12 health shortcuts that don't sacrifice benefits

You can still get the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, even if you cut a few corners. Follow these simple steps to stay on track.
© MSN Healthy Living // © MSN Health

Eat healthy, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, don't smoke -- the rules for healthy living aren't exactly a mystery. So why do they seem so hard to follow?

If you claim it's lack of time, here's a little help. Top experts provide simple shortcuts to healthy living that don't skimp on the benefits.

-- By Linda Melone for MSN Healthy Living

1 of 14 Happy, healthy people (Cavan Images/Getty Images)

In a perfect world: You get eight hours of sleep a night

Numerous studies link a lack of sleep to an increased risk of heart disease and obesity. "Most of us need around eight hours, although some people need more and some people can get away with less," says Allen Towfigh, MD, a board-certified sleep medicine doctor and neurologist affiliated with Weill Cornell Medical Center/New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

A healthy shortcut: On nights when you can't get in all your zzz's, take a nap. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (2007) showed 37 percent less coronary heart disease in men who took daily naps. Avoid napping for more than 20 minutes, however, says Towfigh. "Longer naps can lead to sleep inertia, the groggy feeling that persists once you wake up, and can also lead to difficulty falling asleep at night."

2 of 14 8-hours of sleep is important for your health (Troels Graugaard/Getty Images)

In a perfect world: You eat five servings of fresh fruits and veggies daily

Nearly everyone falls short on the recommended allowances of fruits and vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The average 40-year-old man should eat two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables daily; a woman the same age needs a cup and a half of fruit and two and a half cups of vegetables. Meeting these requirements helps lower the risk of stroke, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

A healthy shortcut: If you're not a big fan of vegetables, try mixing them into foods you like, suggests Amy Goodson, RD, a board-certified nutritionist and the sports dietitian for the Dallas Cowboys sports dietitian.  "Add vegetables to omelets, for example, or shred them into meat sauce with spaghetti." Mix dried fruit into whole-grain cereal or throw fruits and veggies in a juicer and add it to smoothies with other flavors you like. Cook one bag of plain steam-in-the-bag veggies with one bag of veggies in a light sauce and combine them to add flavor.

3 of 14 Most people don't eat enough fruits and vegetables (Southern Stock/Getty Images)

In a perfect world: You eat fish twice a week

If you don't include fish in your diet once or twice a week you could be cheating yourself out of some serious health benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish have been linked to reduced risk of coronary artery disease. A study from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that eating three to six ounces of fish a week brought down coronary risk by 36 percent.

A healthy shortcut: If you're not a fish lover you can still reap the omega-3 benefits from other foods. Omega-3s can also be found in walnuts, soybeans and soybean oil, flaxseed and chia seeds in addition to fatty fish, says Goodson. "Nuts and seeds also provide fiber, which is heart-healthy and helps you feel full faster. Supplements also work." The American Heart Association recommends two to four grams of omega-3's per day.

4 of 14 Fish is full of omega oils (Cultura/Diana Miller/Getty Images)

In a perfect world: You exercise for 30 minutes, five days a week

Thirty percent of Americans exercise zero days per week and approximately 19 percent manage to squeeze in a workout one to two days a week, according to a 2012 Gallup poll. That means nearly half of Americans fall short of the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendation for cardiovascular health.

A healthy shortcut: The good news is, you don't need to do those 30 minutes all at once. Accumulating three, 10-minute sessions a day offers similar health benefits, according to the ACSM. Or try short bursts of high-intensity interval training, which was found to help reduce belly fat, according to a study published in the Journal of Obesity (Oct 2010). Fifteen minutes three times a week was enough to reap the belly-fat-reducing benefits. Try alternating one minute of walking with one minute of running or jogging and gradually increase the total time.

5 of 14 A man hiking for exercise (Jordan Siemens/Getty Images)

In a perfect world: You take a daily multivitamin

Remembering to pop a vitamin pill with breakfast or at any other time can be a challenge. If you eat on the run and tend to grab whatever's available, experts say a multivitamin fills in the gaps where you may fall short nutritionally.

A healthy shortcut: Eating fortified foods such as Total cereal helps you meet your daily requirement for those vitamins and minerals, says nutritionist Goodson. "Choosing fresh, less processed foods typically provides more nutrients that processed food, and including a little from every food group is like taking a multivitamin." Grains are also typically fortified with vitamins and minerals and can be a good choice. As little as one cup of green beans provides your daily needs of Vitamin C. Eating a variety of foods such as whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and lean meat can help you get all the vitamins and minerals you need, Goodson says.

6 of 14 Multivitamins can supMultivitamins can supplement your diet (sungho/Getty Images)plement your diet (A man hiking for exercise (sungho/Getty Images)

In a perfect world: You calculate calories

Keeping track of and calculating calories in an effort to lose weight can be frustrating and more work than you are willing to do. Fortunately, you can still lose weight without fancy arithmetic, according to dietician Goodson.

A healthy shortcut: Think in portion sizes instead of calories, says Goodson. "To control portion sizes think of your fist as a serving of carbohydrates and the palm of your hand as a serving of lean protein at a meal." Goodson recommends devoting one quarter of your plate to carbohydrates (e.g. whole grains), a quarter to lean protein (chicken, lean meat and fish) and the remaining half to vegetables. If you're hungry, go back for more vegetables, says Goodson. "Including a high-fiber grain and lean protein at every meal and snack will also help you get full faster and keep you feeling full longer."

7 of 14 Calculate portion size instead of calories (Diet Failure/Getty Images)

In a perfect world: You floss every day

Brushing without flossing doesn't seem like such a big deal, but you're neglecting a major part of dental hygiene. "Brushing your teeth cleans the fronts and back of the teeth but does not remove the bacteria from between the teeth," says Jacquie Fulop-Goodling, DMD, a New York-based orthodontist. But who has the time?

A healthy shortcut: When you barely have time to brush, let alone floss, bring your toothbrush into the shower with you, says Fulop-Goodling. "Brushing your teeth in the shower and using the shower head to spray in between your teeth removes the bacteria on the front and back surfaces of your teeth. The shower head and, better yet, a hand-sprayer, acts like a water pick helping to remove the bacteria from between the teeth." Rinse your mouth first, then brush your teeth and rinse your mouth again using the shower head.

8 of 14 Flossing is an important part of dental care (Glow Wellness/Getty Images)

In a perfect world: You always wear sunscreen

Nearly 60,000 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with skin cancer, and more than 8,600 people died from melanomas of the skin (the most dangerous form of skin cancer) in 2008, according to the CDC, making it the most common form of cancer in the U.S. Exposure to ultraviolet light causes up to 90 percent of cases. The proper use of sunscreen can protect you, but what if you forget to apply it before going outdoors?

A healthy shortcut: Wear a hat, says Debra Jaliman, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist (St. Martin's Press, 2012). "It certainly helps to use a hat with a two-inch brim. Or try to find some shade." If you do get burned, Jaliman recommends taking aspirin for its anti-inflammatory effects and to minimize the redness that appears on the skin.

9 of 14 Sunscreen prevents skin cancer (RelaxFoto/Getty Images)

In a perfect world: You choose whole grains over refined versions

Choosing brown rice over white and 100 percent whole-grain bread over white bread ensures that you’re getting the most fiber and nutrients for your money. If you prefer the white variety or have a spouse who refuses to eat whole grains, however, a little sleight of hand can work in your favor.

A healthy shortcut: If you (or a loved one) are a picky eater who simply likes more processed grains, surround those foods with "healthy friends," says Goodson. For instance, if your child likes white bread, make a turkey and cheese sandwich and serve it with yogurt, fruit and baby carrots sticks with low-fat ranch. Or if your husband likes white rice, stir-fry it with a rainbow of colorful vegetables and skinless grilled chicken. "Though the processed grain may have fewer nutrients, the other foods surround it with a host of vitamins and minerals," Goodson says.

10 of 14 Whole weat (Jan Tyler/Getty Images)