We do not want you to stop smoking cold turkey today. Wait a month. Why would two docs say this? Because you're much, much more likely to succeed if you do.
In a month — Nov. 18, to be exact — is the Great American Smokeout, the day the American Cancer Society encourages the 46 million Americans still puffing to stop. So you'll have lots of support, which is a big help. But this is even more important: We know that you need a month of planning and baby steps to loosen cigarettes' grip. Here are five proven steps that will start you on your way to success.
* Set a quit date. You did mark Nov. 18 on your calendar, didn't you?
* Think of three reasons for quitting. Write them on a card, and carry it with you. Or rubber band the card around your cigarette pack so you have to undo it to get a cigarette.
* Start walking 30 minutes a day. It will prove to you that you're disciplined enough to do this. Plus, walking helps curb cravings and keeps weight off.
* Call your insurer. Does it cover quit-smoking drugs and programs?
* See your doc. Discuss using nicotine replacements and/or an anti-craving drug, such as bupropion; we recommend both. Do this now; you want to start the anti-craving med just before Quit Day.
Step up for a better body
Want a sexier six-pack, better blood pressure and the energy of a 20-year-old? All you have to do is take 4,883 more steps a day. You're already logging about 5,117 steps a day, says a new study of average walking habits. For top-shelf fitness and a better-looking body, your target is 10,000 steps. Here are four ways to power up your count.
* Clip on a pedometer, or download a free pedometer app. Watching your daily steps add up is motivating all by itself — just tracking them can inspire you to go an extra 2,000.
* Get your partner to walk with you. Enlisting your spouse ups your odds of sticking with walking by a whopping 80 percent.
* Do it indoors when the weather's raw. Over one cold, dark winter, 64 percent of Canadians in a fitness program walked at their local mall at least three days a week. By comparison, most exercise classes have a 50 percent drop-out rate.
* Count the other stuff. Award yourself 150 steps for every minute of lap-swimming, fast aerobics, racquetball, roller-skating and cycling; 80 steps per minute of weeding, golfing without a cart or dancing; and 40 per minute of bowling.
Burn fat while you sleep
Nobody diets to look more like Homer Simpson. So to be sure the weight you're losing is mostly squishy fat, take out this nighttime insurance policy: Say goodnight to Jimmy Kimmel and the Weather Channel, and spend more time under the covers.
In a provocative new study, dieters who slept 8.5 hours a night lost twice as much fat and held on to nearly twice as much muscle as those who scraped by on 5.5 hours of slumber. While everybody lost the same amount of weight, the well-rested group hit the jackpot, because lean muscle looks far sleeker than fat (think Chippendales dancers versus the Pillsbury Dough Boy).
Plus, the more muscle you've got on board, the better, since muscle is a metabolic engine that burns more calories round the clock. And that makes it easier for you to keep the weight off. Fact: By the end of the study, the long sleepers were burning an extra 114 calories per day (that's about 10 pounds a year).
When you're on a diet, a good night's sleep seems to persuade your body to burn fat as its preferred fuel. It works with, not against, the muscle-strengthening exercises we hope you're doing two to three times a week.
Getting enough sleep also keeps the hunger hormone ghrelin in check, so you're less tempted to steal the doughnuts hidden in back of the freezer.
Take the ouch out with ginger
What puts the zing in gingerbread, spices up pumpkin pie, settles your stomach and eases your aches and pains? Ginger.
More versatile than a Swiss Army knife, ginger tastes great in everything from stir fries and mulled cider to marinades and fruit salad. Its complex flavor profile hides a quartet of substances that battle pain much like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs do (aspirin, ibuprofen and other NSAIDs).
The foursome: gingerols, paradols, shogaols and zingerone. You don't have to remember these geeky names, but if you do, they're fun to trot out at a party. These compounds inhibit an enzyme that ratchets up pain and inflammation. Ginger even quiets nerve fibers that send pain signals.
How much does it take? Just one teaspoon of raw or cooked ginger a day can reduce post-workout muscle aches 25 percent. Taking two 30-milligram ginger extract capsules could reduce arthritis-related knee pain. Pretty neat tricks for an old-fashioned spice-rack staple.
Heavy lifting not required
The next time we hear grunting in the weight room as some sweaty Jack or Jill bench-presses 160 pounds, we might break gym etiquette and ask, "What, exactly, are you doing?" Or maybe we'll just share the latest strength-training news with you. In two words: Lighten up.
New research shows you'll get as good or better results repeatedly lifting a light weight until you can't do any more as you will straining to do eight reps with a weight you can barely budge. So unless you're planning on posing for Flex, go for what trainers call "low-load, high-volume resistance exercise." Even though this is only one study, it's important enough that we wanted to share it with you.
How light is "low load"? Pretty light. About 30 percent of the heaviest weight you can lift. So if 10-pound dumbbells are your max, drop to 3-pounders. Alternatively, light means a weight that lets you do at least 24 reps before your muscles yell uncle. Researchers figured this out by somehow persuading a group of Very Nice Men to let them remove tissue samples from their muscles after working out.
Turns out, the light lifters had gained as many or more muscle proteins than the heavy lifters — muscle proteins, not grunting, being how you measure the effects of resistance work. Conclusion, said the researchers: It's not how heavy the weight is, it's how tired you make your muscles. That's especially good news for people who risk injury using heavy weights — newbies, older exercisers, folks doing rehab.