Upgrade Your Life

Wish improving your health was as easy as scoring a better cable TV package or getting a sweeter deal on your cellphone plan? It is! Here, little changes that pay off big.
Upgrade Your Life
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Clean up your cleansers
The warm steamy environment of the shower opens pores, Loux says—making your skin vulnerable to whatever toxins are lurking in your shampoo, conditioner, shaving gel or body wash. “Topical application is one of the most efficient delivery systems for getting chemicals into the bloodstream,” she explains. Look for products that are mostly plant-based, with ingredients you can pronounce. Two ingredients to be especially wary of are parabens and phthalates, both of which have been associated with multiple health risks.

Switch to low-blue bulbs
Americans are suffering from a sleep deficit, says Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona’s Center for Integrative Medicine and author of Healing Night: The Science and Spirit of Sleeping, Dreaming and Awakening (Syren Book Company). We can blame some of the problem on one factor, he says: overexposure to light at night, which suppresses the production of melatonin (the hormone that signals the body it’s time to sleep). Blue light, in particular—the kind that strongly radiates from incandescent bulbs, computer monitors and TV screens—is the primary culprit. Naiman recommends switching off your gadgets an hour or two before bed, and—if you must have the lights on after dark—investing in low-blue-light bulbs. (Find them online at “These bulbs are more like candlelight than daylight,” he says. “You can turn them on without upsetting your sleep cycle.”

Make an organic bed
Since you spend a third of your life in bed, make sure the environment that surrounds you there is nontoxic. Start by upgrading to organic bedding. “Conventionally grown cotton is one of the most pesticide-laden crops,” says Naiman. “We invest in organic food, but it may be just as important to invest in organic bedding so you’re not absorbing and breathing in toxins while you sleep.” Go organic with your pillows and, if you can, your mattress. Synthetic foam mattresses in particular—while they feel great—are prone to off-gassing, so choose a natural latex foam mattress. If you can’t bear (or afford) to toss your current mattress, invest in an organic cotton and wool mattress cover, which wicks moisture away, deters dust mites and can help block fumes that are emitted.

Trade in your alarm clock
If you have a blaring digital alarm clock—set to shriek at dawn—do yourself a favor and unplug the hateful thing. “When we allow our alarm clocks to wake us, we are quite literally cutting our sleep short,” he says. Try doing without one, and let your natural biorhythms set your wake and sleep cycles; if you find you’re oversleeping, play with moving your bedtime up to accommodate your needs. If an alarm clock is an absolute necessity—you need to catch a plane, say, or be at an early meeting— choose one that wakes you gently. We like the Digital Zen Alarm Clock ($136;, the Philips Wake-Up Light ($170; and the Peaceful Progression Wake Up Clock ($70;

Let your lawn go
Anyone who’s ever tried to keep one knows that a beautiful lawn is high-maintenance. But it doesn’t just suck up the time you spend keeping it manicured and free of weeds. “Lawns need about 12 inches of rain every summer, which many regions don’t get,” says Tom Girolamo, founder of Eco-Building and Forestry in Mosinee, Wis., and author of Your Eco-Friendly Yard (Krause Publications). “If you have to water, it’s a huge drain—a quarter acre of lawn can easily use 80,000 gallons of water in one growing season, and you’ll have to mow more often.” And many property owners typically overapply fertilizers and pesticides that aren’t healthy for you, pets or the planet, he says. So take a careful inventory of how you really use your yard, limit lawn space to what you actually use and let the rest go. The end result? A lower-maintenance yard that doesn’t strain your schedule or deplete water resources. Let areas you no longer mow simply naturalize on their own or add native plant varieties.