5 Ways to Improve Your Health Today

Take a back-to-basics approach to good health with exercise, real food, relaxation, nature and friends.

Take charge of your day and make some simple changes that may keep you free from disease and add years to your life.

1. Eat seven servings of fruits and vegetables. 

Eating seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables can cut your risk of developing cancer and heart disease by up to 42 percent, according to a new study out of The University College London.

Chris Brady, certified fitness nutrition specialist at Complete Body Balance in Winnetka, explains, “As a natural source of energy, fruits and vegetables give your body many of the nutrients you need, boost your immune system and help control blood sugar. Add peppers, tomatoes or mushrooms or to your eggs. Make a smoothie with frozen berries and banana. Stack leafy greens and fill with sandwich ingredients. Pack fruit and veggies into snack-size bags.”

Keep track of your servings for a few days, and then eating more fruit and vegetables will become a habit. Not only will you be filling your body with great food, but you will also squeeze out the bad.

2. Run for five minutes.

Just five to 10 minutes of daily running can add three years to your life, according to a recently released study from the American College of Cardiology. Participants who ran were 45 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and 30 percent less likely to die from other health issues. Benefits were noted with as little as five minutes of running at 10-minute-mile pace. Try adding a little running into your regular walks. Start with one minute of running followed by one minute of walking. Do this five times. Then work up to two-minute bursts of walking and running five times in a row. That’s all you need.


3. Meditate for a few minutes.

Leslie Mendoza Temple, M.D., medical director of the Integrative Medicine Program at NorthShore University HealthSystem, says that meditation is a way to focus the mind, calm the breath and take your body out of the “stress zone.”

“Meditation can also improve the quality of your sleep. Take just five minutes focusing on your breathing,” Mendoza says. “Sit in a lotus position, close your eyes, stretch your arms out, around and up over your head, reaching your fingers upward, then bring your hands down into ‘prayer’ pose. Let go of any thoughts that intrude and allow them to dissipate without analysis.”

Eve Williams of Wilmette practices meditation on a regular basis. “Meditation helps me settle my thoughts and relax,” she says. “By settling my mind, I change my perspective.”

4. Get out in nature.

People who live near green space live longer, according to a 2009 University of Illinois study. With exposure to natural settings, students do better on tests, children with ADHD have fewer symptoms, and residents of public housing complexes report better family interactions, the study reports.


“Findings from recent studies support the idea that nature is essential to the physical, psychological and social well-being of the human animal,” says Frances Kuo, a professor of natural resources and environmental science and psychology at the University of Illinois.

Wallace J. Nichols, the author of the new book “Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do,” says water has a positive impact on humans.

“Several years ago I came up with a name for this human–water connection: Blue Mind, a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.”

Go hike through the woods, stroll along the shore and enjoy the shade of the old Oak as you reduce stress and improve your health.


5. Hang with friends.

A 10-year study of older Australians found that participants with strong social networks outlived those with fewer friends. Another study demonstrated a lower risk of obesity for those with tight friendships. While more research is needed, keeping your friends nearby is proving to have an impact on your good health.

Rachael Moloney, of Portland, Ore., makes time with friends a priority. Four days a week, she meets friends Amy and Julie at a fitness class, and afterward the women go out for a cup of coffee.

“We have been doing it for a couple years,” Moloney says. “Amy and Julie are the best listeners and taught me how to give a proper hug. I feel very fortunate to have them.”


David Klow, a marriage and family therapist and owner of Skylight Counseling Center in Chicago, says friends are particularly important during a crisis.

“It is exactly when we have tough events in our lives that we need our close friends,” Klow says. “Being with people who know and care about us sends a healthy message to our inner being. Close friends remind us that we are not alone, that we have support.”

Take charge of your health today. Start your day with five minutes of meditation, followed by a short run through the woods. Enjoy a vegetable omelet with a side of strawberries for breakfast. Take lunch break with good friends and enjoy a leafy green salad topped with vegetables. Soak up the colors of the sunset as you gaze over the park near your home. These seemingly small things will add up to make a huge impact on your health.