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15 Ways to Get a Lot Healthier (Fast)

1) Take a hike
If you walk a mile a day at a brisk pace, you'll lose a pound a month-without having to change your diet. "It takes only 15 to 18 minutes to walk a mile," says Rachel Brandeis, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Talk about a simple way to drop some weight!

2) Kiss him like you mean it
Give your sweetie a passionate ten-second smooch every day. It will heighten your sense of connection and intimacy, in addition to giving you an endorphin rush. And high endorphin levels bolster your immune system, which can reduce your risk of colds and flu this winter.

3) Don't worry, be happy
Acting like an extrovert, even if you're an introvert, can have a positive effect on your mood, according to a 2002 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. People who participated in the study reported feeling happier when they were trying to be outgoing, and less so when they were quiet or reserved. So put on a happy face.

4) Add some color to your salad
Toss in cherry tomatoes (a great source of vitamin C), shaved carrots (hello, vitamin A), and chickpeas (loaded with soluble fiber, which can help lower LDL cholesterol). Want to add protein? Opt for salmon instead of tuna; salmon is particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help fight heart disease.

5) Follow the French
Drinking one glass of wine a day is actually good for your health. Red wine is especially beneficial because it contains high levels of antioxidants, natural chemicals that prevent heart-attack-triggering blood clots from forming. And unlike many other alcoholic beverages, red wine doesn't suppress the immune system. Cheers!

6) Chew on this
Chomping on sugar-free gum can triple the amount of saliva in your mouth. And all that mouth watering is good for your teeth. Saliva is nature's buffer against cavities, washing away food particles and diluting the acids that bacteria produce. It also helps reduce bad breath.

7) Fill up on fiber
"Most of us are getting about half the amount of fiber we need every day," says Boston University nutrition professor Joan Salge Blake, R.D. That's too bad, since fiber fills you up, keeps you regular, and helps fight colon cancer. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables such as carrots, spinach, and sweet red peppers are rich in fiber and vitamins.

8) Got milk? Drink up!
Don't waste the milk that's left in your bowl after you've finished your cereal. Vitamins sprayed on the cereal during the manufacturing process dissolve in the milk. When you dump that milk into the sink, the cereal's vitamins—not to mention the white stuff's calcium and vitamin D—go down the drain.

9) Let the sun shine
Get outside for 20 minutes a day; it's good for you in more ways than one. Research suggests that a lack of sunlight lowers serotonin in the brain, bringing down your mood and your energy level, says Marie-Annette Brown, Ph.D., R.N., coauthor of When Your Body Gets the Blues. Sunlight is also a good source of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium.

10) Pop a pill
A multivitamin containing folic acid, that is. Why? Because half of all pregnancies are unplanned-and getting ample amounts of folic acid before you conceive is crucial to preventing spinal and brain defects in your baby. Yet according to a new survey from the March of Dimes, only 40 percent of American women of childbearing age currently take a daily multivitamin. Even if you're careful about using birth control, make multivitamins your friends: Studies have shown that getting enough folic acid can also reduce a woman's risk of heart disease and some types of cancer.

11) Think before you drink
Instead of downing a can of soda, try chugging a glass of low-sodium vegetable juice. For just 38 calories, you'll meet one of the three minimum recommended daily servings of vegetables. You'll also get a nice shot of the cancer-fighting phytochemical lycopene. Or mix a package of low-calorie hot cocoa with skim or low-fat milk. At only 80 calories a cup, it's a sweet treat that's a good source of calcium and vitamin D.

12) Treat your feet with TLC
When you're slathering on sunscreen, don't overlook your tootsies. A study in The Journal of Foot and Ankle Surgery found that malignant melanomas on the feet and ankles tend to have a worse prognosis than cancers on other parts of the legs. Keep close tabs on any moles that appear on your feet or even under your toenails (yes, melanomas can grow there). If they change shape or color, call your doctor.

13) Get more Zzz's
Make a pact with yourself to go to bed a half hour earlier every night. It might not be easy, especially for busy parents. But research shows that sleeping less than six or seven hours a night may increase your risk for health problems. It could also raise your risk for depression, memory difficulties, relationship problems, and impaired immune function.

14) Patrol your portions
Whether you're dining out or eating at home, make a mental measurement before you chow down to keep calories and fat in check. A serving of meat (three to four ounces) should look like a deck of cards, a baked potato should resemble a computer mouse, and a cup of ice cream is about the size of a tennis ball. If your favorite restaurant insists on serving supersize portions, try splitting an entrée with your husband, or ask the waiter to put half the meal in a doggie bag before you're even served.

15) Floss those pearly whites
Taking care of your teeth can do a lot more than make your smile sparkle. Studies have consistently found a connection between periodontal disease-a bacterial infection of the gums-and an increased risk of heart problems, circulatory-system problems, and, in pregnant women, preeclampsia and preterm birth.

Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the December 2004 issue of Parents magazine.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.