New Year’s Day. You bound out of bed with purpose in your step and fire in your eyes, ready to take on all those resolutions that have been buried under a month’s worth of cookies and cocktails.
While fun to dream up, resolutions can be somewhat less fun to actually carry out (ah, 30 days of Bikram, anyone?) At SmartyPants, we love a good challenge, but we also like to make life simpler. So, rather than give you a bunch of ways to radically transform your life, this New Year’s, we’re going for ease and efficiency.
Here are five tiny changes that will add up to make a big difference.
TIME YOUR COFFEE
Good news java junkies: we’re not going to tell you to give up your beloved brew. You can keep the caffeine, but, if the best part of waking up is Folgers, or, perhaps, an organic, Fair Trade, Guatemalan dark roast, in your cup – you may want to rethink your morning routine.
Science shows that drinking coffee first thing in the morning may actually work against you.
Our body’s sleep/wake cycle – otherwise known as our circadian rhythm – is controlled primarily by two hormones: cortisol and melatonin. Cortisol is responsible for waking us up and it’s naturally highest in the morning. On average, cortisol begins to rise around 6 a.m. and peaks around 9 a.m. The theory goes that if you drink caffeine during this time, your body could begin to produce less cortisol, and rely more on caffeine. After all, why would your body wake itself up if caffeine is already doing the job?
So when should you drink caffeine?
Our cortisol levels naturally dip between 10 a.m. and noon, and 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. According to the people over at ASAP Science, these are the ideal times to drink caffeine. By delaying your coffee break to when you naturally need a boost, you won’t interfere with your body’s ability to regulate your energy.
TRY MAGNESIUM AT NIGHT
Sleep is a superfood and one many of us don’t get enough of – especially during the holiday season. Between the parties, naughty treats, and more than occasional cocktails, our sleep can take a major hit. But, for many people, getting back to sleep isn’t as simple as going to bed.
If you find yourself lying awake studying the cracks in your ceiling, worrying about a deadline, or wondering what Ace of Base is up to now, try supplementing with magnesium before bed.
Research shows that magnesium may help relieve insomnia. It also helps muscles relax to give you that calm, sleepy feeling. Unfortunately, magnesium is in high demand – our bodies use it for over 350 enzymatic reactions – and it’s notoriously difficult to get through diet.
If your sleep quality is less than ideal, you could try supplementing with magnesium before bed. The more bioavailable, or, easily absorbable, forms of magnesium are chelated forms, such as citrate, ascorbate, orotate, glycinate, or a combination. Magnesium is also easily absorbed through the skin, so, for a truly relaxing experience, try adding Epsom salts to a nighttime bath or #treatyoself to a massage with magnesium-infused body oil or lotion. Of course, we always recommend you check with your primary care provider before adding any supplements to your routine.
Despite all the resolutions to the contrary, when it’s cold outside, the last thing many people want to do is head out to the salt-covered sidewalk for a round of burpees.
But research shows that working out in the cold may actually maximize your efforts and help you burn a few more calories.
When you’re cold, your body works harder to regulate its core temperature and your heart works harder to distribute blood throughout your body. For a regular exerciser with healthy cardiovascular endurance, this can temporarily elevate your metabolism and help make your heart stronger.
Additionally, frequent bouts of cold exposure have been shown to increase our levels of brown fat. Why on earth would you want more fat? Unlike white fat – which makes up the vast majority of the fat in our bodies – brown fat, or, brown adipose tissue (BAT), actually burns calories to produce heat.
On top of BAT, cold exposure has been shown to cause our bodies to burn excess blood sugar more rapidly as fuel, rather than store it as fat.
Does this mean that you should strip down to your skivvies and start circuit training in the snow? No. Winter weather is no joke, so, please, use common sense. All we’re saying is that rather than curl up on the couch for two days because it’s a little nippy, or pay big bucks for an artificially-heated, indoor sweat session, you can get outside and take advantage of what Mother Nature offers for free!
Meditation and mindfulness are two concepts that have gone increasingly mainstream in the last couple of years – and for good reason. The benefits of meditation run the gamut from an increased sense of wellbeing, happiness, and serenity to improved mental focus, sleep quality, and longevity. It seems the only thing meditation can’t do is help you win the lottery. But you never know! (We’ll keep you posted.)
Even the U.S. military is using mindfulness-based techniques to improve cognitive resilience and performance and help better prepare soldiers for high-stress combat situations.
But what if you’re not in the army and you don’t have time to meditate? Plus, you’ve tried it before and it’s really hard…
We get it. Meditation is not easy. But it’s not impossible and, the good news is, you don’t have to rearrange your entire life, spend hundreds of dollars, or join the military to try it.
Research shows that you can experience the benefits of meditation by practicing for just 10 minutes a day.
That’s literally less time than it takes to make a cup of coffee and, thanks to technology, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home. There are tons of online programs and classes and several smartphone apps that offer convenient and affordable at-home instruction. Our favorite is the Headspace app. Your first week is free, it’s only 10 minutes a day, and your guide has the most delightfully soothing English accent. It’s the perfect replacement for that morning cup of joe you’ll now be postponing.
ADD TUMERIC AND BLACK PEPPER
If you follow any health-minded foodies on Instagram, then you know that, next to avocados, turmeric is THE ingredient of the moment (it currently has over 300,000 hashtags). But this gorgeous yellow spice has been used in traditional Indian cooking and as a medicinal herb for thousands of years. In fact, turmeric is one of the most well-researched spices, with over 6,000 peer-reviewed articles published on its benefits, which include promoting a healthy inflammatory response, improving mood, blood sugar regulation, bone health, heart health, digestion, and pain management. Many preventative health experts even believe that turmeric can be as effective as some prescription medications.
But before you start dousing your dishes in turmeric, you should know that curcumin – the most powerful active component in turmeric – is not easily absorbed by the body on its own. Research shows that you can increase your absorption of curcumin by consuming it together with black pepper, which contains piperine, a substance that’s been shown to enhance the absorption of curcumin by 2000%!
Fortunately, these two ingredients pair nicely together in most recipes. You can add turmeric and black pepper to almost any savory dish. Our favorites are traditional Indian curries, as research shows that heating turmeric and consuming it with healthy fats such as coconut oil can also help increase the bioavailability of curcumin. If you’ve never cooked with turmeric before, start with this super easy Black Pepper Chicken Curry recipe.
So go ahead, give these five little upgrades a try. They might not all rock your world, but one or two could really make a difference. If so, let us know in the comments, or give us a shout on social @smartyhealth. If nothing else, we hope they prove that healthy never has to mean hard, complicated, or confusing.
Happy holidays from our family to yours!