Think simple swaps to your lifestyle won’t get you anywhere? Think again.

By Marty Munson and Maggie Seaver
Updated March 09, 2020
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How do you want to look and feel by this time next year? If your goal is to be happier and healthier, you can achieve it gradually (and surprisingly easily) by making small, sustainable adjustments to your lifestyle. Over the course of a year, tiny changes, like taking the stairs or choosing olive oil over butter, can have an unexpectedly significant impact inside and out, without feeling overwhelming. Make minor tweaks like these to your day-to-day routine and reap the healthy rewards before you even know it.

1. Take a Lap Around Your Local Big-Box Store

Seriously! If, once a week, you take a turn around the inside of a mega-store before you begin shopping, you’ll walk about 12 extra miles over a year. That big U shape you trace by walking the outermost aisles of the average big-box store adds up to an extra quarter mile of walking each time. You’ll get your heart rate up and get your blood flowing each time, without even realizing it (or hitting the gym).

2. Choose the Stairs

Taking the stairs (when you can) for a whole year sounds like an impossible lifestyle swap, but hear us out. By next year, your body will have worked nearly twice as hard (in a good way) by choosing the stairs over the elevator. Beyond getting your heart rate up, blood flowing, and metabolism kicked into gear, you’ll also help combat a tendency toward sedentary behavior, or too much sitting still—and this isn’t just you. Research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology confirms our increasingly sedentary lifestyles are associated with a higher mortality risk among adults who engage in minimal to no physical activity. Little changes, like taking the stairs between floors at the office or walking home from the grocery store instead of driving, are an easy way to add some low-impact exercise into your daily routine.

3. Rethink Your Snack Choices

You need snacks, of course—and you want those cookies in the break room or that bag of chips in the cupboard. But what your body really needs is sustenance from whole, balanced snacks (so sadly, chips and cookies don’t fit the bill). Between-meal energy dips and cravings are a signal to reach for protein-packed, nutrient-rich munchies. Try a handful of almonds, yogurt and berries, a banana and peanut butter, or a plate of crunchy veggies and hummus. Finding it challenging to get in all your healthy food groups, vitamins, and minerals every single day? Trade your midday candy bar or bag of chips for a snack that’s actually nutritious.

4. Use Oil Instead of Butter

Choosing oils over butter may help reduce your risk of heart disease by 19 percent in a year’s time. In a 2010 review published in PLOS Medicine, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health noted this drop in heart disease risk while analyzing research on more than 13,000 people who swapped out saturated fat (that’s in butter, as well as red meat) for polyunsaturated fat (in soybean oil and canola oil) for at least a year.

5. Stand Up and Move Every 20 Minutes

Sadly, it’s true: Sitting for prolonged periods can shorten your life. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology back in 2010 found that women who logged in some six hours of sitting time during their nonworking hours were 37 percent more likely to die earlier than peers who sat for just three hours over the course of a day (outside of work).

Sedentary men, meanwhile, were 18 percent more likely to die earlier than their more active peers, according to the study. Researchers posited that it’s possible sitting could suppress enzymes involved in the metabolism of fats or may somehow indirectly affect cholesterol, glucose, blood pressure, and other markers of health. Going to the gym daily isn’t enough to change the stats: The key is to find ways to stand and move more during the day. Some experts recommend getting up from your chair every 30 minutes or less.

6. Call One Old Friend a Month

By this time next year, you’ll have rekindled or strengthened a friendship with 12 people, and research has found that people with stronger personal bonds are 50 percent more likely to outlive those who are less social. Of course, there’s no magic number of phone calls, emails, or coffee dates that can protect you, so if you want to check in with one friend (new or old) every week—or even every day—have at it.

7. Go to Bed One Minute Earlier Every Night

Yes, one minute will do it. Going to bed a minute earlier every night for just two months will earn you an extra hour of sleep pretty painlessly (a minute earlier a day for a year would gain you an extra six hours of sleep each night, which we hope is more sleep than you actually need). There are several compelling reasons to get sufficient sleep (other than spending less on coffee). Sleep deprivation is associated with a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and heart problems, a decreased ability to pay attention, increased likelihood of car accidents, and diminished memory capacity.