Staying healthy can feel like so much, well, work (think: logging hours at the gym and whipping up nutritious meals from scratch). However, there are plenty of small moves that you can make in your everyday life that will have big health benefits. We’ve rounded up 15 practically zero-effort ways to fight disease, whittle your waist, lower stress, and more. Bonus: Many of these good-for-you moves feel good, too. So say sayonara to the old adage, “no pain, no gain” and try these tips today.
Boost brain power with chocolate
Are you a chocoholic? Turns out your little addiction may save your life. A recent study found that those consuming the highest levels of chocolate had a 37% reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29% reduction in stroke compared to those with lower chocolate intakes. Though experts are quick to clarify that we should stick to moderate consumption of high-calorie chocolates, it’s hard to deny the cold, hard facts that chocolate can be a healthy addition to our diets.
Another study finds that chocolate may also boost brainpower. Flavonols, compounds in chocolate with antioxidant-like properties, are thought to improve circulation, including blood flow to the brain. Study participants were asked to count backward in groups of three from a number between 800 and 999. After drinking hot cocoa filled with flavonols, the participants were able to do calculations more quickly and accurately and were less likely to feel tired or mentally drained.
Up your antioxidants with a new super fruit
The largest edible fruit native to North America, the pawpaw will grow pretty much anywhere, although it does best in the Northeast and the Midwest, says Ken Asmus, owner of Oikos Tree Crops, a Kalamazoo, Michigan–based nursery that sells pawpaw tree seedlings. Their fruit ripens around the end of August and lasts until mid-October. Some nutritionists and foodies think pawpaws could be the next superfood. They have 20 to 70 times as much iron, 10 times as much calcium, and 4 to 20 times as much magnesium as bananas, apples, and oranges, Asmus has found. And research from Ohio State has found that they have antioxidant levels that rival cranberries and cherries.
An added health bonus: Being a native tree, pawpaws are resistant to most pests and diseases, making them very easy to grow organically, without the insecticides or fungicides used in most fruit orchards. Just don’t look for them at the grocery store; you’re more likely to find a pawpaw at your local farmer’s market — if you aren’t already growing them in your backyard.
Pop vitamin D to live longer
Have you had your dose of vitamin D today? A growing body of research shows that not getting enough of this nutrient can trigger a slew of health problems — and experts believe that most of us have a vitamin D deficiency. Though current guidelines call for 600 to 800 IU daily, researchers at John Hopkins Medicine now believe we may need up to 4,000 IU. The very latest research supports the case that the “sunshine vitamin” is a powerful health booster. In fact, people who get enough vitamin D have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in Diabetes Care. Experts speculate that the nutrient’s anti-inflammatory powers might be one way that it offers protection against the disease.
Getting enough D may also improve asthma. Earlier research found that having low levels may make asthma symptoms worse, and a new study finds that lacking in D could make breathing harder by increasing airway smooth muscle mass in children with treatment-resistant asthma, according to the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The “sunshine vitamin” may also help ward off cancer. A whopping 77% of cancer patients have low levels of vitamin D, and the lowest levels are linked to more advanced cancers, suggests a study presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology. More research is being done on how vitamin D might help prevent or even treat cancer.
Fight cancer with spices
There may also be some potent ways to ward off illness inside your spice cabinet. Curcurmin is the antioxidant ingredient that gives turmeric (commonly used in Indian curries) its yellow color. The super ingredient has already been linked with preventing diabetes, protecting against Alzheimer’s, and easing arthritis pain — and a recent study show it also helps ward off tumors. Curcumin helped prevent the growth of tumors tied to colon cancer, according to a study in the journal Gastroenterology. “Our research found that curcumin was able to ignite the body’s own tumor suppression activity to keep a cancerous tumor from growing and spreading,” says Dr. Ajay Goel, PhD, director of epigenetics and cancer prevention at the Gastrointestinal Research Center at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. “Though we used colon cancer cells in this study, we suspect that this is one mechanism of action for cancer suppression in many other types of cancer as well.”
Ward off weight gain with protein
You may not have to stress so much about cutting calories: Whether you’re packing on the pounds or simply want to maintain your current weight, adding more protein to your dish could be your slim-down secret weapon.
Past research has found that protein keeps you feeling full longer than either carbs or fat, so you can eat less and still be satiated. A new study supports this idea: Researchers from the University of Sydney estimated that the extra calories eaten by participants in their study eating the lowest protein diets could add up to an extra 2.2 pounds of weight gain a month. Protein is the building block of muscle, and more calories are required to maintain muscle than to preserve fat, which means muscle helps boost your metabolism. Bonus: Foods rich in protein are also filled with zinc and B vitamins, both of which strengthen your immune system to ward off colds and flu.
Protect your ticker with sleep
Need a good excuse to grab your comfiest set of pajamas and hit the sack? Skimping on shut-eye may do more than make you cranky or unproductive — it also boosts your risk of a heart attack. According to one Norwegian study, people who reported that they did not wake up feeling refreshed in the morning had a 27% higher risk of a heart attack, those who had trouble staying asleep almost every night in the last month had a 30% higher risk, and those who had trouble falling asleep almost every night in the last month had odds that jumped to 45%.
Some researchers speculate that insomnia might trigger your body to release more of the stress hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol have been linked with high blood pressure and diabetes, which are both risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Plus, when you’re exhausted you may be more likely to make unhealthy choices that up your heart disease risk, such as skipping your workout or reaching for fatty or sugary snacks for a quick energy fix.