In today’s fast-paced world, we’re all looking for quick ways to take charge of our health. That’s probably why biohackers are willing to drink butter for breakfast in the name of superhuman energy and… fat loss? And why the Quantified Self movement — or the practice of studying your own body to see how it responds to small changes — has been gaining steam ever since Gary Wolf’s famous TED Talk in 2010.
Plus, those trackers and smart watches you’ve been wearing for years now are poised to become an even bigger deal. Wearable technologies are predicted to emerge as a $5.8 billion industry within the next three years. Ca-ching. Now that whole fields of study are now devoted to decoding which life hacks actually work, here are a few simple science-backed strategies that will help you sleep, move, think, work and live better.
7 Genius Life Hacks to Improve Your Health
1. Get more active by…finding the right tracker.
You’ve burned through one, maybe two, bands since Christmas. But if you can find a device you can stick with, the simple act of tracking your activity will increase it, says sports medicine and rehabilitation medicine physician Matthew Diamond, MD, PhD, medical director for Misfit Wearables. One review of 26 studies found that when people started counting their steps with a pedometer, they increased their movement by almost 27 percent. Dr. Diamond suggests starting small, tracking both your activity and sleep for a week. Just being more aware of your daily movement might encourage you to sweat more often.
2. Zap a headache by…using pressure points.
Head throbbing? In traditional Chinese medicine, acupressure, which targets certain areas of the body known as pressure points, is thought to balance the body and potentially help ease pain. Next time you have a headache, try applying pressure to the skin between your thumb and index finger, Dr. Diamond suggests. How does it work? Stress makes most people’s sympathetic nervous system (responsible for the “fight or flight” response) overactive. Pressure points activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which will relax your nervous system, potentially relieving pain, Diamond explains. In fact, one small Taiwanese study found that acupressure was more effective than muscle relaxant medications for relieving chronic headache pain.
3. Feel happier by…chewing more slowly.
Simmer down and actually enjoy that oatmeal. It’s no shocker that eating makes you feel good in the moment, but savoring each bite can actually boost your overall happiness level, Dr. Diamond shares. Mindful eating is the practice of focusing on the experience of eating your food, including the flavors, textures and how it makes you feel. Dr. Diamond also suggests thinking about where your food came from and how it ended up on your plate. “Consistent mindful eating practice is a way to cultivate gratitude, an important component of happiness,” he says. “And you’ll also be more likely to choose healthier food and be less likely to overeat.”
4. Be more productive by…calling it a night.
Counterintuitive, we know. It can be easy to push through those end-of-day yawns, grab another cup of coffee and power through more Powerpoint slides. But if you stop working at the end of normal business hours and pick up where you left off the next morning, your work will be more polished. “Your productivity goes way down at [a] point,” says Josh Davis, PhD, director of research for the NeuroLeadership Institute and author of Two Awesome Hours. “But by stopping, you will be able to get a better night’s sleep and then be more productive the next day.”
5. Fall asleep fast by…ditching your phone.
Your smartphone addiction is very real. In fact, 81 percent of U.S. smartphone users say they keep their phone near them “almost all the time during waking hours.” And 63 percent reported keeping their phone near them even when sleeping, according to a recent Gallup Panel survey. While scrolling through your Instagram feed one more time might be tempting, it can actually keep you awake long after you turn the screen off, Dr. Diamond says. “Artificial light at night has been shown to decrease the quantity and quality of sleep and disrupt our natural hormonal balance, predisposing us to metabolic diseases, and even cancer.” Power down or at least set your phone to ‘Do Not Disturb.’
6. Hit your 10,000 steps by…taking your meeting on the road.
Reaching that elusive 10,000-step daily landmark (the default “goal” on most fitness trackers) can be tough on days that are jam-packed. But taking your coworkers outside for a walking meeting is an easy way to sneak in a few extra miles-worth of steps during the workday, Dr. Diamond says. If you don’t have any in-person meetings on your Outlook calendar, try to take a phone call outside instead. Not only can you sneak in a 45-minute walk, but your meeting or call will likely be more productive, Dr. Diamond says. “People are more open and you really get to talk about what’s important instead of sitting somewhere and getting distracted.”
7. Solve problems like a CEO with…brain training.
Ready to unleash your inner Sheryl Sandberg on the world? Just like you can make your body stronger with exercise, you can also condition your brain. One method of brain training, known as the “dual n-back test,” requires participants to match both a visual and auditory cue, forcing them to juggle many different pieces of information at the same time. A team of psychologists and neuroscientists at the University of Michigan who have been studying the effects of dual n-back training have found that it can improve people’s fluid intelligence, or their capacity to think and solve problems in new and novel situations. To give it a try, download an app, such as Dual N-Back.