The Top 8 Things You Can Do For Your Body, Mind And Soul

1. Rev Your Metabolism to Shed Unwanted Weight

The best way to do this is to add strength training to your exercise regimen. Your body has to expend energy in order to repair muscle fibers after each strength-training workout, which means the more weight-based workouts you do and the more muscle you build, the more calories your body torches when you’re not breaking a sweat. (That’s right — muscle equals calories being burned while you’re on the couch catching up on The Affair.)

Weight training also ensures that as you slim down, you’re losing fat, not muscle. When Penn State University researchers put overweight people on a reduced-calorie diet and divided them into three groups — one that didn’t exercise, another that performed aerobic exercise 3 days a week and a third that did both aerobic exercise and weight training 3 days a week — they found that while members in each group lost about 21 pounds on average, the lifters shed roughly 6 more pounds of fat than those who didn’t pump iron.

Don’t forget that in addition to moves using free-weights or weight machines, actions that use your own body for resistance (squats, pushups, lunges, planks, etc.) count too.

Here are some of our favorite strength-training routines and exercises.

The Back-to-Basics Workout That Never Fails

An 8-Minute Circuit That Fights Weight Gain

4 Underrated Moves You Should Be Doing More Often

3 Exercises to Master for Tank Top–Ready Arms

The No-Equipment Workout You Can Do at Home

Illustration: David Wyffels

2. Commit to 7 to 9 Hours of Sleep

You know how important it is to get enough rest, and for years, you’ve been saying you’ll do it. There’s one approach to making it happen that beats all others: adjust your bedtime, not your wakeup time. We fall into our deepest sleep two hours before our natural waking time, which means adjusting your a.m. alarm is much harder. (We meet again, snooze button!) Move up your bedtime by 15-minute increments until you reach the 7-to-9-hours goal.

Here are a few more ideas for how to take your sleep from meh to amazing.

6 Things to Do Today to Sleep Better, Deeper and Longer Tonight

How to Turn Your Bedroom Into a Sleep Cave

What Sleep Experts Do to Get a Good Night’s Rest

3 Yoga Poses to Do Before Bed

8 Tips to Get Vacation Sleep at Home

Illustration: David Wyffels

3. Strengthen Your Resilience Muscle

As noted, we build our muscles by breaking them down, creating tiny tears in their fibers so they can grow back better than before. The way we build emotional strength is surprisingly similar: Tough times make us stronger in the long run. One review of research found that subjects who’d endured a moderate amount of adversity in their lifetime not only had a greater sense of well-being than those who’d suffered a severe amount of trauma, they were also better off than those who’d experienced no trauma at all.

These exercises and advice will help build that muscle so you can bounce back when life inevitably tosses you around, flips you upside down and throws you for a loop.

5 Experts on How to Cultivate Resilience

And here are three more techniques for when you find yourself facing a challenging.

 
Illustration: David Wyffels
4. Make Peace With Your Moods — All of Your Moods
We’ve all blown a gasket or two over stupid stuff. We’re often told that these emotions should be managed. But Julie Holland, MD, a psychiatrist who specializes in psychopharmacology and the author of Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy, says embracing our moods — every last one of them — is exactly what we should do. “Many people don’t recognize that their feelings can be an important feedback system,” she explains. “Irritation or resentment could tip you off to an imbalance of effort or compassion in a relationship. Depression may mean something in your life needs to change. I had a patient who called me crying from work one day and said, ‘I think we need to up my antidepressants.’ Then she proceeded to tell me a horrible story about her abusive boss. My response: ‘We don’t need to medicate away your indignant feelings. He behaved very badly, and for you to increase your medicine so you don’t mind that he behaved very badly doesn’t do anyone any favors.’ My point was that being more accommodating and thick-skinned isn’t necessarily the answer. Silencing the signals that you need to make necessary changes in your life — like confronting a mean manager or ending a bad relationship — can leave you in a paralyzing state of denial.”

Read our full Q&A with Holland here.

 
Illustration: David Wyffels

5. Hack Your Fridge and Cleanse Your Cabinets

At the Refrigerator:
– Put the healthiest items on the middle shelf, where you’re most likely to pick from, according to research in the Journal of Marketing.
– Indulgent foods go in opaque containers. You’re less likely to reach for what you can’t see.
– Pre-clean and cut fruits and vegetables so they’re ready to grab when you open the door.

In Your Cabinets:
– Toss foods with sugar listed among the first three ingredients, including those ending in “ose” (added sugars) and “ol” (sugar alcohols). Leave yourself a favorite treat or two so you don’t feel deprived.
– Swap refined carbs for whole grains. It’ll help keep your energy levels on an even keel.

A few other stories to read before you clean house:

The 7 Saltiest Foods to Avoid

15 Foods You Had No Idea Were Mostly Sugar

The 4 Worst Foods for Your Skin

Illustration: David Wyffels

6. Banish Aches, Pains and Soreness

The right stretches can alleviate discomfort and make your body feel so much better. Classic stretches that use your own body weight are great, but you can also use a foam roller or hard ball (like a lacrosse ball) for a more intense, deep-tissue-massage sensation, especially after a workout, when stretches with these tools have been shown to reduce muscle soreness. (Rollers and balls work on your fascia, the connective tissue that runs throughout your body, supports your muscles, bones and organs, and can leave you feeling stiff and achy when it’s tight).

Being too sedentary can also lead to achiness. If your job has you deskbound, get up and take at least a 1-minute break during every hour of sitting too, and stretch your hip flexors at the end of the day (sitting shortens them and can lead to back pain). Try this classic hip flexor move: Kneel on the floor and place one foot out front with your knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Then push your hips forward, keeping your front knee above your front foot, hold and switch legs.

A few more amazing stretches:

4 Moves Every Body Should Do Every Day

The Foam Roller Move That Makes Your Back Feel Incredible

5 Stretches All Women Should Be Doing

4 Stretches That Will Tell You If You’re Dangerously Inflexible

 
Illustration: David Wyffels

7. Make One Small Change in Bed

Or wherever you and your partner find yourselves when the mood strikes (the kitchen counter, the front entryway…): Wear socks. Researchers have found that warming up the feet leads to warming up other parts of the body. In fact, in a study done at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, half the couples were unable to make it to climax, but once socks were offered, the success rate shot up to 80 percent. (Some experts conclude it’s harder for us to totally let go when we feel cold.)
Illustration: David Wyffels

8. Nourish Your Spirit with One Simple Sentence

Meditation doesn’t have to involve sitting cross-legged in total silence (though if you’ve already made time for that, keep up the good work!). Mindfulness practices can be easily worked into your life with a small shift in perspective. Try this exercise from Marianne Williamson, spiritual teacher and the author of A Course in Miracles.

“As you go through the day, anywhere you might be, look at someone’s face and silently say to them, ‘The love in me salutes the love in you.’ I defy you to do this for two minutes each day and not become happier,” Williamson says.

Another simple idea: “Before you go into work, into a meeting, into a party or into any situation at all, consciously blast everyone who is going to be there with love,” Williamson suggests. “Just as light casts out darkness, so does love cast out fear. You can’t send love to someone and, at the same time, worry about what they will think about you, fear what’s going to happen or succumb to controlling, judgmental or manipulative thoughts. The presence of love literally casts out neurotic, fear-based thoughts.”

Read more of Marianne Williamson’s advice on how to become more spiritually fit and follow these lessons from some of our favorite soulful teachers:

7 Spiritual Exercises That Could Change Your Life

Eliminate These 2 Dangerous Words from Your Vocabulary

Deepak Chopra’s Top 8 Meditation Tips

Also On HuffPost:
How Your Morning and Nighttime Routines Affect Your Health

How Your Morning and Nighttime Routines Affect Your Health

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The Wakeup Call
What you do: Snooze for a half hour less Monday through Friday than you do on the weekends

Why that’s bad: Research presented at ENDO 2015 (the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting) suggests that a mere 30-minute difference in sleep duration on weekdays compared with weekends can impact your healthfor every 30 minutes of daily weekday sleep debt, subjects’ likelihood of being obese rose by 17 percent, while their risk of developing insulin resistance jumped by 39 percent.

One more thing: In addition to messing with leptin and ghrelin, the hormones that help regulate your appetite, “sleep loss also results in high cortisol levels that predispose you to high blood sugar levels,” says Shahrad Taheri, MBBS, PhD, study author and professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in Doha, Qatar. “All of these hormonal changes contribute to insulin resistance, the hallmark of type 2 diabetes.”

Photo:PeopleImages/E /Getty Images
The Wakeup Call
What you do: Snooze for a half hour less Monday through Friday than you do on the weekends

Why that’s bad: Research presented at ENDO 2015 (the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting) suggests that a mere 30-minute difference in sleep duration on weekdays compared with weekends can impact your healthfor every 30 minutes of daily weekday sleep debt, subjects’ likelihood of being obese rose by 17 percent, while their risk of developing insulin resistance jumped by 39 percent.

One more thing: In addition to messing with leptin and ghrelin, the hormones that help regulate your appetite, “sleep loss also results in high cortisol levels that predispose you to high blood sugar levels,” says Shahrad Taheri, MBBS, PhD, study author and professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in Doha, Qatar. “All of these hormonal changes contribute to insulin resistance, the hallmark of type 2 diabetes.”

Photo:PeopleImages/E /Getty Images
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Your Daily Dose of Java
What you do: Have a cup (or 3, or 5) of coffee

Why that’s good: Coffee consumption has been linked to decreased risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and more recent findings have linked it to a lower risk for multiple sclerosis and melanoma, and lower levels of abnormal liver enzymes. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee says consuming 3 to 5 cups per day (up to 400 mg of caffeine) comes with no long-term risks for healthy people and is likely beneficial.

One more thing: Your go-to coffee order is probably more than one cup’s worth. One cup of coffee generally means 6 ouncesa tall drink at Starbucks is 12 ounces, and a grande is 16 ounces, while a medium iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts is 24 ounces, though some of that is ice. (If caffeine makes you jittery or you have or are at risk for certain health conditions, it’s best to modify your habit.)

Photo: Petri Artturi Asikainen/Taxi Japan/Getty Images
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Fueling Up for the Day Ahead
What you do: Mindlessly grab whatever’s around for breakfast

Why that’s bad: We all know how important breakfast isbut if whatever’s within reach isn’t nutritious (like a doughnut), you may be better off skipping your first meal entirely, says Elisabetta Politi, MPH, RD, Nutrition Director at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center. How do you decide? If you’re someone who’s all-or-nothing (i.e., you can’t help but follow the doughnut with a day’s worth of junk and say you’ll start fresh tomorrow), then you’re better off holding out until you can grab a healthy snack or lunch.

One more thing: There’s an exceptionIf you’ve got the willpower to course correct, and a track record of actually doing it, taking the doughnut now and then isn’t a big deal.

Photo: Debbi Smirnoff/E /Getty Images
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Shine a Little Light
What you do: Get 20 to 30 minutes of bright light between 8 a.m. and noon

Why that’s good: On top of helping sync your internal clock with the day’s dark-light cycle, getting bright-light exposure in the a.m. hours (whether it’s natural sunlight or indoor light) could help you maintain a healthy weight. In a small study published in PLOS One, researchers from Northwestern University found that the earlier subjects’ light exposure occurred, the lower their BMI. The researchers speculate that light can help regulate metabolism, and that even 20 to 30 minutes of bright light between 8 a.m. and noon is enough to impact your weight.

One more thing: Morning light has the highest amount of short-wavelength blue light (which has the strongest effect on our circadian rhythms, helping regulate sleep and its influence on weight), which may explain why it has a more significant effect on BMI than afternoon or evening light.

Photo: Tara Moore/Taxi/Getty Images
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Going Beyond SPF
What you do: Use a topical antioxidant product (with ingredients like vitamins C or E or ferulic acid, a plant-derived antioxidant) in the morning in addition to sunscreen.

Why that’s good: It helps protect against damage from environmental pollutants like smog, car exhaust and small particulates in the air, which, research shows, can lead to signs of accelerated skin aging, like dark spots. Living in high-traffic areas can increase forehead and cheek pigmentation by 20 percent compared with low-traffic zones, found one study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. The study, like many others examining the effect that pollution can have on skin, was partially funded by a skincare company, but we’ve spoken to several dermatologists who agree that adding an antioxidant to your morning routine is a smart move.

One more thing: Put your antioxidant on before your sunscreen. Products should be layered in order of consistency, from lightest to heaviest, so the heavier products don’t block the absorption of the lighter ones.

Photo: Hello Lovely/Blend Images/Getty Images
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The Timing of Your Exercise
What you do: Always work out in the evening

Why that’s good: Yes, some research has linked morning exercise to benefits like increased fat burning, but the most important factor when it comes to exercise is consistency, says Russell Pate, PhD, professor in the Department of Exercise Science at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. So if early workouts just aren’t your thing and nighttime is the only time that you know you’ll exercise, stick with your after-hours sweat sessions.

One more thing: The notion that a relatively late workout will lead to lousy sleep is a myth, says Timothy Morgenthaler, MD, sleep expert at the Mayo Clinic and president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “Most people can work out, shower and be able to go to bed after that,” he says. In one small study of insomniacs, a 50-minute moderate-intensity workout that ended roughly 2 hours before bedtime actually helped participants fall asleep faster and sleep nearly 20 percent longer than they did before they began the exercise program. The exception: very vigorous exercise very close to bedtime, which may make it harder to drift off.

Photo: Howard Kingsworth/Taxi/Getty Images
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Mood Lighting
What you do: Dim the lights 30 minutes before bedand not just the blue one coming from your electronic devices

Why that’s good: Any kind of light can suppress the secretion of melatonin, the calming hormone that brings on sleep. “The color or wavelength doesn’t matter as much as people think it does,” Morgenthaler says. Exposure to normal room light in the 8 hours before bedtime delayed the onset of melatonin secretion by more than an hour and a half compared with exposure to dim lighting, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

One more thing: You don’t have to sit in darkness after the half-hour-till-bed mark. Light that’s just bright enough to read by shouldn’t compromise your sleep, says Morgenthaler.

Photo: Daniel Allan/Photographer’s Choice/Getty Images
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To Nosh, or Not to Nosh?
What you do: Gauge your hunger before having a bedtime snack

Why it’s good: You’re listening to your body instead of mindlessly munching, a key to maintaining healthy weight, Politi says.

One more thing: If you can’t get your mind off the cookies in the cupboard, Politi suggests thinking about a food you don’t strongly like or dislike to figure out if your hunger is physiological or emotional. (Maybe a type of fruit that you neither love nor hate.) “If you’d eat the cookies but not the other food, your hunger is emotional and you should just go to bed,” she says. “But if you would eat the other food, then you’re actually hungry and should eat the food you’re craving so you feel satisfied and your hunger doesn’t affect your sleep.”

Photo: Chris Boswell/iStock/Getty Images Plus
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Pre-Bed Skin Cleansing
What you do: Wash your face for all of 20 seconds

Why that’s bad: Medicated cleansers need more contact time with your skin to be effective, says Joshua Zeichner, assistant professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai Medical Center. For glycolic cleansers, which gently slough off dead skin cells, “the acid is inactivated by water, so you need to let it sit on your skin for a couple of minutes before you wash it off,” he says. Acne-fighting salicylic acid requires at least 1 minute of leave-on time, as does benzoyl peroxide, another acne fighter.

One more thing: Letting cleanser sit on the skin for a minute or two is even more important when you’re using a medicated body cleanser to fight chest or back breakoutsthe skin there is thicker than the skin on your face, meaning the cleanser needs extra time to penetrate into follicles and pores.

Photo: PeopleImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus
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