While we love a lively debate about the latest in dietary science or the hot new workout craze, the truth is that great health isn’t so complicated. It all comes down to a few simple rules. Besides exercising, eating fruits and veggies and never smoking (you already knew that, right?), here’s what the healthiest women do every day.
They put themselves first
“Many women don’t approach their own needs thoughtfully,” says David Katz, MD, president of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine and author of Disease Proof. “They just give themselves whatever is left over”—like eating scraps off your kid’s plate rather than making your own dinner, or sacrificing sleep to squeeze in an extra work report. But time for yourself should be the last thing to come off your schedule.
They’re not afraid of fat
We now know that the type of fat you consume is more important than the amount. For one, low-fat diets don’t seem to be any more effective than higher-fat diets at helping people lose weight. And when it comes to heart health, replacing saturated fats with refined carbs doesn’t do you any favors—but replacing them with unsaturated fats can reduce heart disease risk by up to 25 percent, says a recent study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Aim to get most of your fat from foods rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats (such as avocados, nuts, seeds and fatty fish), says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
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They don’t drink their calories
Other than water, the only drinks worth a pour are coffee (mind the cream and sugar) and tea, along with the occasional alcoholic drink (no more than one per day), if you so desire. Even juices should be seen as a treat. That’s because juicing removes most of the fruit’s healthy fiber while preserving the sugar.
They use a shot of sunscreen
As in 1 ounce, enough to fill a shot glass, spread out over every exposed inch of the body. Don’t forget places like your ears (the third most common spot for basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer), neck, the back of your hands and—during sandal season—your toes, plus SPF lip balm.
They don’t fight stress with screens
By the end of a long, harried day, the path of least resistance is often paved with wine, Häagen-Dazs and endless mind-dulling games of Candy Crush. But these types of activities offer only instant gratification—a little hit of dopamine in the brain’s reward center. “Do something instead that fosters a genuine positive emotion; that’s what induces feelings of calm and safety and puts the brakes on your body’s stress response,” says sociologist Christine Carter, PhD, senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and author of The Sweet Spot. One of the best ways to tap into good vibes: Connect with others in person, not just via Instagram and Facebook likes.
They’re strict about bedtime
Mix up your meals, your workouts, your social life—but be consistent about when you hit the sack. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is essential to making sure you get enough shut-eye—a lack of which can, over time, increase your risk of heart disease, obesity, depression, diabetes and more. Plus, it’s hard to feel productive or fend off stress and mood swings when you’re yawning through the day. If you struggle with sleep, check out our great-sleep guide. And set up a relaxing bedtime routine to help you wind down. That includes turning off all electronic devices, notes Carter. Your Pinterest boards will be there in the morning.