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Better Health: Little Things Count

It's the little things that could matter most in the long run for your good health, appearance and productivity, according to Fitness Magazine.

Its editors have compiled a list of little changes that could make a big difference if you stick with them. It's a three-week plan, based on scientific evidence, to start you on the path to a healthier lifestyle.

The article, in the February issue, is called "Age Proof Your Life: 20 Foods, Tips, Moves You Need."

Articles Editor Trisha Calvo says the plan consists of small changes to help improve your diet, health and attitude.

She tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm minor changes really can make major differences: Seventy percent of how well you age is up to your daily habits and not your genes.

"We're really talking about staying healthy and staying young," she says. "So you stay young inside and out.

"When you make little changes in small increments, maybe even on a week-by-week basis, it does help you stick with them. You just build on your successes."

Making changes in your life can take some planning, she points out. Fitness suggests you break it up into a three-week process. Week one focuses on diet. Week two, improving your health habits. And in the third week, simple ways to retrain your brain, which is important to optimize your activity level.

Week One

The first change we should make is to our diet, Calvo says. Become a "flexitarian," which means trying to exclude meat from some of your meals.
"Studies show flexitarians live longer, healthier lives. One thing you can do is you can eat meat, when you do have it, in small portions: three-to-four ounces, about the size of the palm of your hand."

It's not necessary to totally become a vegetarian, she adds. Not everybody can be a vegetarian. But try to add four or five meatless meals every week. Most meat has artery-clogging fat, which can contribute to heart disease and cancer.

Another suggestion: "eating Greek." Eat the way they do in the Mediterranean: Olive oil, fish and nuts have the good kinds of fat, and when those are combined with a balanced diet, it also helps reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. What's more, studies show that populations that include a healthy amount of olive oil, veggies and fruits in their diet tend to have skin with fewer lines and wrinkles, even with sun exposure.

"Refueling" matters, too, Calvo observes. Make sure you refuel after a workout. A heavy workout can depress the immune system. Because of that, Fitness recommends that you refuel your body by eating healthy carbs, such as bran cereal and whole wheat toast. Those foods help jumpstart the immune system again.

Week Two:

The second week is the time to focus on your health.

Start by having more sex. Studies show it can help prevent heart disease, help prevent auto immune diseases, and keep skin from wrinkling. "Researchers aren't sure if it's the companionship or the stress relief, but it's good for you. How could you not want it?" she comments.

Another way to do this is to try tai chi, an Asian form of moving meditation. It can bring you into a meditative state, which helps fight stress. Surprisingly, it also increases aerobic endurance by improving the flow of oxygen to working muscles.

Next, and perhaps this will surprise you: floss! It's not just good for your teeth. Flossing helps fight heart disease by preventing gum disease, which can send bacteria and other toxic substances into the blood. Once it's there, it may contribute to artery-clogging plaque.

Also, "reduce risks." Remember, you can be healthy, but using common sense and taking precautions against safety hazards and accidents is just as important to living a long, productive life. So make sure you replace the batteries in smoke alarms. And always wear your seat belt.

Week Three

The third week includes some fun activities that also promote good brain health.

Fitness advises that you "learn new tricks," as the magazine puts it. Studies show that keeping your brain sharp reduces the risk of such memory-damaging illnesses as dementia and Alzheimer's disease. So, learn something new, do more crossword puzzles, master a new skill.

Try "anything that challenges you," Calvo urges. "Learn a new language. Anything that just keeps the connections going." These things will help boost the immune system while keeping the brain young. You may not get Alzheimer's until your 70s, but the stage is set in the 30s. So you want to start early keeping your brain sharp.

Another suggestion: be a good friend. Companionship is proven to be good for a person's health. One study revealed that people who have a wide social network get fewer colds. It's also a stress reducer.

Finally, relax. No, not from the plan. Just, in general! It's no secret that a lot of stress can damage your health. So, if you're feeling overwhelmed, here is a quick thing that you can do: Scrunch up your face for about 15 seconds and then release it. The combination of tension and relaxation serves as a signal to the brain to cool down and let go.

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