Health & Fitness

Walking will give you all kinds of help

We can't think of a thing that walking doesn't make better, unless you're walking straight into an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Every step helps boost your mood, shrink your waist, cut body fat and clean out your arteries. And walking directly lowers your diabetes risk, too. Just 10,000 steps a day, five days a week improves your insulin sensitivity, which reduces diabetes risk three times better than taking just 3,000 steps a day, new data shows.

You're probably already logging about 5,000 steps. Even sedentary folks rack up about 3,000 (1.5 miles). Here's how to do more:

1. Track your steps. You'll be amazed at how motivating a pedometer is. Pick a model with an easy-to-read display, a sturdy clip and a loop-on "leash."

2. Be willing to pay for good shoes. Either running or walking shoes are fine, as long as they keep your ankles stable. Running shoes have more cushiony heels; walking shoes, more arch support. For the comfiest fit, shop in the afternoon, when your feet are slightly swollen.

3. Sit less. Lots less. Never sit when you're on the phone; walk while you talk. Same with TV: Put an exercise machine in front of every TV. Walk, ride or lift during the entire show, picking up the pace during the commercials.

4. Set new goals weekly: Increase your steps 10 percent a week. Even if you're starting at 3,000 steps, in less than six months you'll be up to 10,000.

Eat more, exercise less, lose weight?

If your fantasy diet motto is, "Start slowly, then chill out," you are so smart. Skipping boot camp workouts and dramatic calorie-slashing could get you newly slim hips and a trim waistline.

That's because severe calorie cutbacks and high-octane exercise drills put your body into a panic. In fact, if you'd been part of a recent study, three weeks of frantic dieting would have increased your stress hormones, hunger hormones and binging on high-fat foods, but decreased your physical activity. These instinctive calorie-hoarding responses helped your prehistoric ancestors survive famines, but they send you cruising for glazed crullers and shunning your spin class. All because your body's petrified of starving. So outwit it.

Never go hungry. Just make eating small portions of high-nutrient, low-calorie foods ultra-easy. Keep a stash of good-for-you emergency foods on hand: salad fixings, precut fruit and veggies, 100 percent whole-grain crackers, instant oatmeal. If you start feeling ravenous and deprived, you'll start hunting for apple pie a la mode.

Cement an exercise habit. How? Begin by walking (or biking, swimming, dancing, whatever you really enjoy) for an extra 30 minutes a day. Do nothing more out of the usual for a solid month (no strength-training, power yoga, extra stepping, nothing, unless you do it already). By then, this easy start-up will have become a rock-hard habit.

Blow off steam. Sure, going on a diet is stressful. So boost your success odds by increasing levels of stress-busting, brain-friendly nitric oxide. How's that? Just do a few minutes of deep, slow belly-breathing every day. And start shopping for smaller belts.

Is your computer making you fat?

Want to lose weight fast, without changing what you eat? Quit multi-tasking.

That's right — sitting at your computer, catching up on e-mail and the latest video of crazy cat antics (yes, we like those too) while you eat lunch could be making you fat. You not only eat more when you're in front of the screen (any screen), but you'll also eat more sweet stuff later.

Why? The problem seems to be that if you're distracted while you eat (the folks in this new study played video solitaire), you have a fuzzier memory of what you ate. Somehow that leaves you feeling less full and wanting dessert. Thirty minutes later, the solitaire players ate twice as many cookies as the distraction-free group.

Here's how to lose weight the easy way:

1. No peeking at small screens: Don't just shut down the computer at mealtimes, turn off your smart phone, iPod and any other distractions, except your adored partner across the table.

2. Cut back on the big screen: Overweight women eat half their calories in front of the TV. Americans and Canadians sit glued to the tube about five hours a day. Cutting TV time in half and doing something else instead (doesn't matter what) burns 120 extra calories a day. That's 840 calories a week gone without your changing anything else.

3. Practice mindful munching: Slowing down and focusing on each mouthful makes the meal memorable and reduces dessert cravings later.

Five snacks for better sleep

Getting enough sleep has been proven to extend your life. Less than six hours of sleep a night increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and viral infections. Getting six and a half to seven and a half hours can make your RealAge up to three years younger.

Humans die faster when they go without sleep than when they go without food. Fortunately, food may hold the solution to getting the ZZZs you need. A couple of hours before bedtime, curl up with one of these snacks. All of them get your brain to release sleep-friendly chemicals that will help you nod off like a baby.

1. Almonds. A handful contains muscle-relaxing magnesium and sleep-inducing tryptophan, which increases the brain's level of feel-good serotonin.

2. Bananas. Beneath the peel is a trifecta of soothers: not only serotonin and magnesium but also melatonin, your body's natural sleep regulator.

3. Skim milk. Yep, Mom was right. A nice warm glassful will help you snooze. Could be the mild sedating effect of milk's tryptophan, or its calcium, which helps your brain use tryptophan. Or maybe it's just calming thoughts of mother.

4. Oatmeal. Oats are rich in sleep-regulating melatonin. If you drizzle just a little honey on top, it tells your brain to turn off orexin, a neurotransmitter linked to alertness.

5. Whole-wheat bread: A slice of toast dotted with banana slices releases insulin, which helps tryptophan get to your brain, where it changes into serotonin and whispers, "Sweet dreams."