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A year of good health isn’t just about the dutifully scheduled doctor’s appointment or annual screening. It’s also about taking good habits to a higher level and trying something new. Here’s a look at a few wellness-boosting activities we’re planning on adopting in 2016. Mark them on your calendar, too; come next December, you should feel even stronger and more energetic than you do today.
National Hot-Tea Month kicks off the year, and what better time to pick up a few healthy ways to drink yours? All tea contains antioxidants, and both green and black teas include a few that are unique to them—so enjoy a variety. Some studies on green tea (which contains more antioxidant capacity than other teas) have linked it to decreased risks for heart disease and certain types of cancer. To up the benefits, fill your cup a few times a day, and squeeze a few drops of lemon juice into it to enhance the bioavailability of its nutrients.
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Keep on ticking. In this month of candy and paper hearts, think of your own. A good place to start: Log on to the American Heart Association site (heart.org), which celebrates American Heart Month in February. To assess your cardiovascular health both now and 10 years from now, as well as find strategies to improve it, take the heart-check test at goredforwomen.org. And if you’ve scheduled a physical exam, click on everydaychoices.org before you go; it will tell you which screenings are especially relevant for you to discuss with your doctor.
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Spring forward! You’ve made a note to set your clocks ahead on the 13th, but if you’re sleep-deprived or sensitive to time shifts, you should head to bed half an hour earlier two days before that. This gradually eases your biological clock into daylight saving time, so you should have less trouble falling asleep at night and an easier time waking up the next day. “People don’t realize what an impact an hour makes,” says Neil Kline, an internist and representative at the American Sleep Association. “More sleep can improve not only your mental and immune function, but your mood, too.”
Photography: Raymond Hom4 of 12
How many times, in moments of stress, has someone (perhaps even yourself) advised you to “just breathe”? It’s easy to say but hard to do effectively. Just in time for tax season, Meg Chang, a certified dance/movement therapist in New York City, offers this technique: Breathe in for four counts through your nose, hold for seven counts, then breathe out for eight counts through pursed lips. (The exhale is most important.) Keep a hand on your belly; notice how it rises and falls. Continue until you feel anxiety subside. For a virtual breathing coach, Chang likes the Mindfulness App, available on both Android and iPhone (from $1.99).
Photography: William Abranowicz5 of 12
Freshen up. Get a maintenance check on your central-air systems. If you haven’t been conscientious about changing filters regularly, make sure they’re clean as you start the AC season; this will greatly improve air quality. Dirty or faulty filters won’t catch particulate matter, dust, and dander, and can cause your system to break down. Have allergies? Ask a technician if your filter can be upgraded to a microallergen filter, which also blocks out pollen. Find a certified technician in your area at natex.org.
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National Trails Day (americanhiking.org) is on the 4th—which means a day of free outdoor events in all 50 states. Try a new sport, like kayaking or trail running. As a 2015 Frontiers in Psychology article notes, spending time in nature is associated with better long-term health.
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Be fruitful. Among the biggest pleasures of summer: berries galore! A 2007 Journal of the American College of Nutrition article suggests that for a good antioxidant-level spike from blueberries, you must eat at least a half-cup at a time. And keep the nutrients coming all year by freezing a stash while they’re still at their peak.
Photography: Yunhee Kim8 of 12
Schedule an afternoon at the shore before we’re well into fall. Late-season excursions, in fact, are often ideal. According to a study from Washington University in St. Louis, mild-temperature days are the most restorative. Compared to beachgoers who spent their time by the sea in average or cooler-than-average summer temperatures, those who headed out when the mercury rose three degrees or so higher than average were 30 percent less likely to feel relaxed after their visit.
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Early detection is the best way to protect yourself from skin cancer, and now that outdoor activities are winding down, it’s a good time to get a baseline skin check. Visit your dermatologist for a full-body exam and advice on how to do your own throughout the year. You can also visit spotme.org to find a clinic where you can schedule a free screening.
Photography: Jim Bastardo10 of 12
Flu season peaks between December and February, but get vaccinated now—those viruses float around for months before, and it takes two weeks for the antibodies to develop in the body. These days, there is virtually no excuse not to. Hate needles? Ask your doctor for the nasal-spray version. Can’t commit to an appointment? Many pharmacies provide drop-in service. And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, immunizations are covered by insurance. If you’re curious about outbreaks, download the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s FluView app, which starts updating flu information in the middle of this month.
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Count your blessings. People who feel grateful tend to have more fulfilling friendships, feel less depressed, and even, according to a Spirituality in Clinical Practice article, have healthier hearts. To build gratitude at Thanksgiving and beyond, keep a journal: A few times a week, record what you’re thankful for. It could be anything from enjoying a hilarious book to your spouse’s having remembered to fill the car with gas. Need motivation? Sign up at Thnx4 (thnx4.org), an e-journal created by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, to get reminders when it’s time to write.
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Got four minutes? You have time for a Tabata workout, which can up your energy amid the holiday crunch, says Jennifer McCombs of NYC’s Focus Personal Training Institute. Do any exercise (jumping jacks, burpees) at maximum intensity for 20 seconds, rest for 10, then repeat, for eight rounds total. The free Tabata Timer app (for Android and iPhone) signals you on to the next move.