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01/14/2016 10:11 am ET

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

We've rounded up our most unexpected and effective tips for becoming your healthiest, happiest self.
Illustration: David Wyffels

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


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