10 ways to feel your best inside and out

From playing music to cutting back on sodium, read on for 10 ways to improve your life
By Alanna Glassman, Dominique Lamberton, Julia Martineau, Lora Grady
10 ways to feel your best inside and out

Arthur Belebeau/

Find a fitness buddy

Bet you didn't know weight loss can be contagious! So says a new American study that found teaming up is one of the best ways to lose weight. "Friends, family and co-workers provide encouragement and accountability to help us stay on track and reach our weight-loss goals," explains researcher Tricia Leahey. So find your BFF (that's Best Fitness Friend) and get moving!

Women running by water and grass, bright clothing, jogging, women joggingArthur Belebeau/

Eat well all day long

Round cake with clock face, sliver of cake on cake lift, clock cakePhoto: Masterfile

Cut down on salt

Next time you're craving a burger, you'd be better off waiting until an overseas vacation to indulge. New research in the Canadian Medical Association Journal reveals that Canada and the U.S. consistently top the list for highest salt content in fast food, while France and the U.K. rank lowest. Researcher Elizabeth Dunford says consumer preference and government regulations might be to blame. Here's how we ranked.

McDonald's Chicken McNuggets
Salt per 100 g

United States 1.6 g
Canada 1.5 g
France 1.2 g
Australia 1.1 g
New Zealand 1.1 g
United Kingdom 0.6 g

Subway's Club Sandwich
Salt per 100 g

United States 1.2 g
New Zealand 1.2 g
Canada 1.1 g
Australia 0.9 g
United Kingdom 0.9 g
France 0.5 g

French Fries*
Salt per 100 g

Canada 1.4 g
United Kingdom 0.8 g
Australia 0.8 g
New Zealand 0.7 g
United States 0.6 g
France 0.5 g
*Average from six fast-food chains.

Bottom line: Canadians consume more than double the 1,500-mg limit of sodium per day. "Cut down by reading labels at the grocery store and eating fast food sparingly," says Dunford. Or track your intake on, a site (and app) from the Canadian Stroke Network.

fried chicken nuggets, fast foodIstockphoto

Eat more chocolate!

It's our favourite news: Chocolate calories may not count (really!). A new study from the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who eat chocolate regularly have a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who don't — despite the extra calories. The researchers discovered that eating a small amount of chocolate five times a week was linked with a one-point drop in BMI. They think chocolate may boost metabolism, helping to offset its calories.

Bottom line: Don't feel guilty about indulging in chocolate. Just avoid trans and hydrogenated fats, and opt for dark over milk chocolate.

Stack of dark chocolate piecesSimon Brown/Stockfood

Pick smoke-free flicks

Parents often worry about the violence their kids see in the movies, but they might want to take note of onscreen smoking as well. A recent study from the U.K. found that the more films with smoking teens watched, the more likely they were to pick up the habit. Researchers looked at the influence of hundreds of the top American films between 2001 and 2005 and found that, even after controlling for socio-economic status, teens who watched more films containing smoking were 34 percent more likely to smoke regularly and 73 percent more likely to have tried it. "We know that children learn by copying what they see other people doing, whether it's their friends or their parents. There is no reason smoking would be any different," says lead researcher Dr. Andrea Waylen. "In the movies, you don't see people waking up in the morning with a hacking cough. You don't see the adverse side effects; more often than not smoking is glamorized."

Butt it out: Check out or to find out how much smoking appears in recent blockbusters.

No smoking sign on wooden squareGetty Images

Take it outside - with the kids

Canadian children are swapping outdoor playtime and exploration for screen time. A 2011 report from Active Healthy Kids Canada found that 73 percent of parents say their kids watch TV, read or play video or computer games after school, instead of playing outside. But it's not just us — across the pond, they're worried about the trends of sedentary kids and increasing obesity in children as well. In response, Britain's National Trust came up with a list of 50 things all kids should do before they turn 11. Why 11? Research shows that it's important for children to discover a love of nature before they turn 12. Here's a peek at some of the things on the list:

Fly a kite
Climb a tree
Roll down a really big hill
Camp out in the wild
Catch a fish with a net
Eat an apple straight from a tree
Bury someone in the sand
Cook on a campfire
Go behind a waterfall
Canoe down a river

Try it today: Plan a weekend outdoors — or at the cottage — and horse around with your kids. Or write your own list: fond childhood memories preferred.

Boy hanging from a tree branch, nature, green clothes, curly hair, kids, outdoorsMasterfile

Make music together

Encourage your little prodigy: A recent study from McMaster University found that one-year-olds who took music classes with their parents smiled more and communicated better.

Bottom line: Sign up for an interactive music class, or just turn on the stereo and sing along with your wee one.

10 ways to feel your best inside and outMasterfile

Cut back on artificial colours and flavours

If you're worried about artificial flavours and colours, grocery shopping is about to get easier. Loblaws just announced that by the end of 2012, all President's Choice products will be free from artifical colours, and by the end of 2013, it will be eliminating all artificial flavours as well. "We hear more and more concern from consumers about artificial flavours and colours — and we just think it's the right thing to do," says Ian Gordon, senior vice-president of Loblaw Brands. Several studies have linked artificial flavours and colours to allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children. Just keep in mind that products without added colours or flavours can still be junk food: Watch for high levels of sugar and sodium.

Blue food colouring in waterVeer

Use nature's zit zapper

If you spot a pimple forming the night before a big meeting, we've got the solution. U.K. researchers have found that a thyme tincture (a mix of thyme and alcohol) is a potent natural acne remedy. The concoction killed 100 times more bacteria than standard chemical-based cream benzoyl peroxide in a lab study. Researchers say natural compounds in thyme also have anti-inflammatory and astringent properties.

Try it today: Pick up a thyme tincture at your local health food store and apply the mixture topically, the same way you would a toner.

Vial of thyme elixir with thyme herbErik Putz

Sniff it for better health

The trick to improving your physical and emotional well-being may be right under your nose. Researchers at Northumbria University in England recently found that four scents boost your mind and mood. "We found these aromas can act like therapeutic drugs," says lead researcher Mark Moss. "Essential oils are potent and positive." Check out the four miracle workers below.

Perk up with peppermint: How cool is this? In one study Moss had students smell peppermint oil prior to a test. They were then more alert and had an easier time remembering important facts.

Feel wiser with sage: People exposed to the oils of downy sage leaves performed better on a series of memory tests. Bonus: They reported feeling happier overall, too.

Sleep better with lavender: Yes, you can bottle tranquility. Moss says studies show lavender is super soothing in the workplace. Or spritz your pillow at home to nix anxiety and fall asleep faster.

Focus with rosemary: When this woody, aromatic herb was tested in the lab, Moss found that it improved both the reaction times and the concentration of those within nose range.

Green peppermint leavesIstockphoto


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