As hosts of the Emmy award–winning show The Doctors and as medical professionals with 78 years of experience under our stethoscopes, we can tell you firsthand that you don’t need huge chunks of time to stay healthy. In fact, very small, quick moves—like getting (or giving) a back rub or drinking more water—can soothe little ailments today and protect your heart, brain, and entire body tomorrow.
1. Hold your husband’s hand tonight
In 5 seconds: Put the snuggle back in your marriage Weave more small touches into conversations with your spouse, family, and friends—it’s another way to show loved ones how much they mean to you. Squeeze your spouse’s hand when you’re riding an elevator together, or rub your daughter’s back when you chat about her day. We’re cuddle bugs by nature—our endocrine systems release a cascade of positive pleasure chemicals when we receive a caring touch, making us feel more connected and content and less anxious. (One study found that waitresses who touched their customers even earned bigger tips.)
2. Pop your allergy meds before bed
In 10 seconds: Keep allergies at bay Allergies often flare up first thing in the morning. If that’s the case for you, take your allergy meds at night so they’ll still be working come dawn. And because many allergy drugs cause drowsiness, what better time to lie back, relax, and let the remedy do its job?
3. Snooze on your left side
In 15 seconds: Outsmart indigestion As many as 80% of heartburn sufferers experience symptoms at night. Steal back a good night’s sleep by fluffing up two pillows instead of one. In an Archives of Internal Medicine study, people who propped up their heads about 11 inches reduced their symptoms dramatically. Also, sleep on your left side and you’ll cut your heartburn risk in half—that’s because snoozing on your right side relaxes the muscle that keeps gastric acids in your stomach.
4. Add healthy fats to every snack or meal
In 20 seconds: Reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes When your meal contains protein, fiber, and even fat, your body’s insulin response slows, stabilizing your blood sugar. Munch bread with some butter or olive oil, or make a PB&J sandwich with more PB and less J. In one study of more than 32,000 women, those whose diets had the highest glycemic load (a measure of how quickly a food spikes your blood sugar) had more than twice the risk of heart disease compared with those whose diets had the lowest load.
5. Take 6 little calming breaths
In 30 seconds: Lower your blood pressure Six calming breaths in 30 seconds can reduce your systolic blood pressure by nearly 10 mmHg, Japanese research has found. Even occasional blood pressure spikes—like those during an insanely nonstop day—might put you at increased risk of stroke, according to a study in the Lancet.
6. Add more ice to sugary drinks
In 40 seconds: Cut a junk food craving If you just can’t give up your soda—a known contributor to obesity—here’s one way to lessen the impact of all that sugar and phosphoric acid: Take a glass that’s twice as big as your can, pack it with ice, and then pour in the soda. It will last longer and, by the time you’re finished, you’ll have an extra helping of hydrating water as well. This works with any sweetened drink, such as iced tea or orange juice.
7. Email your doctor
In 60 seconds: Have a smarter doctor visit Just left the doctor and—oops—forgot to ask about your achy knee or can’t remember what she said about calcium supplements? Don’t be afraid to call back after you leave or send an e-mail. Most doctors will be happy to address any lingering questions that slipped your mind.
8. Guzzle water with your wine
In 90 seconds: Sidestep a hangover Of course, you shouldn’t drink to excess. But when an extra round or two is unavoidable, alternate a glass of water with every one of wine. Rehydrating minimizes alcohol’s diuretic effects, staving off headaches. You’ll also likely drink less alcohol overall because you’ll fill up on water.
9. Get rid of messy sticky notes on your desk
In 2 minutes: Head off a migraine Pull those sticky notes off your computer and straighten that stack of papers on your desk. The same clutter that’s merely a nuisance to most of us can be downright painful to people who get migraines, say Scottish researchers. Office litter may provoke debilitating pain by overstimulating whole clusters of nerve cells, much the way an overused muscle will spasm. Even if you’re not migraine-prone, clearing away junk helps relieve stress and improve focus.
10. Swap in cereal for bread crumbs
In 3 minutes: Reduce bad cholesterol Instead of bread crumbs to coat chicken breasts, chop up General Mills’ original Fiber One cereal for a nutrition-packed crunch. For every extra gram of soluble fiber in your diet—a 1/2-cup serving of Fiber One has 1 g—you can trim your LDL cholesterol by almost 2 mg/dL. Other sources include beans, peas, and citrus.
11. Strength-train during commercials
In 4 minutes: Boost your brainpower A known metabolism jump-starter, resistance training just once a week can improve your ability to resolve conflicts and focus your attention, a Canadian study has found. Luckily, you don’t need the gym; just use your own body weight. Do as many push-ups or crunches as you can during commercials while watching your favorite TV show, or lunge across your living room as you water your plants.
12. Keep track of your good deeds
In 5 minutes: Make your mood soar Go ahead, toot your own horn. When people were asked to track kindnesses they showed others, their own happiness skyrocketed. Leave a more-than-generous tip for waitstaff or let someone cut in front of you in line at the supermarket. Jot down your good deeds every evening, and you may act more kindly simply to lengthen your list. But that’s okay. According to researchers, you can become happier and more grateful by paying attention to how nice you are.
13. Stand up while you surf the web
In 7 minutes: Prolong your life Instead of sitting when you poke around on Facebook, stand up and perch your laptop on a high countertop. A recent Australian study found that every hour of television people watched each day (trolling the Internet is an equally sedentary activity) increased their risk of dying from heart disease by 18%. Alternate standing and sitting while you’re online or watching TV, and you can eliminate the risk.
14. Cool a burn with water, not butter
In 10 minutes: Recover from a mild burn Putting butter on a burn (an old wives’ tale) is a bad idea: It can trap the heat, causing discomfort and even infection. Another mistake is icing immediately—it’s as caustic as heat. Instead, submerge the area in cool water for 10 to 15 minutes, then treat with a cool compress. Apply aloe vera or antibiotic cream, then cover with a nonstick bandage.
15. Ask yourself this life-changing question
In 12 minutes: Prevent Alzheimer’s Ask yourself, If I could change one thing about the world, what would it be? People with a strong purpose in life are 2-1/2 times more likely to ward off Alzheimer’s disease; research also shows they tend to be less depressed too. Answer the question quickly, with your gut reaction, then brainstorm five ways to help make that change at a local level.
16. Plan a weekend getaway
In 15 minutes: Stave off a heart attack When on a tight budget, it’s easy to postpone vacations. But people with a higher risk of heart disease who take a trip every year are 32% less likely to die from their condition. Research a quick weekend getaway .