It's New Year's Resolution time, that stretch of days each year when many of us set our intentions for self-improvement in the weeks and months to come. But some of the most common resolutions—lose weight, exercise more, quit smoking—are big goals that can take a fair amount of time to realize. What about smaller changes you can make, even in just a few minutes a day, that can also pay big health dividends? Here are 10 quickie resolutions you can accomplish in 10 minutes or less.
1. Write down five things you’re grateful for
This simple practice, done daily or once a week, led to improved well being, better sleep, and greater happiness in a set of experiments at the University of California, Davis. Other research has also confirmed the power of gratitude to boost happiness and strengthen interpersonal relationships.
2. Laugh, sing. Repeat.
Both laughter and singing have been shown to reduce stress and improve mood, among other benefits; some very preliminary research even suggests that singing can strengthen immunity. Other studies suggest that people tend to laugh more in groups, so surround yourself with others who laugh—it really is contagious.
3. Take a power nap
Seriously: Even ultra-short naps—as little as 6 minutes—significantly improved memory in a small study of German college students. And a 10-minute nap was more effective than a 20- or 30-minute snooze for improving alertness and vigor, boosting cognitive performance, and reducing fatigue in an Australian study of 24 sleep-deprived young adults.
4. Eat a handful of nuts
In an analysis of data from more than 100,000 male and female health professionals, published in 2013 in The New England Journal of Medicine, those who regularly ate nuts were significantly less likely to die from cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, or other causes during the study period than those who ate no nuts. Participants who ate a serving of nuts (about 1 ounce, or 28 grams) every day had the greatest reduction in mortality—20 percent lower than non-nut eaters. More recently, an analysis of 20 studies, published in 2016 in BMC Medicine, linked daily nut consumption (tree nuts or peanuts) to a lower risk of heart disease and cancer, as well as a 22 percent drop in premature death from any cause.
More than 30 years of research have linked regular meditation with a wide range of health benefits, as well as reduced stress and improved well-being. The best-studied form of meditation is mindfulness meditation, in which you practice bringing awareness to the present moment. You can download free guided mindfulness meditations, ranging from 3 to 19 minutes, from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. There are also short mindfulness podcasts on iTunes. For a summary of different types of meditation, see Meditation: Which Type Is Best for You?
6. Wear a pedometer
People who wore these simple step-counting devices increased their physical activity by 2,200 to 2,500 steps a day on average, and decreased both their body mass index (BMI) and blood pressure, according to a large review published several years ago in JAMA. The pedometers were most effective if the wearer aimed for a specific goal, usually 10,000 steps a day (about 5 miles). You can buy a good pedometer for as little as $3, according to Consumer Reports' latest review.
7. Stand up
Evidence continues to mount that prolonged sitting is one of the worst things you can do for your health, even if you exercise regularly. So be sure to break up long seated periods (at your desk, watching TV, on a plane) with short jaunts upright at least every hour. Research has shown that even a 5-minute walk is enough to help prevent or reduce sitting’s adverse effects.
8. Chew a piece of gum
9. Let your tea steep
Studies of tea chemistry have found that steeping tea for at least 3 minutes increases the release of polyphenols, chemicals in tea that have antioxidant and other beneficial properties, and which may account for many of tea’s health benefits.
10. Do a posture check
Good posture has a bearing not just on your physical health but on your state of mind. (Have you ever seen someone project self-confidence while slouching?) Take 5 minutes to evaluate your posture when standing, sitting, or walking and make any needed corrections (here’s how to do it). Your body and mind will thank you.
Originally published January 2015. Updated December 2017.
Also see Changing Bad Health Habits.