Did you know that just an extra glass of milk every day could freeze any chances of osteoporosis 10 years from now or that munching on a bunch of broccoli stalks daily could halve your chances of developing breast cancer? Nor did we, till we went healthy-habit hunting for you.
We've done some practical groundwork for you this year by ID-ing habits that you need to adopt in your 20s so you don't end up in "I wish I had done…(fill in the blank) five years ago" mode. "Habits programme our bodies and the way we eventually turn out. Subtly, slowly but surely, unhealthy habits sap our enthusiasm and health and we usually realise this only when it is a bit too late," says Dr Nalin Nag, consultant, internal medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, Delhi. "So make a few conscious habit changes now and smoothen your 30s and 40s," he adds. Here are 18 surprising practices that are guaranteed to deliver—long-term.
1. Pencil in a Pap Smear
If you haven't had one in the last year, take a break from reading and call your gyno to schedule one right now. "A Pap test that takes only a few minutes to conduct, is used to examine cells from the cervix and vagina to look for cancer or pre-cancerous changes," says Dr Mridula Chichra, gynaecologist, Jeevan Hospital, Delhi. "Pap testing should begin when you become sexually active or at age 18, and having one annually is a must," she adds.
Positive payback: It's the best way to detect cervical cancer, which can be prevented and cured if caught early. This test also catches pre-cancerous lesions, infections and cervical abnormalities. In fact, since its introduction in 1939, the Pap smear has led to a 75 per cent drop in cervical cancer deaths in the US.
2. Snack Some More
Say goodbye to the guilt. "Smart snacking may in fact be the best way to eat, as long as you graze on healthy foods and steer clear of high-cal junk," says Dr Shikha Sharma, weight-loss consultant. A 100-200-calorie snack eaten two to three hours before a meal can take the edge off your hunger and keep you from overeating.
Positive payback: Snacking right will control your weight in the long run. A University of Limburg, Netherlands, study revealed that people who consume mini-meals had more stable carbohydrate and fat oxidisation levels than gorgers, making them less prone to weight gain. "Snacking also increases your metabolic rate and stimulates your body to burn more fat," adds Dr Sharma.
3. Jog Your Brain Every Day
Play a game of speed Scrabble and work on a crossword puzzle a day for at least five to ten minutes. "The real reason for a decline in memory is under-stimulation and confining habits. Like muscles that get soft and shrink if you stop working out, the brain too needs stimulation to stay strong," says Dr Julian Whitaker in The Memory Solution. Studies show that people who do math calculations and brain teasers under time constraints keep their minds activated and boost their immunity.
Positive payback: A regular workout helps flex the mental muscle and boosts brain power. Research shows that we can improve memory performance by 50 per cent if we use the right strategies.
4. Pick a Fun Activity
Stop envying those trim silhouettes, switch to a workout that you'll look forward to every day instead. Choose dance class, aqua aerobics, cross-training, power yoga or sign up for a sport you enjoyed as a child—swimming, badminton, and table tennis.
Positive payback: Taking up a fun activity that fits in with your lifestyle and level of fitness increases the chances that you'll stick to it. What's more, the benefits will multiply too.
5. Make That Cup Green
The Chinese have known about its medicinal powers forever, using green tea to treat everything from headaches to depression. Recent research is also gung-ho about its health benefits.
Positive payback: The antioxidants in green tea fight cancer, lower LDL cholesterol levels and inhibit the abnormal formation of blood clots. It's also a good source of folic acid, potassium, Vitamins C, B, K and other nutrients like manganese and niacin.
6. Practice Eye Yoga
Tired of constant irritation, swollen eyes, blurred vision, light sensitivity and frequent headaches? Try tratak or eye yoga. Abhinav Sagar, yoga expert, outlines the steps: sit on the floor in a dark, silent room; position the flame of a candle at eye-level and stare at it. Still your mind and let your surroundings fade away. Focusing totally on the flame, close your eyes. Pick up a wet cloth and rub gently over your left eye to your left ear a couple of times. Repeat for the right side. With your eyes still closed, recall the image of the flame, in the centre of your forehead. Meditate as long as you can. Open your eyes. "Do this for about 10 minutes weekly and increase the time," he says.
Positive payback: Tratak prevents eye fatigue, which can lead to Computer Vision Syndrome. It helps relax the mind, sharpens vision, removes the first stages of short-sightedness and also reduces eye ailments like excessive blinking and conjunctivitis.
7. Skip Rope, Not Meals
Studies show that skipping meals slows down your metabolism and leads to overeating. When you miss a meal or eat too little, your brain tricks the body into starvation mode and alerts the body to conserve calories. Your body assumes food is in short supply and stores fat. So instead of missing meals, eat balanced ones," says Dr Sharma. Besides, skipping meals leads to low blood sugar, which causes hunger pangs and leads to bingeing.
Positive payback: Repeatedly skipping meals starts a vicious cycle of missing and overeating. So if you want to skip something, try a 15-minute session with a jump rope to keep you in shape.
8. Connect With Calcium
"Eat at least two calcium-rich foods daily—yoghurt, milk, orange juice, cottage cheese, fish, soyabean, fenugreek and dates. And if you are not a milk guzzler, take a calcium supplement with Vitamin D to top off the calcium in your diet," says Dr Sharma.
Positive payback: Getting plenty of calcium is one of the best ways to ward off bone-thinning osteoporosis. But that's not all. New research reveals four new reasons: it prevents high blood pressure, combats breast and colon cancer and downsizes PMS.
9. Learn Reflexology
Reflexology involves applying focused pressure to known "reflex" points located in the foot and hands, which correspond to certain body areas, says Veena Suri, acupressure expert. "By massaging specific points, the corresponding area of the body can be cured," she says. And this healing art is easy to learn and do.
Positive payback: Reflexology helps combat the effects of stress, improves circulation, cleanses the body of toxins and helps balance the body. It also leads to noticeable improvement in physical and emotional health, increased self-esteem, an ability to stay motivated and an improvement in concentration.
10. Brain Dump
Take out a notebook and your favourite pen and start writing anything. Write for 15 minutes non-stop. Do not stop to edit or modify or think too much. Just let words and ideas flow on to paper. And please don't be critical of what you write.
Positive payback: Done daily, this exercise will be a soothing and purging experience. A lot of your subconscious thoughts will find a vent this way. Try it once and you'll be hooked.
11. Grab Some Grapes
Grapes are nutrition powerhouses. They have boron, which is necessary for good bone health and protects against osteoporosis. Ten grapes provide a good amount of Vitamins A and C and potassium, says Dr Pratima Kaushik, chief dietician, VIMHANS.
Positive payback: Eating grapes will keep your bones stronger, and its antioxidants will keep cancers and cardio problems at bay.
12. Surround Yourself With Red
Bold colours like red and orange can give you a lift when you are feeling tired. Though it is believed that the most effective way to absorb the colour energies is to expose yourself to coloured light, even gazing at red or orange objects or wearing bold coloured clothing can be equally effective.
Positive payback: Red will keep you super-charged and full of energy—a sure-fire way to keep you miles ahead of competition.
13. Good Intentions Can't Beat Breakfast
Are you a breakfast boycotter? If the answer is yes, you have to worry, girl. Breakfast is the most important meal and experts say that it should supply 20 per cent of your total daily nutrient needs.
Positive payback: "Giving breakfast a miss regularly has long-term adverse metabolic effects such as impaired glucose tolerance and elevated plasma cholesterol, which are risk factors for diabetes and heart disease," says Dr Kaushik. Recent studies also suggest that high-fibre breakfast cereals may help reduce the risk of cancers that are associated with poor-fibre intake.
14. Have Regular Sex
Healthy blood, bones, heart and body plus a peaceful mind—these feel-good benefits of sex continue long after the sweet talk has progressed to sports. So, next time you're in the mood remember that the doctor is on your side!
Positive payback: Muscular contractions during intercourse work the pelvis, thighs, buttocks, arms, neck and thorax. That apart, there is a long list of measurable advantages that having regular, enthusiastic sex confers—lowered cholesterol, improved circulation, reduced stress and a longer life.
15. Walk for Your Heart
And treat yourself to a pedometer this year. This little gadget measures the body motion, counts footsteps and converts this into distance. You can wear a pedometer all day and record total steps or wear it for a walking workout.
Positive payback: Earlier it was believed that only sweaty, heart-pounding exercise was aerobic enough to do the heart any good. But scientists now feel that walking works just as well. A study, analysing more than 120,000 women showed that walking three or more hours a week cut their threat of heart disease by a striking 30 per cent; five hours cut it by an even more impressive 40 per cent. 10,000 steps per day are good, so see if you measure up.
16. Floss Your Teeth Every Day
Dental health begins with good oral hygiene. And for that, regular flossing is also important. www.dentistry.about.com gives the following steps—cut a piece of floss 18''-long and wind most of it around the middle finger of one hand. Next, wind the remainder around the middle finger of your other hand. Hold the floss between your index fingers and thumbs, with about an inch of floss between. Wrap the floss around the back of your last tooth in your upper right jaw. Gently slide it into the space between the tooth and gum until you feel resistance. When the floss reaches the gum line, bend it into a C-shape around one tooth. Now, unroll clean floss from one finger and wind it onto the other. Using a gentle sawing motion, guide the floss between the first and second tooth. Move the floss to the side of the tooth on the other side of the gap and repeat. Pull the floss out.
Positive payback: Flossing cleans between teeth where a toothbrush can't reach and also helps control bad breath. Besides, by combining flossing and brushing each day, you can thoroughly remove plaque and prevent cavities and gum disease.
17. Eat Broccoli Thrice a Week
Broccoli makes a delicious addition to salads and soups and incorporating it in to your diet will be one big favour to you.
Positive payback: When it comes to basic nutrients, broccoli comes out tops. Ounce for ounce, boiled broccoli has more Vitamin C than an orange and as much calcium as a glass of milk. One medium spear has three times more fibre than a slice of wholewheat bread. Broccoli is also one of the richest sources of Vitamin A and potent cancer-fighting components.