You don’t have to compete in a triathlon to feel the thrill of making a healthy change. Even a little shift from your usual routine (read: rut) can bring you all kinds of benefits. And when that small tweak is fun and easy? We’re there! We rounded up expert-recommended healthy moves that’ll give you that I-did-something-different energy. Try just one—if you can! But don’t be surprised if that first small step makes you sign up for the whole month’s worth.
1. Dance, Dance, Dance
Not only does it feel great, research shows that dancing can make the brain younger, says brain health researcher Marc Milstein, PhD. Your mind thrives on activities that give you both a physical and mental workout, and cutting a rug can be one of the most enjoyable ways to get that double benefit. The mental challenge comes from learning new steps, so pull up YouTube and try to master the Electric Slide, the Wobble, or the Jitterbug.
2. Eat a Bigger Breakfast
You read that right—eating a hefty morning meal may be good for your health and your weight. A 2013 study from the journal Obesity found that women who ate the majority of their calories for breakfast lost more weight and felt more full than women who consumed most of their calories at dinner. Try it!
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3. Get a Yoga Boost Without Yoga
“I always say a downward dog a day keeps the doctor away, because flexibility is a key to longevity, good posture, and energy,” remarks New York City–based yoga and Pilates instructor Kristin McGee. This modified downward dog can get that flexibility going, she adds: Grab the back of a chair (or anything stable). Walk your feet back until your torso is parallel with the floor; look down so your neck is relaxed and straight; let your chest open. Hold for a few deep breaths. Walk your feet back up and engage your abs to come to standing. Repeat anytime, anywhere.
4. Tonight, Make it Mediterranean
You already know that the Mediterranean way of eating can be good for you, and new research suggests that focusing on certain parts of it—the vegetables, fruits, grains, and nuts (aka plant-based foods)—may also spell relief from acid reflux. When scientists from The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and New York Medical College gave people with laryngopharyngeal reflux (a relative of gastroesophageal acid reflux, or GERD) a standard reflux med (a PPI) or a prescription to follow a plant-based Mediterranean diet, they found that this eating pattern worked just as well. Talk to your doctor about using certain foods as an alternative to medication if you suffer from reflux.
5. Exercise to Your Earworm
Let your favorite song do more than lift your spirits. Have it make you more active with this trick from personal trainer Katie Dunlop, creator of the online community Love Sweat Fitness. “Start up the song you just love and challenge yourself to do a specific exercise until it ends,” Dunlop says. “I often do this with squats, seeing how many I can do and trying to add more each time.”
RELATED: Create Your Just-Do-It Playlist
6. Go Sour for a Sweet Tummy
Sauerkraut is hot again, thanks to the new understanding that fermented foods like this one are rife with digestion-helping healthy bacteria. Not only is this dish usually zero SmartPoints and full of vitamins, it’s easy to make on your own, according to Alex Lewin, co-author of Kombucha, Kefir, and Beyond: A Fun & Flavorful Guide to Fermenting Your Own Probiotic Beverages at Home. Here’s an overview: Stir together shredded cabbage and salt and put it in mason jars. We told you it was easy!
7. Find Your Balance
“Proprioception” is more than just a 22-point Scrabble word. “It means the unconscious awareness of movement and the ability to sense your body without having to look,” explains celebrity trainer Ashley Borden. The stronger yours is, the better chance you’ll be more grounded and suffer fewer injuries when something like an uneven sidewalk throws you off. Tune in with this daily balance challenge: Stand with a wall at your side. Keep your gaze forward and lift one foot off the floor. Hold it as long as you can without wobbling (only touch the wall if you have to). Place it down; repeat on the other side. Try to hold it a little longer each day.
RELATED: 30-Day Plank Challenge
8. Brunch Without Reservations
Waiting for a table at a busy café doesn’t have to be a drag for you and your breakfast club. Go ahead and add your names to the waiting list, then take a brisk walk, burning calories and building up an appetite. “You might get in an extra 30 minutes of conversation and fitness before you even sit down to eat,” says Los Angeles personal trainer Astrid Swan.
9. Go Ahead and Post Those Selfies
Send your “before” shot into the world, or just share today’s success. Publicly declaring your commitment to weight-loss and fitness goals provides incentive for staying on track, according to research published in the Journal of Interactive Marketing. If you don’t want to share these with your usual friend group, fear not—posting to anonymous weight-loss chat rooms or Facebook groups may also help keep your motivation strong.
RELATED: Selfie Love
10. Spice it Up
Extra jalapeños, please! Those zippy plants could help reduce the amount of salt you eat, and possibly keep blood pressure in check. Researchers suspect heat lovers may be more sensitive to the taste of salt, so they ultimately consume less of it. It could be because the areas of the brain that respond to salty and spicy tastes overlap, suggests a recent study in the journal Hypertension. Take advantage of this taste confusion and add hot stuff to foods you might usually oversalt.
RELATED: Hot & Spicy Recipes
11. Clear the Air
It’s easy to keep having the same fight again and again with your spouse or family. Instead of trying to resolve, why not aim to steer clear of it? “One way to avoid arguments is to be generous when making sense of why your partner did something rude or inconsiderate,” says Eli J. Finkel, PhD, director of the Relationships and Motivation Lab at Northwestern University and author of The All-or-Nothing Marriage. “When you give the other person the benefit of the doubt, you assume the behavior was inadvertent rather than mean-spirited.” For instance, maybe your spouse didn’t abdicate on the dishes; he or she just put it off while completing a few outdoor chores before dark.
12. Cue Up the Cat Videos
Dogs are fine too, if felines aren’t your faves. The point is a goofy break can be good for you when you’re starting to get tense or lose perspective, because laughing can help break the stress cycle. Your stressbuster doesn’t even have to be a video; just choose something that absorbs your attention (like push-ups or jumping rope) and gets your thoughts and energy moving in a positive direction.
13. Dial a Smile
When your glass looks a little more empty than full, call or text one of your most positive friends and ask questions like “What’s the best thing about this week?” or “What’s the coolest thing you heard today?” Some research hints that good moods can be contagious among social circles, so do your best to catch one.
14. Add Some Drama to Your Walk
To fit all 10,000 steps in, harness the power of a good page turner. “Download a book you know you’re not going to want to put down,” says Erin Oprea , personal trainer and author of The 4x4 Diet. “Then, only listen to it during your walk.” If a regular story doesn’t do it for you, try an app like The Walk. The narrative sends you out to solve a mystery and the more steps you take, the more of the story you unlock. Available for iPhone or Android for $3.
15. Shift Your Mood
Some fancy spa tricks are very doable, like using essential oils to make yourself feel more awake or more relaxed. Just shake a few drops onto your shower floor and inhale. In the morning, try peppermint, suggests aromatherapist and holistic wellness expert Leigh Winters. In the evening, reach for relaxing options like lavender. As you breathe deep, imagine your fatigue or stress washing down the drain.
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16. Get Fit Quick
A tight schedule doesn’t mean ditching a workout. Done regularly, eight rounds of Tabata intervals, a popular style of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), can deliver some of the same fitness benefits as a more moderate 20-minute session. Kari Saitowitz, founder of Fhitting Room, an NYC studio that specializes in HIIT, explains how to do them:
+ For 20 seconds, do an intense power move such as burpees, squats, or sit-ups with all-out effort.
+ Rest for 10 seconds.
+ Repeat the 20/10 cycle 8 times. In four minutes, you’re done!
Smartphones are great—except when they’re not. If you feel like yours has a hold on you, make an effort to grow the phone-free moments in your life. Try giving your phone a “bedtime” that’s an hour before your own, or leave it in your desk drawer during lunch. You may not just survive the separation, you might even like it.
18. Stir Up a Delish-Smelling Scrub
Raid the kitchen to help your skin look better. The ancient healing system of Ayurvedic medicine says to only put on your skin what you’d put in your mouth; this DIY facial scrub, created by Anca Tchelebi, MD, owner of Park Avenue Medical Spa in Westchester County, NY, makes that easy. Just mix a small spoonful of brown sugar with enough olive or coconut oil to form a paste, then add a drop of vanilla or lemon extract. That’s it!
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19. Make TV Work for You
Binge watching can be fun for your body, too: As the opening and closing credits of each episode roll, hold a plank for as long as you can, says trainer James Shapiro, founder of Primal Power Fitness in New York City. If you’re just getting started with this move, do the plank with your hands on the back or seat of the sofa.
20. Just Say No
It’s a jammed week, and in comes the invite to have dinner across town or join a committee that really needs someone like you. “Before you respond with a knee-jerk yes, take a few breaths,” says Amy Lieberman , an integrative wellness coach in Colorado. “Think about what’s already on your plate. Ask yourself if the request will nourish or deplete you.” Imagine how you’ll feel if you squeeze it in, and if that’s not a good feeling, go ahead and pass.
21. Love Your Liquid
If you don’t drink enough water, try this trick from holistic health coach MaryAnn Jones: “Choose a beautiful glass or bottle for your water then add in a rainbow of fruit, veggies and herbs.” The boost to H2O’s visual and taste appeal will make you more inclined to drink up what you need.
22. Get Focused
Think meditation and yoga are only good for mellowing you out? A recent study found that they can help you feel more focused, and maybe more energized, too—both activities stimulate the area of the brain that aids your ability to concentrate. The small study showed benefits for people practicing 25 minutes of hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation, but shorter bouts may be useful, too. Try meditation or yoga yourself, and track how much you need to get the benefit.
23. Turn Chores Into a Game
Is cleaning the kitchen looming large enough to dampen your day? Try a little round of sprint-clean. Set a timer for as little as four minutes. “Then make it a game to see how much you can run around and clean in that amount of time,” says Katherine Corp, co-owner of Pilates on Fifth in NYC. “You’ll be amazed how tidy your house looks,” she says. Extra body benefits: Accumulate 30 minutes of cleaning and (for a 165-pound person) you’ll zap about 112 calories.
RELATED: Clear the Clutter
24. Sweat Together
Don’t wait until after your workout to see your best buddies. Invite them to join you. “Working out together helps lead to meaningful moments— whether you exchange knowing glances during downward dog or laugh your way up a big hill,” says Michelle Gielan, author of Broadcasting Happiness. That makes workouts more fun and breeds the kind of close connections that boost happiness.
25. Go (a Little) Wild
The backyard is great, but to get all that the outdoors can give you, head to a more expansive setting like a state park, beach, or forest. One large survey found that more remote and wild nature experiences left visitors feeling more relaxed and refreshed. And plan to stay a while: People who spent 30 minutes or more felt better than those who took just a quick look.
26. Bliss Out on Fish
“Superfoods” come and go, but salmon is a perennial health star, thanks in part to its abundance of omega-3 fatty acids, compounds that may reduce the inflammation at the root of many diseases. Some experts believe these fats could even help your mood. Salmon—now zero Points—is easy to make, but it’s even easier to turn canned salmon into a quick meal: Make a salad out of it by adding lemon juice, onion, and mayo.
27. Meditate in Bed
If “meditation” never gets checked off your to-do list, then Portland, OR, fitness and meditation instructor Kait Hurley recommends staying in bed. “Set your alarm 10 minutes earlier and meditate before you get out of bed,” she says. Hit the snooze button and sit up in bed (don’t make the rookie mistake of lying down, or you’ll be back to sleep in no time). Close your eyes and pay attention to the wavelike rhythm of your breath. When thoughts drift into your mind, gently guide your attention back to your inhales and exhales. Keep it up until your snooze alarm goes off.
28. Lose the Nerves
Feeling nervous before a big day? Belt show tunes in the shower or croon along with the radio in the car. “Singing activates the vagus nerve, which relaxes the nervous system and may help combat stress,” says Sarah Emily Sajdak, founder of Aquarius Acupuncture in New York City. If singing it out isn’t your style, no sweat: Humming, reciting poetry, or chanting can help bust stress, too.
RELATED: 3 Ways to Look at Stress Differently
29. Like Your Bike
If you feel a twinge of guilt each time you drive past the gym on your commute, try making the trip on two wheels. Cycling can give you the activity benefits of a gym-style workout without adding another item to your to-do list. In a recent study, people who biked to work lost just as much fat as car commuters who did high intensity exercise at the gym.
30. Savor the Highs
If life is a series of moments, why not focus on the good times? Teri Doughty, a health and wellness coach and weight-loss specialist in Port Orchard, WA, recommends making a “highlights reel journal.” Each morning, she says, “Grab your journal and briefly recap the previous day, focusing on what was good, lovely, or just plain fun.” Over time, you’ll become more skilled at noticing the good parts, which counters the tendency to let negative events and feelings take up all the oxygen.
31. Entertain with an Active Twist
No need to just eat, drink, repeat. Add originality—and activity—to your next event by hosting a scavenger hunt, recommends Tammi Leader Fuller, founder of Campowerment, a weekend sleepaway camp for grown-ups. That can get everyone’s heart rate up and feel-good hormones pumping. Jot down crazy things for guests to photograph or video within a 30-minute window, or print a premade scavenger hunt from Pinterest.