6 Unexpected Ways to Improve Your Health That Cost You Nothing

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There’s no universal plan for better health, no perfect diet, workout routine or way of solving stress—but there are some guidelines you can follow that won’t cost you anything and that can have an unexpectedly large impact on your overall health. And the good news is: you don’t have to do them all at once. In fact, it’s much better if you take your time and pick one area, do it for 30-60 days until the habit becomes second nature, and then move on to the next one. The road to a better and healthier lifestyle isn’t always so complicated—here are six unexpected, zero-cost ways to increase your energy, vitality, focus, and general enjoyment of life:

1. Drink Water & Drop the Pop

With this tip, it’s very simple: skip the pop and ask for the water. The average American is drinking about 45 gallons of soda every year. In total that’s 375 pounds of pop that pass through your system in 365 days! Start drinking like it’s going out of fashion—enough water (ideally eight x eight-ounce glasses per day) will help your body hydrate, detox, and lead to more energy, better skin, and even weight loss.

2. Get to Bed Earlier

Squeezing every last drop out of your waking hours to get more done (or to watch your favorite Netflix series) is an easy trap to fall into. But the health drawbacks of skimping on sleep are unequivocal: memory issues, mood changes, trouble concentrating, lowered immunity, weight gain, and high blood pressure (to name a few!). Get to bed at (roughly) the same time each night, escort all devices out of the room, make it dark and cool, no caffeine after lunch, and get up about the same time (I recorded a fun video about it here). 

3. Get Up & Get Moving—Daily

Lifting weights is great, but if you’re like most people, it won’t undo the hours of sitting you probably do each day. Take frequent breaks from the sedentary sitting by taking a walk to the water cooler, head outside for some fresh air for 5 minutes, go for a quick walk around the block, or do some stretches. What type of activity you choose doesn’t matter as much as doing it regularly. (Pro tip: if you drink water regularly throughout the day it’ll force you to get up often to visit the restroom!).

4. Kiss Your Phone (& TV, iPad, Laptop) Goodnight 

Many of us default to watching TV in the evening or scrolling mindlessly on our phones. Screens of every nature, from your phone or laptop to watching Netflix in bed, are a strong circadian-rhythm-disrupting signal (in other words, your body won’t get the hormonal signals that it’s almost bedtime). Take at least a few nights off per week to do something different with your winddown time: read a good book, call a friend, take a bath, or have a candlelit dinner with your partner. This also allows your mind to uncoil and destress before bedtime—which sets you up for an easier time falling asleep and staying asleep.

5. Have Some Fun, Find a Hobby

At some point in our grown-up lives, we decide that being an adult means we have to stop playing and having fun. I couldn’t disagree more! Make time to schedule in activities at least once a week where you do something fun and playful. I guarantee you’ll immediately feel better because finding a hobby isn't something to “fit in” once the kids leave home or you retire—it's crucial you have one TODAY to decrease stress and increase joy. 

6. Eat More Real, Whole Foods

It's lunch o'clock, and everywhere around you are the smells of convenient, processed foods like pizza. I get it! Eating right is definitely a challenge, but if you can start to change your view of food from something that is comforting, to something that fuels your body it’ll be much easier to make good choices. Stick to fresh, unprocessed vegetables and meats plus some fruits, nuts and seeds, along with lots of water, and your body will thank you.

As you can see, good health is not about tackling one thing in isolation; it involves so many different facets of life. But by choosing one of these areas at a time you will not only create a customized health plan that will result in you getting healthier by the day but you will start to realize that most of your wellbeing is entirely under your control. So there you have it—that’s your lesson for today!

Dan Madsen

Dr. Madsen is a family doctor in Chillicothe, Ohio.