What if you could snap your fingers and magically wake up every day with a smile on your face? You'd do it in a heartbeat, right? Thing is, this sorcery exists, and you don't even need to snap your fingers—or recite any hocus-pocus. As detailed in a recent issue of Harvard Public Health, there's an inextricable link between your health and your mood; improve one and you improve the other.
Thankfully, even the tiniest lifestyle changes—swapping out a key part of your bedding, or adopting a new way to cook (or not cook, in some cases) your vegetables—can bring about these magical mood-boosting benefits. So, if you want to wake up every day with a smile on your face, here's where to start.
1. Sleep seven hours.
The benefits of regular restful sleep cannot be overstated. Scoring a decent amount—according to the National Sleep Foundation, anywhere from seven to nine hours—can keep your brain sharp, your mood buoyant, and your energy level sky-high. What's more, resting up will reduce your insulin levels, leading to slashed stress and, on a superficial note, radiant skin.
2. Switch to a standing desk.
Sitting at your desk for eight hours (or more) per day puts recurring pressure on the base of your spine, leading to long-term issues, like chronic back pain and, in extreme cases, herniated disks. To combat this, experts recommend that you switch to an adjustable standing desk and shoot to stand for at least half of your workday.
3. Exercise just three times a week.
Working out has obvious health benefits, of course—namely, fat burn and muscle gain—but regular exercise can bring about more than just physical benefits. According to a report in the Monitor on Psychology, the American Psychological Association's journal of record, exercise is a surefire way to boost mood, and is a proven method for slashing stress, anxiety, and depression.
In other words, get your sweat on, and you'll feel better, both in the immediate (as one researcher put it, benefits can kick in within five minutes from "go") and in the long-term (data suggests that sticking with your routine can prevent relapse among folks with clinical depression).
4. Eat raw vegetables.
You've been told to eat your vegetables forever. But, according to new research in Frontiers of Psychology, there's a way to get even more nutrients from—and you don't even have to do any extra work: just eat your veggies raw. As the researchers found, consuming your veggies in an "unmodified," or uncooked state can seriously decrease feelings of depression.
5. Or mix them into everything else.
Another easy way to get your veggies—and regular vegetable consumption can lead to a healthier, happier life—is to simply put them in everything. Don't cook an omelet without chopping peppers beforehand. Don't cook steak without a side of broccoli. Don't make brownies without whipping some sweet potato into the batter.
6. Take Vitamin D supplements.
According to Harvard Medical School, a staggering 70 percent of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D. Considering the nutrient is directly linked to serotonin (the happiness hormone) production, if you want to feel great, mitigating that deficiency should be step one.
What's more, Vitamin D has been shown to strengthen bones, keep your neuromuscular system running smoothly, and can even, according to research out of Stanford University, help prevent breast cancer.
7. Wake up earlier.
Bad news, night owls: new research indicates that you're more likely to suffer a respiratory or gastrointestinal disease, diabetes, or a psychological disorder (namely, depression or anxiety) than your early-morning counterparts.
Meditation has outsize benefits on your health. It's been shown to reduce blood pressure, dial back your anxiety, and, according to research in JAMA Internal Medicine, even help you sleep more soundly (which, if you'll recall, is among the best steps you can take for feeling better during your day-to-day). Best of all, meditation only takes 10 minutes per day.
9. Get a new pillow.
The single filthiest thing on your bed—yes, more so than months-unwashed sheets (gross)—is your pillow. According to research out of the University of Manchester, your nightly headrest can contain up to 16 various species of fungal spores. Among them: aspergillus fumigatus, a particularly nasty spore that can induce respiratory infections among those with immunodeficiency. To stay away from any potential health issues, the National Sleep Foundation recommends you swap your pillow out every two years.
10. Move healthy snacks to the middle shelf.
Chowing down on chips and sugary candy can make you feel bloated. Generally, healthy snacks (apples, baby carrots, sliced bell peppers) won't. Put these healthier options on the middle shelf of your fridge, so you're more likely to notice them—and thus choose to eat them.
11. Eat chocolate.
Research in Appetite shows that chocolate immediately boosts mood, which makes sense—chocolate is delicious. But if you're going to eat it, you can reap more than just a boost to your mood. According to a study in Circulation Heart Failure, regular consumption of a small amount (150 calories or less) of dark chocolate (cacao rating of 70 percent or higher) can reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 30 percent.
12. Get some fresh air.
According to a five-study report in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, spending time outdoors (even just brief spurts) is directly "associated with greater vitality." In other words, a taste of fresh air will grant you energy needed to get through your days with vim and vigor.
13. Take the stairs.
It's among the easiest swaps you can make in adopting a healthier lifestyle: forgoing the elevator. Let's count it down. For one thing, taking the stairs gets your circulation up, promoting heart health. Also, according to researchers at the University of Georgia, taking the stairs gives you the same short-term energy boost as a 50mg dose of caffeine (or half-a-cup of coffee). And on top of that, it's a great glute workout—especially if you take them two at a time.
14. Double your water intake.
You've heard it countless times: drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. After all, drinking water can make your skin glow, your hair shine, and make you feel amazing by boosting energy levels and sating hunger pangs. Thing is, you're likely not getting enough daily water. According to research from the U.S. Institute of Medicine, 42 percent of Americans don't hit that doctor-recommended mark.
To be sure you're drinking enough, follow this method. Get yourself a 32-ounce water bottle. Fill it once in the morning. When noon rolls around, if it's not empty, chug it, then refill. Do the same for the afternoon. If, at the end of the day, it's not empty again, don't leave your desk until it is. This way, you ensure you get, at minimum, 64 ounces of water throughout the day. Anything after that is just a bonus.
15. Slash your food intake.
Eating too much food—especially if it's unhealthy food—can cause everything from weight gain to increased blood pressure to diabetes, all of which have direct and well-documented effects on your mood. So do what you can to eat less. These three easy-to-implement tricks will help.
One: the 80-20 rule. Since our brains take 20 minutes to "catch up" to our stomachs, you likely eat more than you need, so pause eating at 80 percent of your normal portion. If you're still hungry after 20 minutes (you likely won't be), finish the rest of your meal. Two: put down your utensils between bites. It'll slow your eating down, making it less likely that you eat more than you need. Three: get a smaller plate.
16. Shop for groceries with cash.
Another way to eat healthier: hit up an ATM. According to the Journal of Consumer Research, you're more likely to buy calorie-loaded snacks if you use a credit or debit card for your purchase. By paying in cash, the thinking goes, you've likely predetermined a spending amount on groceries and won't load your cart up with unnecessary, often unhealthy foods.
17. Bring bagged lunch.
Truth is, you have no idea what, exactly, goes into your food from a takeout place. For all your know, it could be laden with fatty oils, processed foods, and unsavory ingredients (like MSG). To ensure you're eating with health in mind at all times, pack your own lunch to work each day.
18. Eat breakfast.
Starting your day with protein (eggs, sausage, ham, bacon…kind of) can give you a mood-amplifying energy boost through lunch. And if you get a good helping of fiber (you'll find that in steel-cut oats), it's a good bet you'll stay full until lunch, too, meaning you'll be less tempted to snack.
19. Turn up the heat.
In the bedroom, that is. Sex—of course—makes you feel better. (Hello, endorphins). But it's also really healthy for you. As researchers from the University of Montreal revealed, a 25-minute session—which, yes, includes foreplay—can burn up to 100 calories.
A digital detox (24 hours with no computer, phone, internet—anything) is like a magical cure-all for an instantly healthier, happier life. It can improve your posture, slash your stress, fix your insomnia, boost your self-esteem, and make you more empathetic, focused, and creative.