7 best health habits

We all slip up on the path to wellness. Here are simple ways to fix common health blunders.

When Jennifer McCloskey lifts weights at the gym, she carefully eyes her technique in the mirror. The 30-year-old Bell Canada manager from Barrie, Ont., wants to make the most of her morning workouts. But she confesses to one flaw. “I never stretch afterwards. With my hour-long commute to work, I’m rushed.” Like McCloskey, we all slip up on the path to good health. Maybe you pop a peppermint every time you pass a candy bowl. Or you don’t brush your teeth well in the rush to get into bed. While they may seem small, these slip-ups can set your health back. Here are simple steps you can take to fix them now:

“People do the same workouts over and over,” says Janice Hutton, certification director for Can-Fit-Pro in Toronto. “They get comfortable and aren’t sure how to adjust their routine.” If you’ve been doing the same workout for longer than eight weeks, your body has already adjusted to it. You need to challenge your muscles to keep seeing results.

Easy fix: make one change
If you run the same route every day, reverse it or find a new one.

Hire a personal trainer for a one-time session that will set you up with weeks of workouts (check the Canadian Personal Trainers Network at

Remember to stretch
Unlike regular strength training or cardiovascular exercise, it’s hard to see the results of stretching. While a recent Australian study questioned its health benefits, many fitness experts still recommend stretching to help prevent injuries and improve flexibility and performance.

Easy fix: multi-task in the gym
Stretch as needed during your workout and for a few minutes once you’re finished. Try stretching in a hot shower afterwards. (It’s best to stretch warm muscles because they’re more pliable.)

Sneak in a 15-minute stretch at your desk four days a week.

Don’t rush brushing
If you start brushing in the same spot every time, you probably always rush by the same area, says Dr. Tom Breneman, president of the Canadian Dental Association. Swiftly sweeping your pearlies means you’re leaving behind plaque, which could develop into gum disease or tooth decay.

Easy fix: change your routine
Every other day, start brushing in a different spot or on the other side, suggests Dr. Breneman.

Set a timer for three minutes and don’t stop brushing until it buzzes. The slower you go, the more thorough you’ll be.

Pump up your iron
“If you’ve cut out red meat, you could have an iron deficiency,” says Vancouver registered dietitian Diana Steele. You need 18 milligrams of iron a day if you’re a woman between 19 and 49 years old. One three-ounce (90-g) chicken breast has only one milligram of iron.

Easy fix: try other sources
If chicken is a dinner staple, opt for fish or darker meats, which are better sources of iron. Try a turkey thigh (3.5 ounces/105 g has 1.8 milligrams of iron) or two ounces (60 g) of chicken livers (five milligrams of iron).

Eat iron-enriched cereals (1 cup/250 mL of All Bran has 16 milligrams of iron). Add nuts (1/2 cup/125 mL of almonds, two milligrams of iron). Choose vitamin C-rich veggies, such as a bell pepper, to boost iron absorption.

Wear enough sunscreen
When you layer it on over moisturizer, sunscreen is not as effective, says Dr. Nowell Solish, a cosmetic dermatologist at Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

Easy fix: put it on first
You’ll spread sunscreen more evenly when you apply it directly to your face before putting on moisturizer or makeup.

Skip makeup products with built-in sunscreen. “The problem is you apply them too thinly, like a cosmetic,” says Dr. Solish.

Diversify your diet
“People give way too much credit to one food to improve their health,” says Vancouver registered dietitian Patricia Chuey. They think soy can help them lose weight and manage blood sugar and menopausal symptoms. But you can’t rely on one food to do everything.

Easy fix: practise moderation
Use Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating to structure your daily eating, working in your new favourite food a few times a week.

Keep a food journal to get an overall look at what you’re eating.

Skip the sweets
If you’re constantly craving sweets, it could be a sign that you’re missing out on healthier foods. When your diet is short on protein, calcium or calories in general, your body craves sugar because it’s a quick energy source, explains Steele.

Easy fix: substitute satisfying snacks
Combine 3/4 cup (175 mL) of dried fruit, such as raisins, with protein, such as peanuts.

Eat more lean protein sources, such as chicken, and make sure you’re getting enough calcium, at least 1,000 milligrams a day.