Spring Clean Your Habits: 7 Ways To Get Up Early, Eat Better, & Actually Work Out

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
New Year’s resolutions may be a distant memory, but now is a great time to recommit to healthy habits. And, we’re not talking about a major life overhaul. These seven tiny tweaks don’t take much effort, but they deliver major results. Plus, they’re based on the latest research and help improve your mood, eating, relationships, and more. 
1 of 7
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Imagine The Worst At Work

We’re often told that anxiety is counterproductive in the workplace, but briefly visualizing a bad outcome can actually help you focus when you’re distracted. “The brain needs an optimal level of stimulation to achieve its best work,” says David Rock, director of the NeuroLeadership Institute and author of Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long.

“Sometimes if we are unfocused, we need to raise our sense of urgency, and an easy way to do that is to imagine something that’s mildly scary, like missing a deadline or handing in work that you’re not proud of.” The resulting fear, he explains, increases your alertness and helps you to concentrate.
2 of 7
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Set Your Alarm For One Minute Earlier

Morning people have inherently different chronotypes — genetic differences in the biological clock that control circadian rhythms — than night owls. But, research shows that anyone can adjust their circadian rhythms with some effort (and possibly with pills). To make the transition to early bird as painless as possible, try setting your alarm for a minute earlier each day until you get to your desired wake-up time. Then, try to keep it as consistent as possible (easier said than done on weekends).
3 of 7
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Upgrade Your Lightbulbs

Speaking of circadian rhythms, light exposure has been shown to influence them significantly. The blue wavelengths emitted by many energy-efficient lightbulbs and electronic devices are particularly good at keeping us awake — helpful during the day, but not so much at night.

For better sleep (which is linked to better health on many levels), limit your tech time before bed and consider changing out your bulbs. There are now a number of commercially available low-blue bulbs, like this one by Definity, which NASA uses to help astronauts sleep in space. Others, like the Philips Hue, can be set to different wavelengths and intensities for different times of day.
4 of 7
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Carve Out Time For “Real Talk”

Not only is sharing your feelings with friends and loved ones important, but new research suggests that the inverse is also true: Keeping things at a surface level may actually be damaging. A 2014 study found that people reported liking their friends less when those pals spent a greater proportion of time engaging in small talk (as opposed to real talk) via technologies, including e-mail, phone, and text messaging. So make a point of opening up to your friends. A major bonus: Having them around is good for your health.
5 of 7
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Use Separate Sheets

Research indicates that couples who sleep well together have greater relationship satisfaction and vice-versa. Interestingly, though, even couples who report that they sleep better when they’re together have been found to stir in response to each other’s movements, leading to objectively lower-quality sleep — and the effect seems to be greater for women. These disturbances are inevitable if you’re sharing a bed, but you can reduce their impact with some simple tricks.

One that sleep expert Robert Oexman, DC, director of the Sleep to Live Institute, recommends is making the bed with two separate twin-sized top sheets and blankets. It cuts down on cover-stealing and allows each person to adjust their body temperature as needed.
6 of 7
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Eat Something Every Three Hours

Here’s why: Blood sugar rises in response to a meal or snack, and normally it falls to its previous level about three hours later, priming you to be ready for another. That means if you’re really listening to your hunger cues, you’ll be eating five or six times a day. A recent study of more than 4,600 subjects confirms that greater eating frequency is associated with better nutrition quality (as well as lower body mass index): People who ate more than six times per day consumed more fruits and vegetables, and less alcohol and red meat, than people who ate less than four times per day.

Other studies have linked greater eating frequency to improvements in blood sugar control. If timing is an issue, you can push some meals or snacks to every four hours, but be on the lookout for subtle signs of hunger, like fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and irritability, which tell you it’s time to eat.
7 of 7
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Take A Quick Walk

Good news: Quick bouts of brisk walking are a good way to get healthy. A recent study found that interval walking (five alternating sets of fast and slow walking for three minutes each, four times a week) was associated with a significant reduction in lifestyle-related disease risk factors and improvement in lung capacity.