Here’s a universal truth: We can’t instinctively always know what the right food and fitness choices are—we need someone to show us the way.
There’s a huge cross section of people who want and need to lose 20 pounds to be healthier -- but that doesn’t mean 20 is a magic number for everyone — some of you will want to lose more, some will need to lose less (and some of you might want to improve your health without shedding any weight). Clinically speaking, 20 is the number of pounds when people start to see meaningful health changes in blood pressure and cholesterol, for example. And a 20-pound drop is a visual event, too—when it’s obvious that you’ve made a wow-worthy lifestyle change.
Beyond losing weight, there are a number of things you can do every day to feel younger, fitter, and more vibrant. Here are my top five suggestions:
1) Eat anti-inflammatory foods
•Dark, leafy greens
Spinach, along with its dark, leafy cousins kale and broccoli, contains high levels of vitamin E, which has been shown to protect against inflammation.
•Chia, flax and hemp Seeds
Thanks to their high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, these seeds are superheroes in the fight against inflammation. Throw them on a salad, in soup or in a smoothie!
Garlic works similarly to painkillers known as NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including aspirin and ibuprofen), which reduce inflammation by shutting off the pathways that allow it to accumulate.
2) Try Meditation
While meditation practices come in dozens of forms, they all help to elicit the “relaxation response.” Anything that can conquer stress will also target the health problems associated with it—anxiety and depression, heart attacks, strokes, insomnia … the list goes on. Less stress means less of the stress hormone cortisol coursing through your body. (When cortisol levels surge, your glucose levels spike and this chemical tag team promotes fat storage, primarily in your belly.) Meditation practices often involve repetition of a mantra or prayer -- or in the case of tai chi and yoga, movement and breath.
3) Pick up some weights
Every pound of muscle you add to your frame increases the number of calories you burn because muscle is more metabolically active than fat is. With more muscle, you burn extra calories—even in your sleep! Lifting weights is also excellent for bone density, joint mobility and body composition -- meaning you’ll look leaner and firmer.
4) Use oil on your face and body
As we get older and our estrogen levels start to decline, our skin naturally becomes more parched because your oil glands don’t secrete as much as they did when you were younger.
Coconut oil is all natural and capable of tackling even the toughest cases of dry skin. In fact, an International Journal of Dermatology study showed that rubbing on virgin coconut oil every day for seven weeks boosted skin hydration by 32 percent in people with mild to moderate eczema.
Go for the organic, virgin variety since it is extracted without using heat, whereas regular coconut oil is subjected to high temperatures during processing, which may wipe out some of the beneficial antioxidants and fatty acids.
5) Get some rest—it’s different than sleep
Everybody knows that poor sleep is linked to practically every health woe you can imagine. But rest—just relaxing and unplugging for a while—is equally critical. You can rest by doing some deep breathing, visualization exercises, meditation -- even chatting with friends mid-day counts!
Michele Promaulayko is Yahoo Health's editor-in-chief. Before that she spent six years as VP/editor-in-chief of Women’s Health, where she oversaw all facets of the brand (magazine, website, apps, books, and 28 international editions). Under her leadership, Women's Health won a National Magazine Award for general excellence, was named magazine of the year by Advertising Age, and twice made Adweek’s Hot List. For more information on her book "20 Pounds Younger" click here.