Want to have a stronger immune system, lower your blood pressure, keep your memory sharp, improve your heart health, and ultimately add years to your life? It’s easier than you might think! Sail through your days super-focused, worry-free, and feeling great with these research-approved tricks that promise fast payoffs.
Lower blood pressure by making a gratitude list.
At the end of the day, jot down three things you’re grateful for. University of Kentucky scientists say this fosters optimism by helping you focus on the good things in life, which lowers your blood pressure, raises your defenses against cancer, and slows the aging process of your blood vessels and organs. In fact, scientists say doing this daily can add up to 12 healthy years to your life.
Boost immunity by relaxing in a hammock.
Outsmarting viruses and bacterial infections is easier than you may think, thanks to this relaxing trick. Grab a seat in a cozy rocking chair on your porch, or kick back in a hammock and sway away in the spring breeze. Stanford University investigators say that as little as five minutes of small, repetitive motions, like gently rocking back and forth, tamp down your body’s release of immunity-hampering stress hormones, reducing your risk of coming down with an illness by as much as 45 percent.
Curb inflammation with a hug.
Hugs are good for your immune system, too! Wrapping your arms around your spouse, a friend, or even your pup automatically makes your body churn out more of the inflammation-taming hormone oxytocin. And Chinese researchers say when you curb inflammation, it frees up your body’s natural resources to destroy invading germs 40 percent faster, plus speeds your recovery time by 50 percent if you do fall ill.
Improve heart health with a green salad.
Do you struggle to get the recommended five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables a day to keep your ticker in top shape? Don’t worry! Research in the journal The Lancet found that munching on just three servings, like that big green salad you had for lunch, provides the same heart-protective benefits as if you ate more. That’s because even lesser amounts of produce pack a healthy punch of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that work together to balance blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and repair cellular damage, which eases strain on your heart.
Lower your heart disease risk by staying hydrated.
Don’t forget to drink water! Sounds simple, but staying hydrated lowers your risk of fatal heart disease by 40 percent and a fatal stroke by 30 percent, according to Japanese researchers reporting in Public Health Nutrition. Higher fluid intake gently thins the blood, warding off harmful clots. Investigators recommend downing 16 ounces of water every three waking hours to keep your heart healthy.
Live longer by supersizing your smile.
Numerous studies prove folks who smile a lot tend to be happier, and scientists at Wayne State University in Detroit say supersizing your grin can add up to seven healthy years to your life, compared to those who tend to be more sober-faced. Credit goes to the dramatic dip in the stress hormone cortisol — which has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, stroke and suppressed immunity — that occurs when you flash a wide smile. Not in the mood? Faking a grin works too!
Add years to your life by easing up on your steps.
Wearing yourself out trying to walk 10,000 steps a day? Exercising less may actually add years to your life. Brigham and Women’s Hospital scientists say women who take just 4,400 steps daily (about two miles, or 30 minutes of moderate walking) reduce their mortality risk by 41 percent.
Protect your memory by phoning a friend.
Socializing is proven to sharpen thinking as you age, and there’s good news even when you can’t get out: Chatting on the phone counts! Northwestern University scientists say older women with the strongest network of friends have the sharpest memories. Whether chatting with a neighbor across the street or gabbing on the phone, socializing acts as mental exercise to keep your brain cells biologically younger than your actual age.
Keep your mind sharp by flossing.
Dental hygiene helps with memory, too: Flossing does more than keep gums healthy, it reduces dementia risk by 65 percent, a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found. Oral bacteria can travel to the brain, where it causes inflammation that leads to Alzheimer’s. But whisking it away with floss keeps your mind sharp.
Ease stress with belly breaths.
When hectic days leave you tense, the last thing you have time for is a lengthy meditation session. Luckily, there’s a simple breathing technique that works fast: Take 10 slow, deep belly breaths, feeling your abdomen expand with each inhale and contract with every exhale. Harvard scientists say this reduces anxiety by 67 percent, lowers your blood pressure 10 points, and helps women feel 50 percent calmer within 60 seconds. Those are the same results you’d get if you meditated 30 minutes a day!
Calm down with a cup of tea.
Need another way to relax? Breathing in the aroma of freshly brewed black tea for one minute ushers in calm by dialing down the body’s “fight or flight” response, according to research in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.