9 ways to get healthier right now

A head-to-toe guide to boosting your memory, fighting gravity, banishing period pain, improving your nails and more.

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head to toe health guide
Illustration, Matthew Billington.

1. Boost memory with Mozart

lightbulbPre-set all your radio stations to classical: A study published in the PeerJ journal in March by the University of Helsinki found listening to 20 minutes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K.216 enhanced brain activity associated with learning and memory.

2. Go easy on your ears

headphonesA quarter of Canadians suffer from hearing loss. Noise overstimulates the tiny hairs in our ears that transmit sound to the brain. We’re born with a fixed number of these cells (15,000 to 20,000) and, once damaged, they don’t regenerate. “Most hearing loss is preventable,” says Dr. Phuong Bich Nguyen, a family physician in Toronto. Long, repeated exposure to anything louder than 85 decibels (about the level of a hair dryer or blender) can eventually cause permanent hearing loss, so it pays to invest in quieter household appliances.

3. Try the 20-20-20 eye trick

computerStare at a screen all day? You could have computer vision syndrome. Symptoms include headaches, neck and shoulder pain, blurred vision, dry eyes and eye strain. “We don’t look away from computers enough,” says Dr. Paul Geneau, an optometrist in Nanaimo, B.C. Set a timer to look away from the computer every 20 minutes to a distance of at least 20 feet for at least 20 seconds.

4. Rinse to save your teeth

wine glassYes, coffee, red wine, soy sauce and curry can all darken teeth — but sugar is actually your biggest concern. Energy drinks and pop can be especially damaging. “I’m seeing more acid erosion than I did 15 years ago,” says Dr. Francine Albert, a prosthodontist in Laval, Que. Be sure to brush after taking medications or cough drops (which contain extra sugar), and rinse your teeth or chew sugarless gum to help increase saliva flow during the day.

5. Fight gravity to build bones

weightsWomen acquire 90 percent of their peak bone mass by age 18, and it declines after menopause. Muscle mass also diminishes as we age — women who don’t exercise could lose half a pound of muscle each year. Beat the odds by exercising for a couple of hours every week. Activities that force you to work against gravity (climbing stairs and weight training) increase lean-muscle mass and bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis.

6. Smile for a happy heart

heartTurn your frown upside down and cut your risk of a heart attack in half, says a study published in January by the University of Illinois. Researchers followed more than 5,000 adults over 11 years (paying close attention to both their outlook on life and their cardiovascular health) and found that optimists not only had better blood sugar and cholesterol levels than pessimists, they also got more exercise and had healthier body mass indexes.

7. Be breast-health aware

braMammograms are recommended every two to three years for women aged 50 – 74. And although they’re no longer routinely recommended for women younger than 50, Susan Dennehy, a clinical nurse specialist for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, says it’s important to know what’s normal (and abnormal) for your breasts throughout your cycle. “It’s still important to get familiar with how your breasts look and feel, and discuss your personal risk for breast cancer with your doctor,” she says. Download the free Check Yourself! app from the Keep A Breast Foundation for tips.

8. Monitor your period pain

underwearMost of us experience some discomfort during our periods, but Dr. Guylaine Lefebvre, chair of women’s health at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, says too many of us assume pain is normal. If your periods interfere with daily life, see your doctor to rule out endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease. And if you’re a smoker, here’s a reason to butt out: A 2014 study found that women who smoke are 40 percent more likely to have painful cramps. “Women don’t associate smoking with their reproductive organs, but there’s a direct effect,” Lefebvre says.

9. Give your nails a break

nail-polishGo ahead and swipe on a coral polish before your beach vacation, but go au naturel when you get back to give nails a chance to breathe. “A small pocket forms between the nail and the polish where fungus can breed,” says Dr. Howard Green, a podiatrist in Vancouver. Watch out for what looks like white powder on the surface of your nail, which can signal an infection.

Did you know?

Eyes: Dry-eye syndrome affects women twice as often as men. The condition is associated with hormonal changes and is prevalent after breast cancer treatments and menopause. For a fast fix, try artificial tears during the day and lubricating eye ointments before bed.

Memory: In January, researchers in Texas found that if you dwell on sad thoughts, it can wreak havoc on your working memory.

Feet: If you have plantar fasciitis (heel pain), stand on a stair with your heel over the edge and a rolled-up towel under your toes. Slowly raise your heel eight to 12 times. (Last year a Danish study found that people who did this every other day felt better after three months.)

This article was originally published in Canadian Health & Lifestyle.