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3 Easy Swaps to Boost Your Overall Health

Harvard researchers say you don’t have to overhaul your diet and lifestyle to get the feel-great benefits you’re after. These take-it-easy tweaks are simple and effective!  Tired of checking your fitness tracker every night only to discover that you didn’t hit that elusive 10,000- step goal? Don’t feel bad: According to a recent study, if you took even 4,700 steps, you’re doing great!

In the study of 18,289 women, taking just 4,700 steps a day dropped subjects’ mortality risk by an impressive 41 percent. The fact is, today’s 10,000-step guideline isn’t based on science at all, says study author I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “It was a marketing strategy developed by a Japanese company selling pedometers.” That means you can put your feet up — guilt-free! — once you’ve taken your 4,700 steps.

And there’s more great news to report: Taking fewer steps isn’t the only way you can cut back on your efforts and still reap plenty of health benefits—which is especially helpful as we head into the hectic holiday season!

Instead of stressing over veggies, eat them this way.

The American Heart Association advises eating eight servings of fruit and vegetables daily, but you don’t need to revamp your diet. A study of 135,000 subjects in The Lancet found that a diet rich in fresh produce was linked to a 22 percent lower risk of heart disease, but the benefits peak at just four servings daily. “The healthiest subjects ate at least one daily serving of raw vegetables,” says researcher Aletta Schutte, Ph D. The reason? Raw veggies boast heart-protective nutrients that can be damaged by high-heat cooking.

Instead of going to the gym, do this at home.

Weight lifting preserves lean muscle mass and boosts energy — yet 65 percent of us avoid it because we feel self-conscious and intimidated lifting heavy weights in crowded gyms. But you can get the same benefits using lighter weights at home. Researchers at Canada’s McMaster University report that all it takes is lifting about 30 percent of your maximum (bicep curls with 3-pound weights if you could lift 10-pound weights, for example) for 20 reps one day a week to see the benefit. “Lifting weights prompts the release of muscle-building hormones,” explains Ken Wakai, MD. “And lifting lighter weights many times gives the same hormone boost as lifting something super-heavy once or twice.”

Instead of meditating, breathe like this.

Meditating offers plenty of benefits — but fewer than 8 percent of us have the time or patience to sit with a silent mind. Luckily, experts say you don’t need to meditate at all to get its stress-relieving perks. According to a research review, simply breathing deeply for one minute, keeping your exhale twice as long as your inhale, can quickly quash stress and sharpen focus by 50 percent for one hour. “Inhaling deeply, then exhaling slowly stimulates a cranial nerve that initiates the relaxation response,” explains study co-author Rod Gerritsen, PhD. “This helps you feel calm and focused, even under pressure.” 

To do: Inhale deeply for a count of five, then exhale slowly for a count of 10. Repeat three times.

This story originally appeared in our print magazine.

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