Science shows that small changes (and a little fun) are all it takes to improve your health drastically. We talked to prominent doctors, crunched the data and found a few high-payoff tweaks that you can start today.
My team did a cool study in which we took people on a walk for a mile and told some it was a workout and others it was scenic and fun. Afterward, everyone ate lunch, and the scenic group consumed 35 percent less dessert than the workout group. If you think of physical activity as fitness, you tend to want to reward yourself. But if you see a workout as something else, like personal time, you don't have that same tendency. Now when I exercise, I think of it as a celebration. I say to myself, "You know, many people like you who are in their 50s couldn't do this."
-- Brian Wansink, PhD, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life
"When I'm feeling sluggish or craving something sweet, I reach for dark chocolate that's 70 percent cacao -- it contains heart-healthy flavanols, and the high cacao content means there's less sugar. Plus, I get some energy from the caffeine."
-- Mehmet Oz, MD
"I use a face moisturizer that has vitamin C, which can help prevent the oxidation in skin that damages elastic tissue and collagen. Look for a product with a vitamin C content of 10 percent -- just enough for you to see the benefits without being too harsh. And make sure the product is stored in an opaque, airtight container so the vitamin C doesn't get oxidized. If that happens, it'll lose its effect."
-- Judith Hellman, MD, New York–based dermatologist
"I used to have a difficult time meditating. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't clear my head. Even the master Deepak Chopra tried to teach me, but it seemed my mind was too cluttered. Then I met Dr. Herbert Benson, who founded the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. He gave me a valuable piece of advice: Initially, the key isn't to make your mind go blank, but to focus on a single thing that you personally find calming. For me it's the word gentle, because it evokes all sorts of calming images, like running water and beach scenes. Once I start focusing on that word, my mind begins to clear. I can now meditate for up to 15 minutes."
-- Sanjay Gupta, MD, neurosurgeon and CNN chief medical correspondent
"When vegetables are in the company of other foods, they often go untouched, so at dinner I eat vegetables before I put any other food on my plate. We tested the strategy with college students, too, and they not only ate more vegetables, but also consumed fewer calories total. Win-win!"
-- Traci Mann, PhD, founder of the Health and Eating Lab at the University of Minnesota and author of Secrets from the Eating Lab
"Data on how sleep affects the heart suggest that lack of adequate rest (less than six or seven hours) can increase risk of cardiac problems like heart attack and stroke. As someone who works, has a child, and wants to stay fit, I know it can be difficult to get a good night's sleep. But I make it a priority to get at least seven hours, even if that means skipping the gym to sleep in on some mornings."
-- Tara Narula, MD, cardiologist and CBS This Morning medical contributor