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Here are some more helpful tips from The Doctors’ 5-Minute Health Fixes: The Prescription for a Lifetime of Great Health (Rodale Books):

Chew gum when thinking.

A study published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience found that chewing gum can actually sharpen your thinking. Researchers tested 133 people — half of whom were given mint-flavored gum and the other half, fruit-flavored gum — and subjected them to mental tests in both stressful and calm settings. When they chewed gum, they were more alert and happier and their reaction times were quicker. Chewing gum also improved their ability to focus on one activity for longer periods of time — all of which can help you power through unpleasant but mentally challenging tasks more quickly, like doing your taxes.

Snack on high-fiber cereal.

A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that eating more fiber reduces the odds of developing COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder). The study followed 111,580 people over nearly two decades and found that the people who ate the most fiber (about 28 grams per day) had a 33% lower risk of COPD than the group that ate the least. When comparing the effects of the fiber in grains, fruits, and vegetables, they found that only fiber from grains was linked to COPD risk reduction. Researchers believe that grain fiber has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that might help fend off lung disease. Having a bowl of high-fiber cereal every morning is not only a great way to get those grains, but research also shows that this breakfast is one of the most reliable tools in any successful weight-loss program (and losing excess pounds will help ease breathing is- sues as well). Pack a zipper-lock bagful in your backpack, glove compartment, or purse; sneak it into the movie theater to snack on instead of popcorn. Train yourself to crunch on cereal instead of chips or other salty snacks and you’ll easily blow past the minimum goal of eating 25 to 35 grams of fiber every day.

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Try to stay out of the pharmacy.

If you’re edging ever closer to diabetes, it might be tempting to control your blood sugar with drugs. Doctors often reach for their prescription pads because they assume that patients will not follow a strict diet and exercise program. Have a serious talk with your doctor about changing your lifestyle and he or she will likely give you a few more months to get your blood sugar under control before starting you on medication, which could be a good thing because no medicine has been proven to be nearly as effective as diet and exercise for preventing or reversing diabetes. In fact, large-scale studies have found that people with prediabetes can prevent diabetes and reverse the course of their disease simply by reducing fat and calories and walking for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Research has shown that people who lost just 5 to 7 percent of their weight cut their risk of developing diabetes by nearly 60 percent—that was twice as effective as metformin, the most widely prescribed anti-diabetes drug, which cut the risk by 31 percent. Some recent large-scale studies in people with diabetes have produced conflicting results about the effects of aggressively lowering blood sugar and of managing heart disease risk by reducing blood pressure — and none of it is that promising. Bottom line, stick with what research has proven works best — exercising more and losing weight — and do everything you can to resist the urge to run
to the bottle. Talk to your doctor about giving you extra time to make changes with lifestyle strategies, and work your hardest to avoid drugs.

Go ahead, have the cheese omelette.

A recent study from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa found that animals fed higher-fat meals for breakfast had healthier levels of metabolic hormones than those who ate breakfasts higher in carbohydrates. Researchers believe that by eating fat soon after awakening, the body’s metabolism was efficiently turned on, which also allowed the animal to get the maximum benefit from other types of foods eaten later in the day. In contrast, the animals who were fed more carbs upon awakening actually processed food differently all day long, and their bodies seemed to absorb the carbs more readily than other nutrients. At the end of the study, the carb-breakfast animals had gained weight and body fat, had developed glucose intolerance, and were developing other signs of metabolic syndrome. The researchers said that in order for humans to make this pattern work for them, they should eat a lower-calorie meal for dinner. If you can do that, we say enjoy the full-fat cheese omelette, guilt-free, every so often—but, as a rule, on most days, stuff that omelette with healthier sources of fat, like the omega-3s in smoked salmon or organic breakfast sausage from your local farmer’s market. Also choose organic eggs that are high in omega-3s and throw in some healthy veggies.

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If you must have a soda, double (or triple!) the glass size.

OK, we know
that some people can’t live without their daily 16 ounces of soda. While we’d love for you to just go cold turkey, here’s one way you can lessen the impact of the sugar while also getting some extra hydration. Take a 32-ounce glass, pack it with ice, and then pour the can or bottle into that glass. You’ll still get the treat, but it will last longer and, by the time the ice melts and you’ve finished the glass, you’ll have an extra 16 or 20 ounces of water in your body as well.

Hire a buddy

Sometimes all we need to make a positive change is a kick in the pants—or 12. A study from the University of Michigan published in the journal Preventive Medicine looked at what would happen if people who were trying to increase their intake of vegetables received three counseling calls from a dietitian compared to others who were given nutritional literature, but didn’t receive those calls. After 12 weeks, the folks who had had the friendly chats had made significantly greater changes to their diets, adding more fruits and vegetables. They also increased their blood levels of carotenoids — which are antioxidants — by 20 percent. The people who received only educational materials with or without a diet plan did not show the same improvements.

This study proves something we all know intuitively: When we’re trying to make changes in our lives, support really helps. We know that not everyone has the means to hire a personal trainer or nutritionist — in fact, most of us don’t. Instead, consider going online to a virtual assistant website like Elance.com and hiring a professional nagger, someone who will call you every few weeks to check on your progress. More reliable than a friend and cheaper than a trainer, you’ll at least know someone is watching out for you!

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