7 Healthy Habit Swaps To Make In 2016

Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
This article was originally published on December 26, 2015.

Listen — we’re all busy people. Between friendships, relationships, work or school, and the already commendable efforts we put into being healthy, who has time to add resolution-related to-dos to the list? Of course, if you’ve been looking for an opportunity to make a big, sweeping health change, 2016 seems like a great time to give it a go. We won’t stop you. New Year’s resolutions exist for a reason.

But if you’re the type who generally eats well, exercises, and lives a healthy life, we’ve got a new idea. Instead of adding an audacious goal you may or may not achieve, why not just make small tweaks to improve the healthy habits that are already a part of your life? Zero extra time — tons of extra gains. (Or #gainz, if you’re of that mind.)

We asked trainers, nutrition experts, and doctors for ways to upgrade your choices. Click ahead to learn how to take your good habits up a notch and make them great.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Good: Lift heavy weights.
Single-arm rows, tricep kickbacks, bench presses — you’re a master of these moves at the gym, and congratulations are in order. "When women lift heavy weights and challenge their bodies," it's great for the way they look and feel, says Jennifer Blackburn, the group fitness manager at Equinox in Bethesda, MD. We're talking less pain, better mood, and even a lower risk down the line for conditions like osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Great: Incorporate core-focused body-weight moves.
That iron you're pumping is worth even more if you have a strong core to support you and you're doing everything as effectively as possible. This year, try adding more body-weight movements. “Your core is the mothership for everything that you do,” says trainer Natalie Uhling, founder of NUFit. “It supports the spine, protects the low back, and helps with posture. So if you have a strong midsection, you're able to support your entire body.”

Uhling recommends the Lemon Squeezer: Start on your sit bones with your upper body leaning slightly back, hands resting on the mat behind you for support, and knees bent with shins parallel to the floor. Inhale, and then on an exhale, extend your legs and lower them toward the floor as you lower your torso toward the floor. “It’s hard!” she says. But when you’re working with only your body weight, it’s easier to focus on your form. “Quality over quantity,” she says. “Every time.”
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Good: Have a smoothie bowl for breakfast.
Starting your day with a gem-toned smoothie bowl? Amazing! The uber-popular breakfasts are filling, full of fiber, and rich in vitamins and antioxidants thanks to the variety of fruits (berries especially) that make up the Instagram-worthy concoctions. They’re great pre-workout fuel as well, since they’re not too heavy, and won’t weigh you down before the gym.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Great: Add green veggies to your smoothie bowl.
Throw in some vegetables to make breakfast even better. “A lot of the recipes I see are just fruit,” says Wendy Lopez, MS, RD, one of the cofounders of Food Heaven Made Easy, an online platform for nutrition advice. “They’re very high in sugar, and not very balanced.” But adding two cups of dark, leafy greens like spinach or kale for every one cup of fruit will even out the blood sugar spike caused by sugary smoothies, and add essential nutrients like iron and vitamin A. “You really cannot taste spinach!” says Jones. And adding protein — Lopez likes Greek yogurt or silken tofu — fuels muscles and keeps them strong.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Good: Work your pelvic floor daily.
Ever since that Sex and the City episode, you’ve followed Samantha’s advice to “tighten and release” your pelvic floor muscles for 10 minutes a day. So you already know there are plenty of benefits to doing Kegel exercises — from delivering stronger orgasms to strengthening your vagina post-baby.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Great: Add science to your Kegels.
Make your Kegels count even more by picking up Elvie, a new fitness tracker you can insert into your vagina to get instant feedback on your squeezes, says Alyssa Dweck, MD, an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Elvie custom designs pelvic floor workouts that take about five minutes each, giving you instant feedback via the app to make sure you’re mastering the movement. “It’s a souped up Kegel exerciser,” says Dr. Dweck. “It’s really cool.”
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Good: Track your steps.
That buzz on your wrist when you hit 10,000 steps is exciting, isn’t it? Using a fitness tracker is a simple, fantastic way to keep an eye on your activity level, make sure you’re not sitting too much, and encourage walking. Uhling says she wears her Apple Watch every day to monitor her heart rate during workouts and to maintain a challenging zone. If you have one of these devices, you know it keeps you motivated and moving.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Great: Reflect on your progress.
Just remember not to take the digits on your screen as fitness gospel. “Your tracker can steer you wrong — it might not always be correct,” says Uhling. This is especially true with the social sharing functions of tracking devices. Not only is there a margin of error on each device, but comparing yourself to friends who are at different heights, weights, and fitness levels isn’t helpful, since the numbers don’t perfectly translate. Be aware of your steps, but focus more on numbers that are indicators of your own power — say, how many seconds you can hold a plank or how much weight you've been able to add to your deadlift. Validation from friends and relatives is wonderful, but measuring your own output and reflecting on your progress is a crucial motivational step that many people with trackers ignore, according to a study from Northwestern University. “Being in touch with your own body is the best technology you can possibly have,” says Uhling.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Good: Manage your period problems.
There’s no glory in suffering through period pain alone. Which is why you grab Advil, Pamprin, or Motrin when you’re doubled over with cramps — in addition to making sure you’re getting plenty of exercise, and dark chocolate, throughout the week, of course.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Great: Prevent cramps from starting in the first place.
Get out in front of the problem, and you can reduce pain from the get-go. “Don’t wait until you’re miserable to take medication for your cramps!” says Dr. Dweck. Painkillers are great for relieving discomfort, but you’ll actually get more out of them if you take a dose the night before you’re expecting your period, she advises. “That way, the meds get ahead of [your cramps] before they get bad,” she says. That’s because the active ingredients in nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can actually prevent the spikes in prostaglandin hormones that cause cramps. Less prostaglandin production = way more manageable (or even nonexistent) cramps.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Good: Eat small, frequent meals.
To stay fueled and energized all day long, it’s smart to follow the advice of many nutritionists: eating six mini meals, scattered throughout your busy days. Frequent eating helps keep your blood sugar stable and prevents you from getting ravenous and raiding the entire contents of your snack drawer at work. Past studies have even linked small, frequent meals to lower cholesterol.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Great: Time your meals the way you want.
Go ahead, mix it up. New research suggests that the spacing and frequency of meals doesn’t matter much for healthy women as long as you are eating smartly and listening to your body. Some people thrive on frequent meals throughout the day, and others operate more efficiently on three solid meals and maybe a snack, says Lopez: “It just depends on what works for you.” Whatever you choose, focus your heaviest meals during the times of day you’re most active. Then, when you’re winding down, eat foods that are something low in fat and carbs, like a green salad topped with a protein. “When you go to bed, you’ll be less likely to have indigestion and reflux,” says Lopez.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Good: Challenge yourself to a tough endurance workout.
There’s a glorious, drenched-in-sweat moment after running for an hour or finishing two episodes of Orange Is The New Black while on the elliptical. Having the endurance for a long cardio session feels — and is! — great. It can even preserve memory and critical thinking skills as you age if you take it up while you’re young.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Great: Try interval training.
That doesn’t mean you have to log long workouts to get big benefits. For the sake of variety, effectiveness, and efficiency, it's smart to mix things up sometimes: “If you increase the intensity and lower the duration, your body can become more efficient,” says Blackburn. She likes high-intensity interval training workouts (HIIT), which meet her “short but killer” criteria. Choose “big bang” exercises, like burpees, since it activates tons of muscles and still provides a serious cardio challenge. “A HIIT workout can be as short as four minutes, like the Tabata plan,” Blackburn says. Want to try it? Do 20 seconds of burpees, then take a 10-second break, and repeat eight times.

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