As the ancient Chinese saying attributed to philosopher Lao Tzu goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Sure, it sounds obvious—but how many of us forget the significance of our preliminary efforts? We’re often so focused on the big prize that, rather than set our sights on something doable, we race far ahead—determined to change our bodies, our careers, our relationships, our lives—and as a result, we never quite get there. Ditch the lofty, long-term goals and select something less, well, grandiose. “Small wins often lead to much bigger wins and can be the foundation for profound change,” says Christine Carter, Ph.D., a sociologist at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. The reasons for this can be direct (getting more sleep and having more sex both have immediate health benefits) or indirect (one positive choice can motivate us to make others). So consider the suggestions that follow to be something of an energy conservationist’s approach to optimum health and happiness: Small steps that could have a big impact on your mind, body and spirit—this year and for many years to come.
1. Supplement your weight loss. Statistics show that “lose weight” tops the list of resolutions people make. If that’s on your to-do list for 2013, check out one or more of the many herbal options that can help to increase your odds of success. For instance, raspberry ketone, a compound produced by red raspberries, has been found to help stimulate fat loss as well as suppress the accumulation of fat—at least in rodents—and it contains high levels of antioxidants that help protect against disease and cell damage, to boot. (We like Pure Health’s Raspberry Ketone, $12 for 30 caps; purehealth100.com.) Meanwhile, saffron has been found to help curb appetite, as well as support increased serotonin levels—the hormones that regulate mood, sleep and appetite. (Try SaffroLean, $30 for 60 caps; saffrolean.com.) And then there’s coffee—but not in the form you might think. Recent research published in the journal Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity found that test subjects who took green coffee bean extract lost an average of 17 pounds each over the course of the 22-week study. “A very important natural active compound called chlorogenic acid works by inhibiting the release of glucose in the body, which supports the use of fat as fuel—or the ‘burning’ of fat,” says Lindsey Duncan, N.D., C.N., a naturopathic physician and celebrity nutritionist in Austin, Texas. “These two mechanisms combined work together to inhibit the absorption of fat and eliminate weight gain.” (We like Genesis Today Pure Green Coffee Bean, $24; genesistoday.com.)
2. See the trees. The health benefits of spending time in natural outdoor settings continue to be documented, particularly by Japanese research—so much so that some Japanese companies are starting to include “forest therapy” in employee health care benefits, and wellness programs with free checkups are available in Japanese forests. In one study by the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute in Ibaraki, Japan, spending time in woodland settings was associated with lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), slower heart rates, lower blood pressure and higher markers linked to feelings of relaxation. Other Japanese studies have found that walking in forests helps to control blood sugar levels (and not just because of the exercise) and increase anti-cancer proteins as well as immunity-boosting natural killer cells. “The benefits of forest therapy are difficult to fully explain, but green scenery, soothing sounds of streams and waterfalls and aromas of wood, plants and flowers in these complex ecosystems likely all play a part,” says Sarah Cimperman, N.D., a naturopathic doctor in New York City. “Forest therapy is a good example of how our own health is dependent on the health of our natural environment. It’s also an excellent reason to go for a walk in the woods.” If you can’t get to a forest, you can still reap the health rewards: “The next best thing would be to create a similar environment at home by keeping houseplants, listening to nature CDs and using high-quality, 100 percent pure essential oils like cedar, pine, fir or juniper with a diffuser,” Cimperman says. “Houseplants are also good for our health because they help clean the air, filtering out harmful chemicals like benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene.” Topping the list of detoxifiers: Boston fern, English ivy, moth orchid, dendrobium orchid, ficus tree, gerbera daisy, heartleaf philodendron, peace lily, pot mum, snake plant, spider plant and several species of dracaena.
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