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14 little changes for a healthier life


“Is that you, Daddy?”

It was a good question, from my six-year-old, who stumbled across the corporate I.D. card in my wallet the other day. The picture was taken in 2003, right after I started at Men’s Health. My daughter was asking the question not because I looked 8 years younger, but because I looked 20 pounds heavier.

“It’s me, sweetie,” I said.

She looked at the picture inquisitively. “What’s different?”

That too was a good question, especially in the figurative sense. The 2011 version of me isn’t all that different from the unrecognizable guy on the I.D. card. In short:

•I wear contacts instead of glasses.
•I don’t put sugar in my coffee.
•I don’t drink soda very often.
•I exercise about an hour a week.

That’s pretty much it. Small changes, big results. It’s my mantra. And it should be yours, too. Fact is, it's hard to make big changes in life. That's why so many of us struggle with our weight and health. The problem isn't knowing what to do; it's doing it. So forget grand, life-changing goals and start small instead.

Aim to drink the leftover milk in your cereal bowl each morning to get more vitamins, or hold your fork in your non-dominant hand to slow your eating, or "forget" your glasses the next time you're at the gym so you won't get distracted. Little tips like these can make a big difference over time.

To that end, here are 14 more small changes you can make today that will make you fitter, healthier, and happier tomorrow.

1. Make a Rainbow on Your Plate

A 14-year study found that men whose diets were highest in fruits and vegetables had a 70 percent lower risk of digestive-tract cancers. How to reach your quota: Never eat a meal that doesn't contain a vegetable or fruit. And no, potato chips don't count.

2. Dry-Brush Your Teeth

Do it before you brush with toothpaste and water and you'll cut tartar by 60 percent, and reduce the risk of bleeding gums by half. Use a dry, soft brush to scrub the insides of your top and bottom teeth, then buff the outer surfaces. Rinse, spit, and then brush with toothpaste. And avoid the 12 Foods Your Dentist Would Never Eat.

3. Lose Weight by Eating More

A survey of more than 2,000 people who lost an average of 67 pounds and kept the weight off for more than 5 years found that 78 percent ate breakfast 7 days a week.

4. Embrace an Italian

Diet, that is. Two to four servings of tomato sauce a week can cut your prostate-cancer risk by 34 percent.

5. Drink Away Your Diabetes Risk

In a 9-year French study, people who regularly consumed 17 to 34 ounces of water daily were 36 percent less likely to develop high blood sugar or diabetes than those who imbibed less. Why? When you’re dehydrated, your brain turns up production of vasopressin, a hormone that signals your liver to pump out more glucose.

6. Coach Your Kid's Soccer Team

Men who do volunteer work at least once a week have half the death rate of those who don't.

7. Beat Back Pain the Easier Way

Researchers in Finland found that men who lack lower-back muscular endurance—in other words, their back muscles tire quickly—are 3.4 times more likely to develop back pain. Build your endurance with this 7-minute back-saving workout.

8. Always Order the Thin-Crust Pizza

It has a third fewer calories than thick-crust pizza. Blot the cheese with a napkin to cut more fat, and you'll be able to enjoy your pie guilt-free.

9. Go Fishing Once a Week

Eating just one serving of fish per week can cut your risk of a sudden fatal heart attack by half! The secret ingredient in fish is omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon is especially high in them. If you don't like fish, pop a daily fish-oil supplement that contains at least 500 mg of both DHA and EPA.

10. Invest in Your Marriage

An unhappy marriage increases your chance of getting sick by 35 percent and shortens your life expectancy by 4 years.

11. Exercise Depression Away

Exercising for 40 minutes can reduce stress. In fact, studies show that working out on a regular basis can be as effective as taking antidepressants like Prozac.

12. Eat Two Bananas a Day

The potassium they contain can lower blood pressure by 10 percent in as little as a week, according to researchers in India. How? The average American consumes 1,000 mg more sodium than our bodies need each day, raising our blood pressure and our risk of heart attack and stroke. Potassium neutralizes sodium. While you're at it, banish The 25 Saltiest Foods in America from your diet.

13. Snack on Cherries Before Bed

Cherries and cherry juice are concentrated sources of melatonin, a popular over-the-counter sleep aid.

14. Take Vitamin E and Aspirin Daily

Researchers have found that this antioxidant-and-blood-thinner combination can reduce arterial plaque by 80 percent. The benefit of the duo is so great that it may help men prevent atherosclerosis even if they can't lower their cholesterol levels.

By Bill Phillips

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