — nuts.
4. Try adding fish to your diet two to three times a week. Fish is a heart-healthy source of protein. Salmon, herring, and tuna are full of omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to lower the risk of heart disease and may decrease inflammation associated with some types of arthritis.
5. Switch from whole milk to skim milk. Even if you drink only a cup a day, you’ll be cutting out 7.73 grams of fat and 63 calories a day, or 2021.45 grams of fat and 22,995 calories a year. If that’s too drastic a change for your taste buds, switch to 2% milk, then to 1% milk, and then to skim.
6. Spice up your life. To cut back on fat and salt, season food with herbs and spices instead of fatty sauces, butter, or margarine.
7. To cut back on fat, try roasting, baking, broiling, or simmering meat, poultry, or fish rather than frying. Use a rack in the oven for meats and poultry so that the fat drains off.
8. Use a nonstick skillet and cooking spray to sauté meat. Depending on which spray you use, this way of cooking can cut up to 40 grams of fat and over 350 calories compared with cooking with 3 tablespoons of oil or margarine.
9. Use fat-free salad dressing. Replacing 2 tablespoons of regular Italian salad dressing with 2 tablespoons of fat-free dressing will cut 80 or more calories and over 8 grams of fat.
10. Skim the fat. For leaner stews, gravies, boiled meats, and similar dishes, cook your food a day ahead of time and refrigerate it. Then skim the congealed fat from the top before reheating the dish.
11. Make lunch the big meal of the day. This can give you more of an opportunity to burn off those calories.
12. Weigh and measure your food on a regular basis. Even people who think they can identify a cup of vegetables or 3 ounces of meat by sight often start to underestimate their portion sizes over time.
13. Be sure to drink six to eight glasses of water each day. Inadequate water intake can lead to constipation, headaches, weakness, and queasiness.
14. To protect against food poisoning, keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Keep food refrigerated until it is ready to be cooked. Don’t thaw meat at room temperature — instead let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
15. Make sure your refrigerator is cold enough to prevent bacterial growth and food poisoning. Public health experts recommend keeping the thermostat set at 40°F or lower.
16. Also to prevent food poisoning, buy a meat thermometer. Cook all ground beef to an internal temperature of 160°F and all whole poultry to 180°F. For more information on food safely, go to www.foodsafety.gov.
17. Make a habit of keeping all cooking surfaces clean. It is especially important to prevent cross-contamination, the spreading of bacteria from raw meat to other raw foods that will not be cooked.
18. To get a better night’s sleep, avoid caffeine after 2 PM and limit your alcohol intake at night.
19. Try to rise and shine on schedule, even on weekends. Getting up at the same time every day helps your body maintain a regular sleep-wake cycle and may help alleviate insomnia.
20. If you can’t sleep, don’t try to force yourself to sleep — it will only make matters worse. Try doing something mundane like folding laundry until you start to feel drowsy again.
21. Find a comfortable routine to do right before bedtime to help prepare the body for sleep. For example, take a bath, read, or listen to soft music.
22. How comfortable is your bed? Give it an overhaul. You may find you want a firmer or softer mattress. You may also discover that placing a pillow or towel under a joint can give it proper support.
23. Buy an exercise ball. Working out on an exercise ball is good for people with arthritis, as it can help improve balance, posture, mobility, and strength.
24. Do balance exercises every day — they can decrease your risk of falling. The simplest balance exercise is to stand on one leg, and then the other, while holding on to the back of a chair, sink, or countertop for support.
25. Join a health club. Health club instructors can advise you on exercising properly, and taking classes can help keep you motivated.
26. Try out a water exercise class. Water exercise can improve strength, endurance, and range of motion while minimizing stress on the joints. Water exercise programs are offered at many YMCAs and health clubs.
27. Try a yoga class. Among the best types of yoga for people with arthritis are Iyengar yoga, which emphasizes strength, flexibility, and balance, and Kripalu yoga, which helps develop inner calm and mental clarity. Yoga classes are offered at many YMCAs and health clubs.
28. Take up tai chi. First practiced centuries ago in China, tai chi is a gentle martial art that combines flowing movement and controlled breathing to help maintain good health. It can improve flexibility, stamina, and cardiovascular health in people with arthritis. You can find classes in tai chi at YMCAs and health clubs, or visit www.taichiforarthritis.com to find resources for arthritis-friendly tai chi.
29. Take a swing at golf. Golf is good exercise, is easy on the joints, and can be played by people with a variety of disabilities. If you’re new to the game, visit a driving range and hit a bucket of balls to see how you like it.
30. Go with the pros. If your exercise routine is getting old, book a session with a personal trainer who has experience with people with arthritis. Most YMCAs and health clubs have personal trainers on staff.
31. To stay motivated, exercise with friends. You can take exercise classes together or even just schedule regular walks together.
32. Take up gardening. Gardening can burn calories, build strength and endurance, improve flexibility, and calm the mind. Remember to pace yourself and buy arthritis-friendly gardening tools.
33. Go ride a bike! Bike riding is great exercise for people with arthritis. It builds strength and endurance but doesn’t put much stress on your hips and knees. (Stationary bikes offer the same benefits.)
34. Keep a daily log of your physical activities. This will help you keep track of your progress and stay motivated to keep going strong.
35. Park and walk. At the mall, for example, park a long way from the mall entrance and walk the distance.
36. Lift weights. Studies have shown that strength training can build muscle around joints, supporting them and protecting them from “wear and tear.” Building strong legs can also help you prevent falls.
37. Make your own weights. If you don’t want to buy weights or join a health club, use soup cans, detergent bottles, or socks filled with beans as makeshift dumbbells.
38. Clean house. Besides being good exercise, cleaning burns calories. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, washing windows or floors for 45–60 minutes burns roughly 150 calories.
39. Walk where you shop. Malls can be excellent places to walk for exercise, offering a controlled climate, comfort, and variety.
40. Try Pilates. Pilates is a type of exercise that emphasizes core strength, balance, and flexibility. It is particularly useful for people who have injuries or limited range of motion. The best way to try Pilates is to take a class at your local YMCA or health club.
41. To stave off boredom and stay motivated, vary your exercise routine. Try alternating among different activities or changing when and where you do them.
42. When you’re traveling, find opportunities to walk. If you’re stuck in the airport, walk around the terminal. If you’re in a new city, see if you can get your hands on a street map and plan a loop.
43. Make a habit of reading the unit prices on supermarket items. The unit price standardizes the cost by the ounce (or by the yard in the case of products such as paper towels), allowing you to see which items are actually the most economical.
44. Choose your bargains — don’t let them choose you. Sometimes the “bargains” advertised by supermarkets aren’t really discounts at all. Try to take note of the average cost of items you buy regularly so you’ll recognize a real bargain when you see one.
45. Buy meat in family packs if the price is economical. Then divide the meat into smaller portions and freeze them in freezer packs for later use.
46. Clip grocery coupons — but use them judiciously. That is, use them only for items you would normally buy anyway.
47. To save money on your medicines, ask your doctor whether there are suitable generic versions of the drugs you take. Generic versions are often substantially cheaper than their brand-name counterparts.
48. For another way to save money on medicines, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether you can get the medicine at double the dose and then split the pill in half.
49. To help you remember to take your medicines, try taking them at the same time each day or linking the medicine to a regular routine, such as brushing your teeth.
50. To keep track of your medicines, buy a pillbox divided into compartments. Often these boxes have compartments for each day of the week and have room for several pills. When the compartment is empty, you know that you’ve taken all your pills for the day.
51. Get in the habit of reading the labels of all medicines you take, even over-the-counter drugs. Labels contain warnings about possible side effects and drug interactions, and these warnings are subject to change.
52. Clean out your medicine cabinet during spring cleaning. Toss out any medicines that are past their expiration date. Some drugs become less potent and some can even become toxic over time.
53. Bring along all your drugs, or a list of them, the next time you visit the doctor. That way the doctor can look at possible drug interactions and side effects and possibly recommend newer, more effective drugs.
54. When you pick up a prescription or OTC drug, be sure to ask the pharmacist about any of its possible side effects or drug interactions.
55. Consider a cane. A cane can relieve stress on the joints of the leg, can help strengthen weakened leg muscles, and can increase your stability as you walk.
56. Install a plastic seat and nonskid mats in your bath or shower, and use liquid soap instead of a bar of soap. Aids for Arthritis and Sammons Preston carry products that can make bathing easier and safer.
57. Install handrails next to the toilet and tub to make standing up and sitting down easier.
58. Place nonslip pads under the rugs in your home.
59. Position lamps and light switches near the entry point of a room so you don’t have to grope in the dark to find the light switch. (You could also buy glow-in-the-dark switches.)
60. Make sure all stairways are well lit, with switches at the top and bottom of the stairs.
61. Keep a lamp and telephone near your bed. This way, you won’t have to climb out of bed in the dark or jump out of bed to answer the phone.
62. Learn to keep clutter off the floor to minimize your risk of tripping.
63. If you’re prone to falling or have fallen before, consider getting a medical alarm. Medical alarms, worn around the neck or wrist, allow you to contact emergency responders if you are unable to get to the telephone.
64. Get yourself screened for colon cancer starting at age 50. There are a variety of different tests available, including tests for occult blood in the stool, sigmoidoscopy, and colonoscopy. Ask your doctor which screening methods are appropriate for you.
65. If you’re a woman 21 years old or older, get regular pap smears. Many women, especially older women, never or rarely get pap smears, which can detect precancerous changes in the cells of the cervix. Experts say that regular pap smears could prevent almost all of the deaths from cervical cancer that occur in the United States.
66. Get a copy of your medical records, which can be helpful in understanding your treatment.
67. Figure out your body mass index, or BMI. To calculate your BMI, multiply your weight in pounds by 703, and then divide this number by your height in inches multiplied by your height in inches. (So, for example, a 65-inch person weighing 140 pounds would have a BMI of 140 X 703 divided by 65 X 65, which works out to about 23.3.) A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 represents a normal weight. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 represents being overweight. Those with a BMI of 30 or over are considered obese.
68. Get inoculated. Proper immunization can prevent many cases of influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia, which kill tens of thousands of Americans each year. However, most elderly Americans fail to take advantage of immunization.
69. Know the signs of a stroke. Timely treatment of a stroke could save thousands of people from death and disability each year. Symptoms of a stroke include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination; and sudden severe headache with no known cause. If you or anyone around you experiences one or more of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.
70. Size up your feet. Have the shoe clerk check your size each time you buy shoes because people’s feet tend to widen and lengthen with age. Shoes that are too short or too narrow can cause blisters, corns, calluses, ingrown toenails, hammertoes, and bunions.
71. Save your skin. To lower your risk of skin cancer, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends wearing a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day and avoiding direct sunlight between 10 AM and 4 PM.
72. Wear UV-blocking sunglasses whenever you’re out in the sun for a while. There is strong evidence that ultraviolet sunlight can predispose people to cataracts.
73. Wear a bike helmet. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1,000 people die and 550,000 people wind up in the emergency room every year from bicycle-related injuries. One study showed that wearing a bicycle helmet could reduce the risk of head injury by 69% to 74%.
74. Know what to do when lightning strikes. Among natural phenomena, lightning is the second most common cause of death in the United States. (Flooding is number one.) The American College of Emergency Physicians recommends seeking shelter when a thunderstorm is approaching, avoiding tall structures such as isolated trees and flagpoles, and staying away from open fields and water.
75. Stretch during long flights. When taking long airline flights, get up and stretch every hour or so to prevent the formation of blood clots in the legs.
76. Have your heating system professionally inspected. Carbon monoxide from faulty heating equipment kills an estimated 500 Americans and makes countless others ill each year.
77. Wash your hands several times a day. This is one of the most effective ways of protecting yourself from the common cold and making sure you don’t spread it if you have it.
78. Learn the warning signs of a heart attack. The key warning signs of a heart attack are chest discomfort (uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain) that lasts for more than a few minutes; discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach; shortness of breath; and other symptoms such as cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness. Treatment is most effective if started within one hour of the onset of a heart attack. Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, seek medical attention immediately.
79. Consider volunteering for a clinical trial. Enrolling in a study can help other people with arthritis and advance medical science. To find out about government-sponsored clinical trials, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.
80. In May, walk the Arthritis Foundation’s Arthritis Walk, which raises money for arthritis research. For more information, visit the Arthritis Foundation’s Web site.
81. Join an online arthritis support group. Studies suggest that people with arthritis who participate in online support groups have less pain, disability, and health distress. Some support groups are available through the Arthritis Foundation.
82. Take an arthritis self-help course. These classes can help you better communicate with your health-care team, manage your medicines, and reduce arthritis pain. To find out about classes in your area, go to the Arthritis Foundation Web site and enter your zip code under “Find Programs Near You.”
83. Case the supermarket. That way, you can plot your course through the store, putting items on your shopping list in the order you will be encountering them. This can save you time and energy.
84. To save time, regularly stock up on nonperishable items you eat often, such as pasta, rice, and canned goods.
85. Get a grip on your toothbrush. A fatter handle can make your toothbrush easier to hold and maneuver. Many toothbrushes now come with wider handles, and special grips are available that can be fitted around standard toothbrushes.
86. If possible, shop for groceries by phone or the Internet and have them delivered to your home. That way, you don’t have to navigate a crowded store or carry heavy grocery bags.
87. At the grocery store, ask the bagger to pack the bags lightly, putting fewer items in each bag. This will make them easier to carry, even if you have to make several trips to the car.
88. Don’t hesitate to ask friends and family members for help. Sometimes just having someone help you with errands for a few hours at a time can make life a whole lot easier.
89. Take up meditation. Research has shown that meditation can help build confidence and alleviate anxiety and depression in people with chronic pain.
90. Try to do your holiday shopping months in advance. That way, you don’t have to navigate the mall when it’s most crowded.
91. Whenever you’re traveling by car, give yourself plenty of time to make it to your destination. This will give you time to stop, walk around, and stretch every hour or so.
92. Spread out your housework so you won’t overdo it and become fatigued. Consider keeping a calendar that helps you plan out which chores to do on which days of the week.
93. To make mowing the lawn easier, consider buying a riding or self-propelled mower. This will ease stress on the joints and minimize fatigue.
94. Consider getting a pet. Researchers believe that pets offer people a “stress buffer” as well as companionship.
95. Reach out and touch someone. Make a point of calling an old friend once a week, even if it’s just to “check in.” Social support is important to good mental health, and sometimes you need to take the first step.
96. Plan pleasurable activities each day. Make sure there is at least one activity every day that you can look forward to.
97. Take a siesta. A short, regular afternoon nap can increase alertness and improve your mood.
98. Dance your troubles away. Dancing can improve your mood. Those who don’t want to commit to the rigors of formal dance classes may benefit from “dance therapy” classes, in which the goal is simply to move and feel good.
99. Treat yourself to a massage. Massages can ease both pain and stress. Let your massage therapist know you have arthritis — or, better yet, find one with experience working with individuals with arthritis.
100. Laugh out loud. Buy a funny book or rent a funny videotape or DVD. Some studies suggest that laughing can relieve stress and pain.
The list above may seem a little overwhelming, but keep in mind that you have a lifetime to change your habits. Perhaps only a few of these suggestions will really inspire you, but each step you take is a step in the right direction. Once you have incorporated some of these changes into your life, you may decide to try some more. Carpe diem!
Last Reviewed on November 10, 2010
Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.
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