19 Small Changes You Can Make to Improve Your Health

You don't have to go vegan or sign up for boot camp to give your well-being a nice boost. This month, try one of these refreshingly easy feel-good tips from fellow Real Simple readers.

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Photo by Christopher Silas Neal

Sometimes big changes start with small shifts. Whether you're trying to eat better, get more active or ward off germs, a healthier you doesn't have to mean a total lifestyle makeover. We asked our readers which small change has made the biggest impact on their health.

I gave my refrigerator a total makeover. First I placed fruits and veggies inside clear containers and put them, along with yogurt and salad fixings, on a shelf at eye level. Now when I open the door, those options grab my attention. I also threw out any takeout containers, because they only encouraged me to eat more takeout. As a result of this new system, I unconsciously make healthier choices, and it has helped to lower my blood pressure.

—Sharna Small, Borsellino Dedham, Massachusetts

About a year ago, instead of reading during my 15-minute break at work, I started taking brisk walks around my office-building complex. After a couple of months, I was so surprised at how my body shape had changed with that small amount of exercise. My midsection had slimmed down, and my legs were more toned. Now I feel more energetic throughout the day and sleep better at night.

—Karen Swanson, Taylor, Texas

My therapist suggested deep breathing as a tool to manage stress. I teach eighth-grade math, and my stress level is pretty high on some days. I breathe in to a slow count of five, hold for a slow count of five, then slowly release to a count of five. This instantly calms me down and keeps me centered. Think of it as a three-minute break that you can take anytime, anywhere.

—Cathy Morse, Forest City, North Carolina

There are tons of sweets and fatty snacks within arm's reach at my office, so I fell into the habit of grabbing a bag of chips or cookies in the late morning and afternoon. Early this year, I began bringing healthy bites (like mandarin oranges, nuts, and granola) to work. Since I've cut all those refined sugars and empty calories out of my diet, I no longer experience a late-afternoon slump.

—Katy Lange, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Weight lifting has improved my flexibility and made the aches and pains in my back, neck, and shoulders subside. I spent most of my life believing that cardio was the key to a lean, healthy body and that lifting would only make me appear bulkier. Yet now, at age 41, I look and feel better than ever.

—Christi McCrary, Dallas, Texas

My family and I order all our groceries online. When shopping in the supermarket, I'm more likely to make impulse purchases. (Who can say no to "buy one, get one free" boxes of cookies? I certainly can't.) It's much easier for me to resist temptations online. We eat healthier and spend less money to boot.

—Becky Kenemuth, Washington, D.C.

I've struggled with weight issues my whole life, so a few months ago I adopted my 10-year-old daughter's daily exercise routine: 40 situps and 20 push-ups. While she does it at night for her gymnastics class, I do it within the first 10 minutes of waking up. Not only do I feel stronger but the activity also puts me in a better mood and encourages me to make good choices throughout the day.

—Jenny Kober, Sheboygan, Wisconsin

In the past, I would drink coffee while getting ready for work, yet I still felt tired. So my fitness instructor advised me to drink water in the morning before my usual cup of joe. He said that this would get my metabolism going and wake me up. Since I've begun guzzling water and waiting until the midmorning slump to drink coffee, I've felt refreshed and energized.

—Abbie Dunham, Redondo Beach, California

When I gobbled down decadent breakfasts in the morning, like an egg and cheese on a bagel, I felt lethargic at work. Daily tasks, like sending e-mails and preparing for meetings, required more effort. By eating lighter morning meals, like a dairy-free smoothie or oatmeal with fruit, I have more energy in the morning and that lasts all day.

—Katie Muilenberg, Rockville, Maryland

Establishing a sleep schedule and sticking to it has cured my bouts of insomnia. I go to bed and get up at the same time every day, and I sprinkle my bed with lavender and play soothing music to help me fall asleep. With a full night's rest, I have fewer mood swings and my mind stays sharp.

—Mare Hare, Marinette, Wisconsin

As part of my goal of getting fit for my wedding, over two years ago I started tracking what I eat on an app called MyFitnessPal. I quickly learned how the calories from my snacking added up, and I also saw how much exercise can make up for those extra calories. I still use the app, despite being a married woman now, as it has proven to be great motivation for eating well and exercising.

—Laura VanderLaan, Atlanta, Georgia

While I understand that fitness is important, I get embarrassed at the gym, and I won't go for a run unless a bear is chasing me. However, gardening is a surprisingly great alternative to traditional exercise and relieves tension at the same time. Shoveling, tearing out weeds, and stomping on a pitchfork to loosen dirt definitely get my heart rate up.

—Merricka Breuer, Sunderland, Massachusetts

I am amazed by how paying closer attention to how food affects my body and then adjusting my diet accordingly has affected my overall health. For instance, after discovering that a lack of fat in my meals caused an upset stomach and bloating, I started eating more healthy fats. I have dropped 15 pounds and am experiencing less joint and muscle soreness.

—Jill L. Lindsey, Lebanon, Ohio

Since I think it's more often the things we touch that make us sick as opposed to the air we breathe, I press upon my two boys the importance of washing our hands frequently. We have been an illness-free home for the last year, and I take much pride in that. No one has missed a day of school or work in the longest time. Either we are really lucky or we simply wash our hands.

—Pamela Jean Grady, Kalispell, Montana

After researching the potential sources of my back problems and fatigue, I learned that poor posture can cause these symptoms. So to help me sit up straight, I swapped out my office chair for a stability ball. My back issues have vastly improved, and I'm more alert, not to mention confident, at work.

—Felicia Goldsmith, Davis, California

Sugar has always been my biggest vice. I used to eat dessert after lunch, and I would start thinking about my nighttime dessert even before dinner. Now I refrain from having multiple desserts a day and satisfy my sweet tooth with a piece of dark chocolate or a handful of raspberries instead of ice cream. Besides not having to deal with the constant crashes and the cravings, I enjoy the sweets that I do eat more than before.

—Abby Pfeiffer, Portland, Oregon

I used to think that stretching was a total waste of time, but after being told to stretch daily after a painful knee injury, I discovered what a difference it makes. When I stretch after a workout, my body is much less sore and achy. My legs used to feel really tight all the time, but as long as I stretch in the morning and at night, they're pain-free.

—Teresa Tobat, Burke, Virginia

Thanks to our new practice of reading nutrition labels, my kids and I are able to look at a product and know whether it will make us feel good or not. If a food doesn't pass our criteria (no hydrogenated oils or high-fructose corn syrup, a small amount of sugar, and at least two grams of fiber per serving), we don't buy it. We love knowing exactly what we're putting into our bodies.

—Erica Privitelli, Los Angeles, California

About five years ago, when I returned to work after being a stay-at-home mom, I realized that waking up at the same time as my daughter and husband made me cranky. I felt overwhelmed having to immediately prepare breakfast and get everyone ready for the day. So now I wake up 30 minutes before the rest of the household. I enjoy a cup of coffee and read or watch a funny TV show. This daily ritual helps me feel more awake and relaxed and puts me in a better state of mind.

—Michele Gorka, Bridgewater, New Jersey