Healthy family habits are key to raising healthy kids. Children look up to their parents as role models. So, it’s important to give them an example of a healthy lifestyle to follow.

Healthy eating and exercise are two habits lots of individuals focus on. And while personal health goals are great, getting your family on board is even better. Also, broadening your family’s scope of healthy habits to include all aspects of your lives is a good idea. Include habits like brushing your teeth, wearing a helmet, and washing your hands.

As kids get older, it can be challenging for them to reverse the habits they’ve already acquired. So, don’t wait another second to work on healthy habits with your kids. They’ll pick the good habits up fast and have a lifetime to practice.

Flip through the slideshow to find 19 ideas to work on as a family. Pat yourselves on the back for the work you’re already doing. Make a note of the suggestions you want to tackle together.

  1. Make Your Bed

This simple task often gets overlooked, but it’s a great habit to get into. A freshly made bed helps you and your kids start the day on a positive note. And it makes for a neat and relaxing bedroom at the end of a long day.

Track how often you each make your bed on a chart for your whole family to see. You can have fun making this a habit by having bed-making races or competitions. Showing your kids your well-made bed will help them understand how important this daily ritual is to you.

  1. Wash Your Hands

Hand washing is perhaps the most important habit for your health. By washing your hands after using the bathroom and before every meal, you keep germs at bay. So, it’s important to teach your family how important hand washing is for staying healthy.

Parents should remind kids often throughout the day to wash their hands. Little kids who have trouble washing their hands on their own may need a stool to help them reach the faucet. Also, show your children how to properly wash their hands by scrubbing with soap and rinsing with warm water for at least 20 seconds. Germs can spread from person to person and they can make people sick. Teaching this important habit can help stop the spread of unhealthy germs to help families and communities stay healthier.

  1. Eat Breakfast Every Day

Your family can start every day with a healthy habit by always eating breakfast. The morning meal is often the first thing to go when a busy day looms. Take a stand for healthy habits and make sure your family eats breakfast every day.

This is one of the best ways to combat overeating throughout the day. Breakfast fills you up early and delivers sustaining energy until lunch. If you need quick breakfast ideas to help get you in the habit, try hard-boiled eggs, a piece of fruit, or a slice of whole wheat toast with nut butter.

  1. Brush Your Teeth

Little kids might have a hard time remembering to brush their teeth twice a day. But this habit is critical for maintaining good dental health.

That’s because brushing your teeth whisks away plaque and bacteria deposits. Not allowing this build up on your teeth helps you maintain your oral health.

So, make it a habit to brush your teeth twice a day to keep your teeth and gums in shape. Two minutes per brushing session is the recommended amount of time. Try placing a timer in the bathroom to help your kids hit the two-minute mark. You can also sing a song or playing music to make brushing more fun for everyone.

  1. Tidy Up

Keeping your living space neat and orderly is a healthy habit everyone in your family can take part in. Spending time at home is always more pleasant when all your belongings are in the right place. And having a clean house can help take your focus off clutter and put it towards your loved ones and healthy living.

Show your little ones where their toys, books, clothes, and shoes can be put away. Help kids get in the habit of returning items when they’re finished. Cleaning up is also a great way to teach responsibility and respect for your belongings.

You can tidy as a team by setting a timer and cleaning for 10 minutes. Race to see how fast you can get your house in order. Give kids different jobs each day so they can learn to sweep, wipe, and dust. They’ll thank you when they’re on their own and know how to keep their homes clean.

  1. Turn Off the TV

Watching television can use up a lot of your family’s free time. Lounging can be relaxing in short sessions, but long spells can stall your productivity. It’s hard to be active and work on healthy living when the TV is on.

So, limit your TV time to an hour a day. Turn off the TV and find better ways to unwind as a family. Board games are just as fun and engage each family member. Plus they help kids build reasoning and problem-solving skills. Be a good example to your kids by suggesting you play together when they’ve had enough TV for the day.

You might even notice your sleep improve when you cut down on television. Spending time away from screens lets your eyes relax, keeps you from blue-light exposure, and helps you fall asleep easier, too.

  1. Get Moving

Speaking of ways to relax and play as a family—exercise checks both boxes. Having a regular exercise routine is a great habit to work on together. Instilling a love for exercise in their youth can set your kids up for good, lifelong physical fitness.

The movement doesn’t have to be complicated to get the benefits of regular exercise. That can be a driveway basketball game or dancing to your favorite songs. You can spend time together and get fit when you move as a family.

Shoot for 30 minutes of activity every day. If your schedules are tight you can sneak exercise in by walking to school or riding your bike to work. Brainstorm ideas as a family that’ll help you get in the habit of exercising daily.

  1. Find Adventure Together

Families that play together stay healthy together. Going on family-friendly adventures can make exercise a bonding experience for you and your loved ones.

Recreating in nature is a fun way to check out local scenery and spend time as a family. Hiking, biking, fishing, and rock climbing are a few outdoor adventures your family can embark on.

  1. Wear Protective Gear

Safety is part of healthy exercise habits. Demonstrate the safe way to play by wearing protective gear when appropriate. If your kids see you gearing up for a bike ride, they’ll want to do the same.

Make it a habit to put on your helmet, shin guards, or elbow pads before you go out to play. It’ll save you from getting injured and show your kids how to stay safe.

  1. Stay Protected From the Sun

Sunscreen is the best way to protect your skin from sun damage. Kids and adults alike need sunscreen before playing outside. Make applying it automatic.

Show your kids how to put on their own sunscreen. You can find kid-friendly, mineral-based sunscreens that are gentle on their delicate skin. Remind each other to reapply every two hours when you’re outside. And get in the habit of wearing a hat to stay protected from the sun.

  1. Eat the Rainbow

Healthy eating is an excellent habit to work on as a family. You eat together often, so start focusing on healthy foods as a team.

Looking at the color of your food is a great way to make sure to get the nutrients your family needs. Whole foods are vibrant. Bright reds, deep purples, and dark greens make food interesting to look at and good for you.

The color of your fruits and veggies tell you what kinds of vitamins they can add to your diet. Yellow-colored foods are great sources of vitamin C. Vitamins A and E live in red and orange foods. Green foods pack calcium, iron, and other important phytonutrients.

Work together to put many different colors on the dinner table. A salad with mixed greens, tomatoes, avocado, red onion, yellow peppers, and cucumbers hits lots of colors on the spectrum and is nutritious to boot.

  1. Skip Soda, Choose Water

This is a great, simple healthy habit to start with. That’s because healthier choices are readily available and easy for adults and kids to understand.

You already know soda and sugary drinks ruin your teeth and diet. So, make the switch to water (or milk for kids) as a family. To help this habit stick, keep soda out of the house. Order water with your meal (and milk for kids) when you eat out. Show your kids you mean business by staying clear of soda and providing healthier options that support growing kids.

  1. Try New Foods

If your family’s go-to meals are getting stale, try expanding your palette. It’s hard to keep up healthy eating when you have the same foods over and over. Fatigue sets in. Luckily there are lots of ways to change it up and keep healthy eating interesting.

Adding spice to your food will change the flavor dramatically, without altering its health benefits. Garlic, cumin, pepper, and paprika add a little spice to vegetables like sweet potatoes. Turmeric, parsley, or cilantro in brown rice amp up the flavor.

You can also try preparing some of your favorites in a different way. For instance, oatmeal is a great option for breakfast. But during warmer months you might not feel like chowing down on a bowl of hot food. Rather than abandoning healthy oats for a donut or pastry, try overnight oats instead.

To make overnight oats, mix a handful of oats with yogurt, milk, chia seeds, and a drop of honey. Let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. When it’s time for breakfast, you have a cooler option. You can even slice bananas or chop berries to add to your oatmeal parfait.

  1. Plan and Prepare Meals Together

When your family has a meal plan, you’re more likely to stick to eating healthy. Life gets busy and things come up. But don’t let convenience overwhelm your healthy eating habits. Try prepping food in advance so you have a quick, healthy option on hand.

Kids can help by choosing what meals they’d like to have for dinner. Encourage them to come up with meals that include a lean protein, veggies, and whole grains. Write your dinner plans down on a calendar in plain view. That way everyone is aware of what meal they’ll be enjoying that day.

You can also meal prep as a family. Cooking protein in bulk is a great way to speed up the dinner-making process. Your kids will love being included in the kitchen. Show them how to wash vegetables and season proteins like chicken or fish. They’ll relish the responsibility of helping make dinner and enjoy their food even more.

  1. Learn to Read Labels

It’s tricky to understand what the labels on your food tells you. So, sit down with your family and figure it out together. When you learn how to read the nutrition labels on your favorite snacks, it’s easier to choose healthy options.

Take a box of breakfast cereal, for example. The calorie content is usually at the top of the label and tells you how many calories (energy currency) are in each serving. Note that a serving doesn’t always mean a huge bowlful. Demonstrate to your kids how much a serving of cereal is by measuring it with a measuring cup or food scale.

The macronutrients listed below the calorie information tell you how many grams of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are in the food you eat. Examine how many of those carbs come from added sugars. And stay clear of foods with high amounts of added sugar.

Fats are usually broken down into different classes. Some foods have saturated fats, unsaturated fats, and trans fats. Look at the label and see what fats you can find. Avoid foods with trans fats. And monitor your saturated fat intake.

Protein can be all over the food spectrum. Turkey, chicken, lean red meat, eggs, flax seeds, chia seeds, and nuts all are great sources. Show your family how to find the amount of protein in each serving of packaged food. Challenge yourselves to eat foods with at least six grams of protein per serving.

The added vitamins and mineral and list of ingredients are found at the bottom of the food label. Nutrients like iron, zinc, and folate are added to help you meet your daily recommendations.

When you look at the ingredients, check out what’s at the top of the list. The higher the position on the list of ingredients, the greater the amount is in the food. With foods like bread, granola bars, and pasta, make sure whole grains are at the top. Lots of whole grains are going to keep you full for longer.

  1. Practice Money Mindfulness

Kids shouldn’t be in charge of the checkbook, but they can play an important role in your family finances. Helping your children have a healthy relationship with money is one of the best life lessons you can teach them. Get kids in the habit of tracking their spending. And help them see the importance of saving money.

Show your kids how to create a simple budget for your household needs. Let them see where money comes from and what your family spends it on. You can have them read the bills that come in each month and keep track of grocery receipts. Your kids will feel proud of helping out and better understand the value of money.

  1. Sleep Well

Bedtimes aren’t just for kids. As a family, work on getting your recommended eight hours of sleep each night. Going to bed at a decent hour will help kids and parents get that done.

Remind your family (and yourself) that your body needs a good amount of sleep to be productive during the day. Talk about how recharged you feel after getting the rest you need. You can set an example of healthy sleep habits by winding down early and waking up on time.

It can be tempting to get up and watch TV when you can’t sleep. When your kids see you do this, they’re probably wondering if they can, too. Instead of watching movies on the couch when you’re feeling restless, try reading or meditating. It’ll help your mind settle down and get you to sleep in no time.

  1. Reward with Praise

When you notice your family members doing a great job, talk it up. Let your kids know you see their effort by praising their healthy behaviors. Words of encouragement and affirmation reinforce the healthy family habits.

Try not to reward healthy living by “breaking” your newly developed habits. By scrapping your hard work for an afternoon of binge eating and laying around, you can wind up undoing your efforts.

Instead, recognize attempts to keep healthy habits with praise. Tell your kids you are proud of them for making their health a priority. And encourage them to keep up the good work.

  1. Practice What You Preach with Parental Role Modeling

It’s a team effort to get healthy family habits off the ground. When your kids see you making changes, too, they’ll be more likely to follow suit. You can’t expect children to work on maintaining healthy habits when you don’t do your part.

Give your kids permission to respectfully correct your actions. If they suggest you get off the couch and go out for a walk with them, lace up your shoes and hit the pavement. If they remind you to make your bed, go make it.

Leading your family in healthy habits requires your participation. Show your kids how much these healthy family habits mean to you by practicing them. You’ll have more success at meeting your health goals as a family when you work as a team.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.

Blame your parents for your hairline. A lack of dimples? Your parents’ fault. The way your ear lobes connect to your head (or don’t) are also the responsibility of your parents. And, of course, there’s more you can’t see in the mirror. Your family health history is embedded in you because that’s what your parents passed down. It encompasses the health issues of your blood relatives. The shared genes, and, in some cases, environment and habits, make health outcomes similar throughout a family.

And this history provides insights you and your doctor can use to help you maintain your health. The knowledge you acquire creates potential roadmaps for your future. That’s the biggest reason your family health history is more important than the few lines on a form at the doctor’s office.

So, don’t wait for your next appointment to think about your family health history. The guide below will help you start gathering this important information for your health.

Guide to Gathering Your Family Health History

Obviously, this part could take some time. And, depending on how you feel about talking to your family, some energy. But don’t worry. This step-by-step guide will help you get through the process as painlessly as possible.

  1. Decide who you need to talk to: The general rule is three generations of blood-related family (on your mother’s and father’s side) make up a complete history. That includes:
    • Grandparents
    • Parents
    • Aunts and uncles
    • Siblings
    • First Cousins
    • Your children

That seems like a lot of people whose health history you need. But remember, you only need to do this for blood relatives. No step-siblings or stepparents. Nobody who married into your family. Hopefully that simplifies the process and trims the number of potentially intense conversations you need to have.

  1. Focus on the information you need most: You don’t need to talk to your grandma about how much she weighed at 25. And put the tape measure away because you don’t need to check your sister’s height.

The more you know, the better. But you don’t need to collect spreadsheets—plural—of data.  Don’t track your family’s personal measurables (height, weight, speed) like a sports team sifting through potential players. Focus on these questions to collect the most critical information:

    • What significant medical issues have they faced? (This includes diseases and even major injuries.)
    • At what age did these issues start? (Knowing when they were diagnosed with an issue tells a lot about what you can expect and whether something is hereditary.)
    • For relatives who have passed, what was the cause of death?
    • What’s your family’s ethnic background? (Some issues are specific to an ethnicity or carry increased risks in certain populations.)
    • How has the environment they lived in impacted their health?
    • What mental health issues have they dealt with? (This includes everything from addiction to anxiety and depression.)
    • Is there a history of complications with pregnancy? If so, what were they?
    • What lifestyle habits have they participated in? (Heavy drinking, smoking, drug use, or healthy habits, like marathon running, can shed some light.)
  1. Decide the best place or way to talk to your family members. Use family events, like reunions, to talk about health history or set up times to call or email about it in the future. Talking face-to-face is always a good option. But sometimes the impersonal nature of email provides enough removal to allow honest conversation.
  2. Approach each conversation by explaining why you want this information. There’s a reason why health privacy laws exist. Discussing health issues is delicate and intensely private. Not everybody wants people to know they dealt with a medical issue or experienced mental-health problems. Letting your family members know how important it is to know this information is a good start.

If you can get everybody onboard, it’s also possible to share your collected information with your family. That way you aren’t just doing the family health history for you, but completing some of the work for others, too. But don’t share any information with others unless you have explicit permission to do so.

  1. Be a good, respectful listener. Make the conversations as simple or expansive as the family member wants. Sometimes that means asking to-the-point questions and getting simple answers. Other times you might have a longer discussion where your relative opens up a lot. Listen. Be supportive. And thank them for their time after you’ve wrapped up the conversation.
  2. Keep an easily updated electronic record. There are forms and tools to help simplify the process of gathering and tracking your family health history. Seek them out and use them. Most are free. And they offer a fill-in-the-blanks approach that makes it easy. Once you have a document of your own, remember to update it regularly.
  3. Don’t get discouraged by obstacles. This process, like life, isn’t likely to be perfectly smooth. But there are usually still ways to get what you need. Here’s some common obstacles and how to get around them:
    • Deceased relatives: If nobody in your family knows the health history of someone who has passed, public records can help. Death certificates are typically available to the public. Obituaries can shed light on the circumstances of a person’s death. Some family medical records could be acquired, too.
    • Adoption: If the adoption is open and the person is in contact with the biological parents, a conversation will suffice. But if that’s not the case, adoption records or the adoption agency might be the best resources available.
    • Estrangement: Use the family members you have connection with to reach out to those who you don’t. If your doctor will send out questionnaires, that is an option to explore. And turning to available records is another way to get what you need.

Remind Yourself Why Health Knowledge is Power

Following the steps above will guide your process. But knowing what to do and having the motivation to do it are two very different things.

Sometimes it’s hard to get in contact. Or your relatives may not be as forthcoming as you’d like. During those times, give yourself a reminder of why you’re collecting the family health history.

It all comes down to building the biggest base of knowledge possible. The bigger the data set, the better the predictive capabilities. But even the most extensive health history will not tell your future.

It’s not like glancing into a crystal ball. Health is a complex web. Lots of factors are involved in every health outcome. So, just because your family has a history of an issue, that doesn’t doom you. And you aren’t free and clear because you don’t see a problem on your family health history.

But knowing what has happened allows you and your doctor to monitor, test, and adjust your lifestyle. It can help you understand what risks you might be dealing with. That knowledge can shape a life that does everything to reduce the potential of encountering the same issues.

Some genetic disorders may require testing at specific intervals. There could be situations where early detection of a condition is easier and plays a big role in treatment options. The effectiveness of some drugs is even tied to genetics. And it’s important to know what you may pass to your children.

Your family health history also draws your doctor’s attention to important places. If more than one blood relative has a condition, that’s a place to focus medical or lifestyle interventions.

Use Your Family Health History to Fuel Action in Your Present

Information is nothing without intervention. That’s the action that makes the information so valuable.

This action takes different forms. Some will lead to tests for diseases that can be inherited. Others could be dietary, nutritional, or fitness-related.

For example, if you have a family history of heart problems, it’s even more important for you to monitor your blood pressure, heart rate, blood composition, and live a heart-healthy lifestyle. This information might make it easier for you to opt for the side salad instead of fries. It might even push you to hop on the bike or go for a walk.

The most important thing is to use what you know. Your healthcare provider can help you know how to act on your family health history. But you have to put in the effort.

While you stare in the mirror at the nose your parents stuck you with, remember the other things they passed on. And start doing something about them. Because—outside of costly, painful measures—there’s nothing you can do about your nose. But there’s plenty you can do about your health.

Habits take a long time to form, and aren’t easily altered overnight. Why should intelligent eating be any different? Food cravings are powerful! Even if you start to eat healthier, how can you actually enjoy healthier foods?

Like any life change, it’s a process. You need to not only change your diet, but your thinking around how to love eating healthy. And that doesn’t just mean what’s going on in your head. You need to start thinking of your stomach as a second brain—and feed it wisely.

You’re probably aware eating healthy has numerous health benefits. Increased energy, maintaining a healthy weight, a healthy heart, and having the building blocks for your whole body. The problem isn’t in knowing the benefits of eating healthy. It’s learning how to make yourself like healthy food. You can figure out how to love eating healthy by answering a few questions.

How Can I Practice Intelligent Eating When It’s So Hard?

Alright, so going cold turkey isn’t always the best approach to quitting something. You can’t just give up fried chicken, burgers, and pizza every night and expect to jump into a plate of kale. You would most likely fail. You also can’t expect to ease into a new habit without a plan to adjust your tastes and habits.

Changing your preferences to healthier options has a few roadblocks. Some are a function of the busyness of modern life. A trip to the grocery store or farmers market won’t mean much after work when you’re tired and stressed out. The fast-food drive-through can just be too tempting.

Other roadblocks come built into the human body. Example: Your taste buds are often subject to a process called neophobia. This is a fear of trying new or different things.

Like a lot of hang ups around food, there’s an evolutionary component to this process. Our ancestors didn’t always know which foods were healthy, and which foods might kill them. Once they found a food source wasn’t harmful, our ancestors would develop a taste for it. Eventually they might even enjoy it.

Most people aren’t foraging for food these days. So, you don’t have to worry about consuming something mysterious and potentially poisonous. But, the evolutionary defense mechanism remains.

There’s good news, though. First, eating spinach won’t kill you. And second, the more you eat a certain type of food, the more you acquire a taste for it. Even to the point of enjoyment.

You can also pair new foods with your old favorites. Maybe even replacing an unhealthy food with ingredients that are better for you. Instead of mayonnaise on your next sandwich, try spreading avocado. Instead of getting the meat lover’s pizza, try the vegetarian. If you start eating healthier foods with favorites you already enjoy, you’ll find that the new, healthy foods might start being tasty by association.

What Exactly is a Healthy Diet?

Whether or not you are actually on a strict diet, you need to eat a mix of healthy, nutrient-rich foods. Start with whole fruits and vegetables. Half of what you eat should be made up of these nutritious plants. And vegetables should take up the larger share. Whole grains and lean protein should make up the other half, with grains taking up the larger portion. This is followed by a side of dairy like cheese, milk, or yogurt. If you follow this general outline every day, you should receive a foundation of necessary nutrients.

More important than nailing the ratios of healthy food groups though, is to control your portions and limit your intake of overly processed foods. Chips, cookies, soda, frozen dinners, fast food, and the like can all contain unhealthy amounts of sugar, fat, and salt.

A diet high in fat and rich in sugar is harder for your body to process on many levels. Sugar tastes great, but doesn’t do much to curb hunger. So, it takes an awful lot of sugary, processed foods to make you feel full. Fat and sugar also trigger the pleasure receptors in the brain.

For many of our distant ancestors, it was rare to come across calorie-dense foods. Those they found would provide much needed sustenance, and any calories the body didn’t convert to quick energy was stored as fat for future use. Gorging on sweets and fats whenever they were available gave humans an evolutionary advantage.

Now, this process works against us. Foods high in sugar and fat are everywhere, and, instead of feasting, the challenge now is to limit your intake. That means paying attention to those ingredient labels!

Better yet, try to eat whole and fresh foods as often as possible. You don’t have to search an ingredient label when you buy fresh produce, meat, and fish in the store. That’s because there are no added ingredients. When it comes to grains, try to stick with whole grains like whole wheat, oatmeal, and brown rice.

How Do Healthy Foods and the Gut-Brain Axis Combine to Create Intelligent Eating?

A remarkable amount of research has recently expanded on the links between the brain and microbiome. There isn’t just evidence a healthy microbiome can influence weight and help deal with occasional stress. It may play a role in regulating mood and maintaining overall health.

There is a vast network of millions of nerves and chemical interactions that connect the gut to the brain. This is commonly referred to as the gut-brain axis.

The vagus nerve is one of the biggest nerves connecting your gut and brain. Signals travel in both directions along this pathway, from the gut to the brain and back. Research has shown these signals can be impacted by hormones and by what’s happening in your gut. That includes what kind of bacteria you’re cultivating with your diet. Since changing your diet changes the type of bacteria in your gut, you can help maintain the efficiency and health of this important connection.

Here’s an example of how diet can impact your gut-brain axis.

Some of the chemicals produced in your gut are called short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). Among the most important for the gut-brain axis are butyrate and propionate. These SCFAs (and many others) are the product of gut bacteria fermenting fiber. So, by eating more fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, it can help your body make SCFAs.

And that’s a good thing because these short-chain fatty acids help provide energy to the cells of your colon. There’s also evidence that butyrate helps in forming the blood brain barrier. Some studies have even shown butyrate to have a role in maintaining neurological health.

Meanwhile, an increase in propionate in the gut has been shown to lower the amount of activity in the pleasure centers of the brain when exposed to high energy, unhealthy food. Scientists detected considerably weaker electrical impulse activity in the nervous systems of test subjects that had higher fiber diets. Because there was less of a reward response in the brain, they literally found the unhealthy food less appealing!

Reducing your enjoyment of junk food isn’t the only way supporting your gut-brain axis with diet could help you manage your weight. The flora in your gut can also play a large role.

There are literally trillions of microbes in your gut. Two of the most important are Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes. Studies have shown that these two play a significant role when it comes to managing weight.

Consuming high amounts of fat and sugar tends to boost the levels of Firmicutes, while limiting the presence of Bacteroidetes. With that dietary pattern, it might not be surprising that higher levels of Firmicutes have been detected in the microbiomes of obese people.

But the gut microbiome isn’t fixed. When obese people ate diets lower in fat and sugar, they lost weight. And, sure enough, samples of their microbiomes would reveal a decrease in Firmicutes and an increase in Bacteroidetes.

What are Some Tips for Learning How to Love Eating Healthy?

Your best bet is to start small, slow, and to have a plan. Here are six tips to get you started.

  1. Once or twice a week, plan a meal with a healthy vegetable you’ve never tried before, and experiment with how you prepare it. Sure, you may not like steamed broccoli. But what if it’s sautéed in a bit of olive oil, and tossed with sea salt, fresh ground pepper, and lemon juice? Swiss chard may not be your thing, but use sautéed leaves for a filling in enchiladas, or even raw in a smoothie? You might make a delicious discovery. And, remember, cooking at home is always better (for your health and for your wallet) than going out to eat.
  2. Next time you have a salad, try making a simple vinaigrette. Mix up olive oil, vinegar, and whole-grain mustard—three parts oil to one part vinegar with a dab of mustard works best. You’ll be skipping the bottled salad dressing that most likely has a lot of extra sugar and calories.
  3. Instead of buying sweetened cereal or yogurt, simply add your own fresh fruit. You’ll find it’s just as tasty, and you’ll feel good about the choice.
  4. Feed your microbiome. Some of the best foods for increasing healthy gut bacteria are high in fiber and those rich in omega-3 fatty acids like fish and eggs. Maybe skip the processed smoked salmon or lox, and try grilling salmon with olive oil and fresh herbs on top.
  5. Try introducing probiotics into your diet. Probiotics are foods that contain active microorganisms. When you consume these foods, you introduce healthy bacteria into your gut that can help maintain a healthy balance of microbes to support gut health. Common probiotic foods include yogurt, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and sourdough bread.
  6. Grow a garden. Nothing quite beats the taste of a fresh-off-the-vine heirloom tomato you watched grow all summer. It’s not really fair to compare homemade pesto to the store-bought version either. You can get a real sense of accomplishment that comes with growing your own food, too. And kids might be more likely to sample the literal fruits of their labor. If you don’t have the yard space for a garden, you can grow some plants and herbs in smaller pots and containers. If that doesn’t work, try hitting the farmers market, or signing up for community garden.

So, now you’ve learned tips about how to love eating healthy. It’s not easy to switch your food cravings to healthier options, and it takes repetition and commitment. Luckily, the steps aren’t complex. It all comes down to making newer food palatable for you.

But you can only figure out what you enjoy if you keep trying new things. The internet is your friend here. For every type of new food, there are a hundred different recipes to explore. Pick one and start your intelligent eating journey today.

Little ones love their independence. They feel empowered when a decision is theirs to make. So, give kids lots of opportunities to learn how to make healthy lifestyle choices. You can help, too. That’s because children look to their parents and mentors for direction. And it’s important to help set them up for success in many aspects of their health.

Teaching your children to make healthy choices doesn’t need to be complicated or daunting. Easy-to-manage, simple adjustments to your current routine are all you need to keep your kids on track. Working on healthy decision making as a family is also a great way to reinforce the principles of healthy living for children.

If you need ideas for introducing healthy living concepts to kids, try to focus on these five high-impact areas:

  1. Eating a fiber-rich diet
  2. Enjoying kid-friendly exercises
  3. Getting adequate sleep
  4. Keeping good mental health in mind
  5. Developing a safe, responsible relationship with electronic devices

Kids are like sponges. They soak up new information and learn quickly. Below, you’ll find ideas and tips to help you teach kids about making smart decisions for overall health. Before you know it, your kids will be empowered to choose healthy options on their own.

Find Ways To Help Your Kids Eat More Fiber

Kids need balanced meals and snacks to power their play and support their growth. Fiber-rich foods are the key to lasting energy for fueling days of fun. Adults already know the importance of fiber. Once you’ve reached adulthood, you’ve heard “eat more fiber” too many times to count. So, pass along your wisdom and show your kids why they need it, too.

It’s starts with a simple fact: without fiber, it’s a lot harder to properly digest the food you eat. A child’s body (like any adult’s) needs adequate fluids and fiber to support health digestion. When the digestive system runs low on fiber, constipation and discomfort could be on the horizon. And it’s hard to run around and play with stomach discomfort.

Supporting healthy digestion isn’t all. Fiber-packed foods keep kids satisfied after a meal. It promotes feelings of fullness and helps keep children from overeating. With fiber, your kids get consistent amounts of energy without making them crash from a sugar high. This helps kids play or learn longer with steady energy.

Help your kids see how much fiber they need each day. Daily recommended amounts of fiber are different for every age group. The simplest way to calculate the amount of daily fiber needed is age plus five grams. This means that a three-year-old needs eight grams of dietary fiber daily.

Reading the nutrition label for a favorite packaged food is probably the last thing on a child’s mind. But you can show them where to look to find how much fiber is in their meal or snack. Help children choose fiber-rich foods to help them meet their daily fiber needs.

Fiber is an important part of many yummy foods and snacks that kids already love. Berries and nuts are excellent sources of fiber. Apples, beans, oranges, pears, peas, and whole grains are all kid-friendly fiber foods. Eating foods with lots of fiber has an added bonus. Since fiber is found naturally in fruits and veggies, fiber-rich foods are loaded with vitamins and nutrients. So, take the chance to explain to your kids why fiber is important and show them how good it can taste.

You can even sneak extra fiber into the occasional baked good or treat. Do this by replacing white flour with whole wheat flour in recipes or adding more fruits and veggies into sauces and other dishes. Adjustments like these will go a long way to meeting your child’s fiber needs.

A great way to help ensure kids eat the fiber they need is to provide five age-appropriate servings of fruits and veggies daily. When kids are good at consuming their fruits and veggies and other whole fiber-rich foods daily, there’s no real need to count fiber grams.

Make Exercise Fun for Your Kids (and for You)

Kids are already experts at moving and grooving. They run, jump, climb, and play all day long—this makes regular exercise a natural next step for little ones to tackle.

Exercise that seems like play is a great way to encourage kids to be active. And it doesn’t require a trip to the gym for kids to get moving. They can head to the park or the playground instead.

The best kid-friendly exercises should include elements of flexibility, strength, and endurance.

Games of tag and foot races are good for teaching kids about agility and speed. Sports like soccer, basketball, and running help little ones focus on endurance. Yoga and tumbling reinforce flexibility.

Kids can flex their strength on the monkey bars or jungle gym. Jumping rope, riding on a teeter-totter, and pushing friends on the swing set are other fun strength-building activities.

But don’t let their eagerness to play keep them from exercising safely. Kids can get hurt while they play just like adults do. That’s why it’s important to teach children how to protect their little muscles and joints from injury.

Encourage your kids to warm up and stretch before a play session. This can take the form of a walk to the park, or a short yoga sequence. Also, avoid dehydration by keeping plenty of water on-hand. Check in frequently with children so they don’t ignore any signs of injury.

One of the best things you can do is let your kids see you exercise. Show them how important activity is to health. Making workouts a family affair will also help kids develop lasting interest in health and fitness. It even makes it easier to give kids the support they need to try new ways of moving. So, get out and play together and have fun exercising as a family.

Support Healthy Sleep Habits With Bedtime Routines

Children thrive with routines, which comes in handy when it’s time to get to sleep. That’s because a predictable bedtime routine can be a game changer for getting your little ones the sleep they need.

Studies have shown adequate sleep has several positive impacts for children and teens. Attention, memory, and behavior show up often. But many aspects of mental and physical health have been shown to improve when kids get enough sleep.

But what’s the right amount of sleep? Recommended amounts vary by age group. Here is a breakdown:

Age (years) Sleep time (hours/day)
1-2 11-14
3-5 10-13
6-13 9-12
14-18 8-10

These recommendations can help you assess how your child is doing in the sleep department. Try to create a bedtime routine to help them meet their daily sleep needs.

For young children, make the hour before bed loving and calm. Taking a bath, turning down the lights, and reading a story or two helps children transition from playtime to bedtime. And don’t forget, consistency is key for successful bedtime routines.

Older children and teens benefit from regular bedtimes, too. Going to bed at a similar time each night helps ensure your teens log enough sleep. Teens should also turn off electronic devices 30-minutes-to-one-hour before bedtime. Blue light from phone, tablet, and TV screens make it harder for the brain to wind down for bed.

If dental care is not part of your bedtime routine, then add it today. Taking care of your teeth is critical to your overall health. And it’s easiest to remember to do it before bed and right after your kids wake up.

If you want your kids to follow a regular bedtime schedule, then you should also follow one. If children see you sticking to a normal bedtime, they will be more likely to follow. In this case, leading by example also helps you get the sleep you need to deal with your well-rested, energetic children.

Teach Kids How to Prioritize Their Mental Health

Everybody experiences emotional ups and downs—even kids. That’s why it’s important to help children build a foundation of good mental health to carry them through times of worry or fear.

Kids should understand they need to take care of their minds and bodies equally. Feelings of worry, anxiety, sadness, and fear are all part of growing up. So, let your kids know they can come to you if something is troubling them.

Emotional wellness encourages kids to feel positively about themselves and others. It will help kids have happier relationships. They’ll also feel excited and interested in new adventures. Being mentally healthy helps kids get enough sleep and succeed in the classroom, too.

It all starts with open lines of communication. So, talk to your kids about recognizing changes in their social and emotional wellbeing. Make sure they know they can trust you when they’re feeling low. Words of support and praise from a loved one could be just the thing they need to start feeling better.

Also, overall health is a big, interconnected puzzle. You can promote your child’s mental health by helping them make smart diet and exercise choices. Wholesome foods and regular exercise are two of the best ways to help maintain a healthy mind.

Model Safe, Responsible Use of Electronic Devices

Digital devices are everywhere, and kids have easy access to them. Your kids might even be better at using a smartphone or tablet than you are. What they need from you is instruction on how to use devices responsibly.

Families can ensure their kids are safe online by supervising cell-phone and tablet use and sharing passwords. Try to establish open communication when it comes to the Internet. Help your child understand what’s appropriate for them to read, listen to, and watch. Tell them to be cautious and never share personal information online.

And it’s just as important to manage how much time kids spend logged into the digital world. Make escaping from screens and computers a priority. These off-screen experiences foster active play and imaginative thinking. Implementing these habits will help your family avoid the pitfalls of a digital world—like reduced sleep quality, unhealthy weight, and poor social skills.

Teach kids how to respect the boundaries you set around digital devices by taking breaks from technology yourself. Show children how much you enjoy time away from your phone by engaging with them one-on-one.

Find fun offline activities to do together. They’ll love the solo attention and you’ll enjoy knowing your kids are developing a healthy relationship with electronic devices.

Start Now to Set Your Kids Up for Success

Making healthy choices is an important life skill that parents can teach their kids. Your example and guidance are enough to show them how to make their own good decisions. Lead your kids to a life of healthy living by teaching them how to make good choices for themselves today.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.

It’s game night, and your turn is up next. You hold your breath. Your palms sweat. You eye your next move and go for it. The next wooden block slides out, but the tower wobbles. The crowd of players around you shout in protest. And then the game’s tower crumbles.

JENGA!

What does a game of Jenga have to do with your social health? Think about each wooden Jenga block as components of your wellness. They’re the pieces—physical, nutritional, emotional health, and so on—that come together holistically to give you a healthy sense of self and well-being.

Now think back to the last block you pulled, the move that decimated the whole tower. That piece represents your social health. And it proved to be so vital that the entire tower—or, your wellness—rested on it. Removing this essential block makes the tower crash down.

As you’ll understand shortly, social health really is that important. That’s because it’s a strong predictor of overall health and well-being. Social health can provide you with a network of support that helps fend off loneliness, provides a sense of belonging in your community, and even helps protect your physical health.

If you want your tower of wellness to withstand the test of time, it’s important to think about how to fortify its building blocks. And that’s especially true for social health.

The good news is there are plenty of ways to build and maintain your social health to create a firm foundation for everything else. So, find out what you can do to boost your social health, and in turn, your overall wellness.

How Social Health Predicts Health Over a Lifetime

The Harvard Study of Adult Development is a rich, long-running study on health and happiness. In 1938, the study recruited over 700 teenaged men from neighborhoods around Boston. These men were followed over the decades. Researchers administered surveys to take various measurements that helped researchers learn about subjects’ health status.

More recently, the researchers recruited the original participants’ wives and children. These additions created even more robust data, ready to be mined for gems of wisdom. So, what have the researchers learned from nearly 80 years of in-depth data collection? Let’s turn to recent study directors Robert Waldinger and George Vaillant for the answers.

Both give simple, profound takeaways from their study. Vaillant said, “…the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.” Waldinger, the study’s current director, added that, “The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”

The researchers found relationship satisfaction at middle age is a stronger predictor of physical health than cholesterol levels.

If that wasn’t strong enough, Waldinger emphasized the importance of social health even more: “Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”

So, in a way, taking care of your personal relationships is an indirect way of taking care of yourself. Need more assurance of the strong connection between relationships and health outcomes? Take a closer look at the data.

The Lead Weight of Loneliness

Most of what’s known about social health and its relation to physical health outcomes were borne out of studies involving adults. But focusing on this age group alone excludes those on either end of the lifespan. Surely social connection plays a large role in the well-being of considerably younger and older people.

A group of researchers set out to investigate that idea. They were interested in determining the effect of social factors over the lifespan. How does your social network affect your overall health—specifically mental health—in adolescence, adulthood, and as a senior?

The researchers measured three factors and found they were all strong predictors of mental health outcomes throughout each life stage. These predictors—the potential Jenga blocks or lack thereof in your wellness tower—were social isolation, social connection, and social trust.

Researchers studying social health defined social isolation as, “disengagement from social ties, institutional connections, or community participation.” Participants took a survey rating statements like: “I often feel very lonely”; “I do not have anyone I can confide in”; and “I often need help from other people but cannot get it.” Those with higher scores for these statements experienced greater isolation.

Social connection was defined as the opposite of social isolation. This means social ties exist and are maintained to a degree, as do connections to the larger community and institutions. Researchers measured social connection through ratings on statements like: “I enjoy the time I spend with people who are important to me”; “When I need someone to help me out, I usually find someone”; and “There is someone who can always cheer me up when I’m down.” Higher scores meant greater social connection.

Lastly, social trust was defined as “self-assurance in the honesty, integrity, and reliability of others.” This was measured by rating: “Most people you meet keep their word”; “Most people you meet make arrangements honestly”; and “Generally speaking, most people can be trusted.” Higher scores here meant a deeper social trust. This meant social ties that were deeply trusted had a greater influence on a participant’s health.

Researchers compared these scores to participants’ mental health scores. These were determined based on their ratings of statements on their sense of calm, peacefulness, nervousness, and whether they felt happy or depressed.

The principal finding of the study was that all social predictors had strong associations with mental health scores across each age group. But there were important differences by age:

Younger People

Social connection was the strongest predictor for adolescents. When young people have strong social ties and a sense of community, they report better mental health status. The opposite is true for social isolation. Young people who feel isolated experience a decline in their mental-health status.

Older Adults

Social trust is the main driver for this group. If older individuals can’t trust their relationships, their mental health suffers. For the elderly population in particular, this makes sense when considering their dependence on others to maintain wellness. As adults age, their social networks naturally, and perhaps drastically, decline from the deaths of friends, family, and acquaintances. As the circle shrinks, the influence of remaining relationships increases. So, if those connections aren’t trustworthy, social and mental health of the individual will deteriorate.

Additionally, older adults who experience the isolation of a shrinking social network can see many negative physical effects:

  • Rising cortisol levels (the stress hormone) in the body.
  • Increasing risk for major health issues.
  • Intensifying the difficulty of everyday tasks like grooming and eating balanced meals.

It’s clear, no matter your age, the state of your social health greatly influences your mental health, and therefore, overall wellness. There are many ways to stave off isolation, stay connected, and strengthen your social ties. Perhaps the most obvious lies in your committed relationships. 

The Many Social Health Merits of Marriage and Partnership

Researchers repeatedly find connections between marriage and lowered risk for a variety of health issues. Among married study participants, researchers have found lower mortality rates and cardiovascular issues. Additionally, married people are less likely to experience depression, and are more likely to survive major disease diagnoses longer than their unmarried counterparts.

On the face of it, this might seem like chance. How could a simple lifestyle decision influence health status so profoundly? Upon closer look, there are many strong theories that are holding up to scientific inquiry:

  • Social health is associated with better overall health. This easily translates to married partnerships. Investing time, energy, and effort into a close bond strengthens the social connection you have to that person. This investment creates a mutually beneficial support system to catch you when life gets tough. Consider the example of a major disease diagnosis. If a spouse receives the devastating news, the burden is shared by two people rather than one. There is someone to lean on emotionally and logistically. Getting to appointments, making meals, and sharing household duties when sick eases the load and likely elevates the chance of full recovery.
  • Happiness boosts immunity. Researchers have found those in happy, satisfying relationships tend to have a stronger immune system. This is often explained by the effect of cortisol levels—a measure of stress—on immunity. Cortisol levels tend to be lower in married persons versus those who are single.
  • Married people may take fewer risks. This may look like eating a balanced diet, participating in regular physical activity, or even keeping regular doctor appointments. Additionally, evidence shows married people tend to adhere to medical recommendations following those appointments.

There’s more. Much of the research on the connection between marriage and health are focused solely on married individuals. This leaves out those who are in long-term, committed relationships, sharing a home and finances. Those who cohabitate in this way, but choose not to get married, still reap the benefits of this close social tie.

Researchers studied a group of Canadians who were either single, cohabitating, married, divorced, or widowed. They found that, in regard to health, those who cohabitate were better off than those who were single. However, married individuals were still better off than cohabitators. Interestingly, when the researchers controlled for selection effects (a health effect seen in those who choose to be married), the difference between the health of cohabitators and married individuals lost its significance. This reinforces that it’s not the type of union that influences health status. Instead, the closeness of cohabitation and marriage both offer protective health effects.

It’s important to note that while marriage is an important factor in social health and overall health, not all committed relationships are happy or positive. It’s possible to be single and not feel isolated. Likewise, it’s possible to be surrounded by a social network and still experience loneliness. The bond alone doesn’t lend the benefits—the quality of the bond is equally important.

Strengthening Your Social Health

You’re probably familiar with the other strong predictors of good health throughout life. These include behaviors like abstinence from smoking, responsible alcohol use, regular physical activity, and a healthy diet. While these tend to be obvious, they’re often difficult to do or maintain, especially when genetics and life’s inevitable, unpredictable stressors are taken into account.

Perhaps this is why being aware of the strong connection between social connection and health is so compelling. This facet of health is something most of us have, or can have, a firm handle on with relative ease.

Most people grow up in a network of social connections. That could consist of your nuclear and extended family, or your schoolmates. The difficulty isn’t necessarily having a network, but maintaining it. And now, armed with information, you have the motivation to do so.

But if you need a nudge in the right direction, consider the following ideas for maintaining social health:

  • Join a club. This can be online or in-person. There is a plethora of clubs organized by interest on MeetUp.com. Whether it’s for hiking enthusiasts, wine lovers, or crafty folks, there’s a group for you. Joining up with people to participate in a common interest is a great way to develop deep social ties, since you’re likely to share similar values.
  • Find a pen pal. It can be someone you know, have lost touch with, or is a stranger. No matter what, flexing those writing muscles in the name of connection goes a long way. You can even do it in service of a cause. Visit More Love Letters and view “The Letter Requests.” Here you can contribute to a bundle of letters from others across the world to one person in need. You don’t have to know someone intimately to establish a social tie and reap the benefits of connecting with them.
  • Volunteer. There’s likely a number of organizations in your area that would benefit from your time. If you find the right fit, you’ll feel a sense of purpose and connect with others while serving your community.

Life Can’t Tackle This Wellness Tower

You have all of the blocks for good social and overall health. They’re the things that serve your well-being: social connection, potential partnership, and a sense of belongingness in your community. And now you have tools and knowledge to put those blocks to use. Sometimes it might take a little planning and rearranging to fortify your wellness tower, but the effort is worth it.

Once you get your pieces in place, there’s no push, prod, or poke that could topple your tower. Take that, Jenga!

About the Author

Jenna Templeton is a health educator and freelance science writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After receiving a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Virginia Tech, Jenna spent five years as a research scientist in the nutritional industry. This work fueled her interest in personal wellness, leading her to pursue a graduate degree in Health Promotion & Education from the University of Utah. Outside of work, Jenna enjoys live music, gardening, all things food, and playing in the Wasatch mountains.

Your brain is a mystery only it can solve. Unraveling the riddle of how your body’s command center works—perception, the formation of thoughts, memory creation, and more—might seem like daunting, headache-inducing work.

But your brain is up to the task. Every second of the day it takes in so much information. Then it links disparate parts to make a whole thought, decision, memory, or picture of your world. Your brain is the ultimate processing unit, taking facts—from senses, chemical messages, or other stimuli—and spitting out a conclusion.

So, if you’re going to demystify your brain, it’s probably best to lay out the facts first. And your amazing brain will do the rest of the work putting the puzzle together.

Here are 41 facts about brain anatomy, perception, thoughts, memory, and healthy habits for your brain:

All About Your Brain Anatomy and Structure

  1. Your brain, if you’re an adult, is about three pounds (1.4 kilograms) of firm-jelly-textured human computing power. And it’s surprisingly fatty—about 60 percent of the brain is fat.
  2. All your thinking, deciding, and processing drains about 20 percent of the total energy, oxygen, and blood in your body. So much power and so many resources for about two percent of your total weight. And delivering all that blood, oxygen, and nutrients requires almost 100,000 miles of blood vessels to be packed into your skull.
  3. Your brain did a lot of growing in your first year of life—when it tripled in size. But life shrinks your brain. After you hit middle age, your brain decreases in physical size as time passes.
  4. A bigger brain doesn’t mean anything. Physical size hasn’t been found to have any significant correlation with higher intelligence. In general, research has only found brain size to be responsible for around 10 percent of intelligence variability.
  5. You do have a left and right brain. That’s because it’s divided into two almost symmetrical—but not identical—hemispheres connected by the corpus callosum (a nerve bundle).
  6. Your brain is kind of cross-wired. The left side controls muscles on your body’s right side. The right side of your brain is responsible for pulling the strings on the muscles of your left side. It sounds confusing, but your brain has it figured out.
  7. The whole brain chips in for creativity and other mental tasks. So, artistic people aren’t really relying more on their right brain. Analytical people aren’t more left brained. Slight cognitive differences have been found in the hemispheres, but it’s not accurate to call yourself right brained, unless the left side has been removed.
  8. There are three major parts of the brain: the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brain stem.
  9. The cerebrum is the brain’s biggest part, accounting for 85 percent of its weight. It needs that size to handle a lot of survival tasks (movement, senses, temperature, and judgment). And the cerebrum also tackles higher-order operations—problem solving, reasoning, emotions, and learning.
  10. You can thank (or blame) your cerebellum for your posture and balance. And your brain stem handles a lot of processes you do without thinking. But they keep you alive—breathing and keeping your heart beating. The brain stem also shuttles information from your sensory organs, helps you swallow, and cough.

  1. Science also splits the brain up into four lobes: the frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal lobes. Each lobe handles specific tasks. The frontal lobe tackles thinking tasks, as well as movement and short-term memory. Sensory information on touch and taste is processed in your parietal lobe. Your occipital lobe is all about processing and storing the information your eyes take in. The temporal lobe works on memory storage, smell, taste, and sound.
  2. That’s a lot information already. Does your head hurt? If it does, you can bet it isn’t actually your brain. It interprets signals from around the body, but feels no pain itself. You can even trace brain freeze to the blood vessels in your throat constricting from cold, not your actual brain.

How Your Brain Works and Communicates

  1. You use more than 10 percent of your brain. In fact, your whole brain is working most of the time. It has to. That’s the only way your complex body runs smoothly and you stay safe.
  2. The human brain is far better than the best computer ever created. It can handle a lot of information every second, and process it all faster than a computer. And that means A LOT of information—up to 10 to the 16th power every second.
  3. All that processing means information travels fast around your brain. Although the speed of information varies, it’s estimated info can ping around the brain at about 250 miles per hour (402 kilometers per hour).
  4. What makes all this speed and computing possible? Neurons. There are about one hundred billion—a one followed by 11 zeroes—of these nerve cells in your brain. They’re able to communicate with other neurons via chemical or electrical signals.
  5. Neurons are cells, but they have unique properties that set them apart from your other cells. And these physical differences help them do their job. Neurons have special branches on one end called dendrites and axons on the other. The dendrites receive information, while the axon on the other end sends the information to the next neuron.
  6. Synapses are the spaces between neurons where they come very, very close to touching in order to relay information. When you have a new thought or remember something, new synaptic connections are created.
  7. The chemical messengers of the brain are called neurotransmitters. That makes sense because your body makes these chemicals to literally transmit messages between neurons. You’ve probably heard of a few neurotransmitters like adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin.

  1. Your brain isn’t the same as anyone else’s. Your experiences—including what happens to you and what you learn—wire your brain in a unique way. And that wiring continues to develop as you learn and experience more.
  2. The mechanics of the working brain are amazing. It allows you to do so many higher-order tasks (processes not tied to survival). But multitasking is still impossible. When someone says they’re multitasking, they’re alternating between higher-order tasks. They may do the switching quickly, but the tasks aren’t happening simultaneously.
  3. Your brain gets bored easily. Research has found that every 10 minutes you need something that sparks you emotionally to hit the reset button on your attention. If that 10-minute number sounds long, it’s because the human attention span (how long you can pay attention to a single thing) continues to shrink. It’s down to an average of eight seconds—down four seconds in just 15 years.
  4. Even if your brain gets bored, it never loses focus on survival. It’s your body’s command center, so survival is always the first priority. That means your brain constantly makes decisions about safety and solves problems to keep you safe. In nature, those fight-or-flight decisions may actually be lifesaving. But in modern life, the constant barrage of non-dangerous, but stressful situations trick your brain into survival mode. This can create unhealthy levels of stress.
  5. Your whole brain doesn’t sleep—not fully, at least. And your dreams are proof. Science doesn’t even know everything about dreams. But they’re thought to be a function of imagination, psychology, and neurology mixing together.

Shaping Perception and Thought in the Brain

  1. In a dream, you might perceive a fantastical environment or adventure. It’s your brain’s job to set your perception. It uses sensory data to paint a complete picture of your world. Perception isn’t as simple as collating sensory data, though. It’s more complex.
  2. Those brain-sensory complexities can create conditions like synesthesia. This is when your senses converge to layer a perception on one sense. A common example is when people see colors when they hear music.
  3. The reason perception can vary has everything to do with the brain’s interaction with sensory information. Take hearing as an example. Your ears collect sound waves. But your experience of hearing and listening is shaped in the brain. So, that’s why two people can have the same sound waves enter their ears, but think they hear something different. Like with the Laurel vs. Yanny viral sensation of 2018, if there’s any ambiguity, your brain uses your experiences to flesh out the phrasing to give you a perception of the sound. And that can be different for people.
  4. Brain researchers can watch you think. That’s because physically, thoughts show up in imaging as many neurons firing. There are still a lot of mysteries about how thoughts are formed and what processes are responsible, though. At a basic level, your brain connects different information to form a new mixture called a thought.

Making Memories

  1. You should be impressed by the brain’s ability to perceive the world and generate thoughts. But memory is just as amazing. It’s estimated your brain can store 2,500,000 gigabytes of information.
  2. You have two basic types of memory: short-term and—you probably guessed it—long-term memory.
  3. There’s a reason your short-term memory is also referred to as working memory. For the most part, it operates by allowing you to remember information long enough for you to use it. That’s why you can remember a phone number to dial it, but might forget it right after the call ends.
  4. Dredging up memories isn’t exactly like pulling a file from a folder. Your brain has to recreate and reimagine that memory. And it’s not a perfect copy of the original.
  5. The ability to look up any of the information in the world is great for everything except your memory. Your brain isn’t lazy, per se. But it’s very busy and prioritizes tasks that absolutely need to be done. So, if it knows you can look something up again, your brain may not store that tidbit of information.
  6. Pictures are powerful tools for memory. Studies have shown people retain 65 percent more information when images are involved.
  7. Science has a name for wisdom—all the situations and information you’ve experienced and stored. Scientists call it cognitive template.
  8. Want to help yourself remember information? Try these tips. Repetition helps. Repeating information really works. So does adding more context. That means stringing a few bits of information about a person with their name to help you remember it better. These associations strengthen memory. You can also try to pour information into your brain at a slower rate. A flood of information just won’t sink in, as well.

Facts About Habits to Maintain That Insanely Awesome Brain

  1. Water plays a big role in brain health and computing power. That’s because your brain is about 75 percent H2O. So, stay hydrated to keep your brain cranking full-steam ahead.
  2. Sleep is important to being your best self. You’ve been sleep deprived before. Did you have a banner mental day after your four hours of shut eye? Doubtful. Sleep is when your brain rests (but, as you know now, doesn’t completely shut down). A lack of sleep impacts information processing, attention, memory, mood, and logic.

  1. Your brain gets sleepy. So, if you crave a nap about 3 p.m., that’s normal. It’s just your brain trying to rest. Keep that in mind when you’re designing your daily schedule.
  2. Just because your brain likes naps and wants plenty of sleep that doesn’t mean it wants you to be sedentary. Actually, the opposite. Regular exercise supports brain health and cognition as much as your waistline.
  3. Don’t stress. Your brain doesn’t like it. Stress is bad for your overall health. But it can really cause problems with learning and many important aspects of cognition. Your brain can deal with short-term stresses. It was built to help you survive, after all. But hours of steeping in a stressful situation is bad for your brain. So, work on coping mechanisms that take you out of your long-suffering stressful state.

From Facts to Action

Now that you know a little bit more about your body’s command center, take care of it. You don’t need the knowledge of a neuroscientist to appreciate and pamper for your brain.

Do the things it likes—sleeping, learning, exercising—and avoid stress and behaviors that might harm it. And don’t forget to feed your brain the nutrients it needs by eating a diet full of fruits, vegetables, and good fats. Your brain is hungry for healthy foods, and knowledge. Continue to feed it both so it can stay happy and healthy.

You use your teeth every day, but you might not know much about their anatomy. It’s time to start asking questions and learning more about them. Maybe “what are teeth made of?” has popped into your mind before. Or you’ve wondered from time to time: are your teeth bones?

It’s your lucky day.

You’ve found 24 bite-sized questions and answers to help you better understand your teeth. From baby teeth to teeth grinding, plaque, and flossing, this list has got it all. Study up so you can display your knowledge the next time you’re at the dentist.

  1. What Keeps Your Teeth in Place?

Your teeth are anchored into two of the bones of your skull. The upper teeth are situated in a bone called the maxilla that forms the upper jaw. And the mandible (jawbone) is the bone that houses your lower teeth.

The mandible and maxilla are the two bones that make up your jaw. They are connected on the right and left sides of your skull. Your jawbone is the strongest in your skull and the only one that can move. And that comes in handy when you bite and chew your food.

  1. How Many Teeth Do You Have?

Ancient philosophers like Aristotle once thought men and women didn’t have the same number of teeth. But we know better now. A full set of adult teeth for women and men is 32. You can count them yourself with your tongue.

Teeth are organized in pairs according to their shape. You have one tooth from the pair on each side of your mouth. Look in a mirror and see for yourself. Divide your mouth in half vertically to see that each side is virtually symmetrical.

  1. What is Your Tooth’s Crown? (Not the One from the Dentists, Either)

To answer this question, let’s breakdown the anatomy of a tooth.

Teeth are like icebergs. The iceberg appears to be a small chunk of ice floating in the water. When really, it’s like an ice mountain barely peeking up out of the ocean. So it is with your teeth. They exist above and below the surface of your gums. The shiny, white portion you can see when you open your mouth is called the crown.

This part of the tooth comes in contact with your food, drink, and saliva. It is the tough exterior that protects the whole tooth. So, a tooth’s crown is covered in a hard substance called enamel. Underneath the enamel is a layer of hard tissue called dentin.

  1. What is Enamel?

Until now, you probably thought that bone was the toughest tissue in your body.

Wrong!

That award goes to enamel. The hard, white material that surrounds the crown of your teeth takes the title.

Enamel is found on the outside of the tooth and made primarily of calcium phosphate. This mineral makes enamel incredibly strong. So, it can defend the softer, more sensitive layers of the tooth—dentin, pulp, nerves, and blood vessels. It also protects your teeth from the wear-and-tear of daily use.

  1. Do Teeth Have Roots?

They sure do. Below the hard crown is the tooth’s root. It’s tucked away underneath the gum line and tethered to the jawbone by connective tissue called the periodontal ligament.

Most of the root is made of dentin, which forms canals. They hold a living tissue called pulp that’s full of blood vessels and nerves that run through the root of the tooth and into the jawbone.

  1. Can Teeth Feel Sensations?

You might have noticed your teeth feeling sensitive to hot or cold temperatures. This can happen if the root of a tooth is exposed above the gum line, or if enamel wears down. When the dentin that makes up the root is uncovered, the nerves inside can be stimulated by the temperature of the food and drink in your mouth.

The sensations of hot and cold are transmitted through the nerves in the exposed dentin to the brain. Your brain interprets these signals as pain.

This is another reason enamel is so important. It acts like an insulator that shields teeth from extremely hot and cold temperatures. Enamel protects the sensitive nerves in dentin from painful stimulation.

  1. Why Do Teeth Come in Different Shapes?

Take one look at your smile and you’ll know your teeth don’t all look the same. In fact, your teeth vary widely in their shape and size.

While none of the teeth in your mouth are identical, they can be classified by their overall shape. An adult set of teeth has eight incisors, four canines, eight premolars, and 12 molars.

Beginning in the middle and branching out left and right are your incisors. These big front teeth are sharp like a knife. Next to the incisors are the canine teeth. They have a distinctive point called a cusp. They resemble the pointed teeth in dogs.

The next teeth in line are called the premolars. These teeth have two cusps and are sometimes referred to as bicuspids. Finally, the last class of teeth are the molars. They’re large and flat.

  1. What Do the Different Kinds of Teeth Do?

The different shape of each tooth helps it perform a specialized function while you chew your food.

Incisors are great at cutting into and holding chunks of food, like when you bite into an apple. Your incisors can also help you sense the texture of your food.

Canine teeth tear your food into smaller, more manageable pieces. You can put your canines to work by eating a piece of thick protein, like grilled chicken.

The premolars are between canines and molar in shape. Premolars help cut and tear food—much like the canine teeth do.

Molars are used for grinding food. As you chew, pieces of food are moved further back into your mouth where they’re ground up by your molars. Molars help break food into pieces you can swallow safely.

  1. What are Wisdom Teeth?

You have four wisdom teeth, which are also called third molars. They are shaped just like molars and perform the same tasks while you chew. But for some people, wisdom teeth need to be removed.

In your late teens and early twenties, wisdom teeth arrive. These are the last of your permanent teeth to erupt (another word for your teeth coming in). When wisdom teeth come to the surface, they can push against the other teeth, causing crowding and discomfort. They can even knock your other teeth out of alignment.

If your dentist believes your wisdom teeth will cause a problem, they’re often surgically removed. This procedure usually happens before the teeth erupt. Should you have your wisdom teeth removed, the number of permanent teeth in your mouth drops from 32 to 28. Don’t worry, you will get along just fine without your wisdom teeth. You might even be more comfortable.

  1. If Your Teeth are so Strong, How Can They Get Chipped?

The material that makes up most of your tooth enamel is called calcium phosphate. This mineral compound is also found in bones. It contributes to the white color of your teeth. And it’s incredibly strong and durable. But it isn’t indestructible.

Your teeth can get injured just like the rest of your body. If your tooth gets chipped or cracked, a dentist can repair the damage. But it will not heal on its own.

  1. Are Your Teeth Bones?

Even though they look a lot alike, teeth are not bones. And, surprisingly, they’re actually very different. Here’s how:

  • Teeth are stronger than bone. As you know from above, enamel is the strongest tissue in your body.
  • Bones are protected by layers of muscle and skin. Your teeth are covered only by your lips.
  • Even though teeth are made of tougher material than bones, your bones can regenerate used and damaged tissue. When it comes to enamel, once it is gone it doesn’t come back.
  • Both bones and teeth have blood vessels and nerves inside them. But unlike teeth, bones actually produce new blood cells in their bone marrow. Teeth have an inner layer similar to marrow. This is the pulp layer that is protected by tooth enamel.
  1. What is the Color of a Healthy Tooth?

Healthy teeth are bright and white. Their color comes from the calcium phosphate in enamel. The tips and edges of teeth may appear translucent or blue-tinted. This is perfectly normal.

Yellowing of teeth can indicate enamel loss. Dentin, the layer underneath enamel, is yellow. When enamel wears down and dentin is exposed, the tooth can become discolored and appear yellow.

Fortifying your enamel with calcium rich foods—like milk, yogurt, almonds, and edamame—can help restore its whiteness. You can also drink fluoridated water to support the health of your enamel. Fluoride reinforces enamel and keep the yellow dentin from being exposed.

  1. How Many Teeth Do Children Have?

Little children have 20 primary (or baby) teeth. They are eight incisors, four canines, and eight molars. These teeth are shed later to make room for larger, permanent teeth. By age three, most children have each of their primary teeth.

Baby teeth are made of the same materials as permanent teeth. Enamel covers the crown, and the root is made of dentin and pulp. Primary teeth are smaller and more spaced out than permanent teeth. This is because the bones of the face and jaw grow as the child gets older, causing teeth to spread out.

  1. When Do Teeth Start Developing?

Before you were born, your teeth were forming. Between the third and fourth month of pregnancy, cells called ameloblasts generate the enamel that forms teeth. This happens around the tooth bud (the first stage of tooth development). These buds stay below the surface of the gums until fully formed—anywhere from six months to a year after birth.

  1. Why Do Teeth Fall Out?

As a child, your teeth fall out so larger, adult teeth can take their place. This is a natural and healthy part of the lifecycle of your teeth. Most primary teeth will fall out by age 12.

Tooth loss happens when the roots of primary teeth dissolve in preparation for the arrival of permanent teeth. This process can take several weeks, and it’s best to let teeth fall out on their own. After a primary tooth is out, a new permanent tooth will erupt in the same spot.

  1. What are Cavities?

Just like their name implies, cavities are tiny holes in the enamel and dentin layers of teeth. Cavities are the result of tooth decay, which happens when bacteria invade broken or damaged teeth.

Simple sugars are the main culprits behind cavities. Soda, juice, candy, and similar foods can linger on teeth. The bacteria in your mouth can turn these simple carbs into acids that erode the enamel on your teeth. And a cavity is born.

You might notice that you have a cavity on your own. Many people experience toothache and discomfort when they have a cavity. Your tooth might be especially sensitive to temperature or ache when you eat something sweet.

Sometimes it takes a trip to the dentist to find a cavity. With x-ray imaging the dentist can see cavities between your teeth. They can also use dental equipment to look for soft spots and holes on the tooth’s surface.

Fortunately, dentists can fix cavities with a dental filling. First, the dentist removes the decayed portion of tooth with a small drill. Then they replace the missing part of the tooth with a safe material. Fillings can be made of gold, silver, porcelain, or a composite resin. After a filling, your tooth will feel much better.

  1. What is Plaque?

If your teeth feel fuzzy after eating, plaque is to blame. When you eat sugary foods, the bacteria in your mouth cling to your teeth and feast on the simple carbohydrates. These bacteria can form a sticky film on the surface of your teeth called plaque.

You can easily remove plaque. Brushing your teeth is the best way to get rid of plaque. Do it twice a day for best results. Rinse your mouth with anti-bacterial mouth wash to keep the number of bacteria in your mouth under control. And consider an oral probiotic to help support a healthy bacteria balance.

  1. What is Tartar?

Plaque that stays on teeth can harden into tartar—a tough, mineralized substance. When tartar is present, cavities can soon follow. And tartar makes it difficult to brush properly. It requires a professional dental cleaning to remove.

Plaque generally forms above the gum line, but tartar can build up above and below the gums. This can cause problems for the dentin and bone underneath your gums. That’s why it is so important to take care of your teeth to avoid tartar build up.

You can protect your teeth from tartar by brushing and flossing daily and using mouthwash. Another great way to keep tartar at bay is fortifying your enamel with fluoride. This mineral is found in most municipal water systems. It strengthens enamel and helps repair damage caused by the bacteria and acids in your mouth.

  1. Why Should You Brush Your Teeth?

For thousands of years people have been brushing their teeth. Ancient Egyptians in 5,000 B.C. used frayed twigs and egg shells to polish their teeth. Now toothbrushes with soft bristles clear away the food left behind after a meal.

Brushing your teeth is the best way to keep cavities away. You should brush your teeth twice a day with a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Be gentle when you brush. Scrubbing hard with a toothbrush can irritate the gums and expose the sensitive dentin underneath.

Two minutes is the perfect amount of brushing time. Keep a timer or clock in your bathroom to help measure how long you brush. Switch sides often and cover the front and back of each row of teeth.

Change your toothbrush when it wears out. Every three to four months is recommended. Rinse your toothbrush with hot water after each use. And get a new toothbrush after you’ve been sick.

  1. Is Flossing Important?

Absolutely! Brushing cares for the parts you can see. But you need to clean between your teeth, too. Using dental floss loosens up food and plaque. It keeps tartar from building up in hard-to-reach areas. Flossing also cleans the parts of your teeth hidden below your gum line.

Floss every day to keep the areas between your teeth healthy and clean.

  1. How Can You Help Avoid Tooth Decay?

Brushing and flossing are the best ways to keep your teeth healthy and your enamel in good shape. But your diet can play an important role in helping avoid tooth decay.

Steer clear of soda, juice, and other sugary drinks. These are the most harmful. So, drink water instead. Simple carbohydrates and starchy foods should be limited. When you want something sweet, skip the candy. Look to fruits for their natural sweetness as an alternative. Their high fiber content stimulates saliva production and washes sugar off your teeth. Acidic foods—like citrus fruits—can erode enamel over time, so make sure to drink plenty of plain water when consuming them.

Foods rich in calcium like milk, yogurt, and cruciferous vegetables are great for your teeth. Celery and other crunchy vegetables help clean your teeth of debris. And follow the same advice for your teeth as you do for your waistline. That means choosing whole foods and nutritious meals over simple, sugary snacks.

  1. What is Bruxism?

Part of caring for your teeth is managing stress. Stress might tense you up and make you clench your fists. Some people also clench their jaw. This can lead to a condition called bruxism, or teeth grinding.

Bruxism can happen during sleep, so people who grind their teeth are often unaware of it. But grinding can lead to excessive wear on the flat portions of your teeth. It can also cause jaw soreness and headaches.

Your dentist can tell you if you grind your teeth. They might recommend wearing a mouthguard at night to keep your teeth from grinding together.

But there are other ways to fight bruxism. Try deep breathing exercises before bed. Hold a warm washcloth on your cheek just below the ear to help relax the muscles in your face and jaw. Place the tip of your tongue between your front teeth to open and relax your jaw.

If you’re stressed, open up to someone. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with a trusted friend or mental health professional can help manage your stress or anxiety. You might notice you sleep better and stop grinding your teeth.

  1. Can Your Teeth Give You Bad Breath?

Poor oral hygiene is usually the root of bad breath. When you skip brushing or flossing, the bacteria in your mouth go to town on the food lingering on your teeth. The breakdown of sugars and starches by bacteria creates some foul-smelling odors.

Sometimes the food you eat is the source of your stinky breath. Garlic and onions are notorious for leaving bad breath behind. Spicy foods can also share the blame.

Whether your bad breath is caused by bacteria or the food you ate, the best way to eliminate it is brushing and flossing. Brush twice a day to keep your breath fresh. If you eat a particularly pungent meal, gently clean your teeth afterward, too.

  1. Are Your Teeth Unique?

It may come as a surprise, but just like your DNA and fingerprints, your teeth are unique. No one has the same teeth you do. Their shape, size, and placement vary from person to person. Not even identical twins have the same set of teeth!

Keep Your Teeth Bright and Gleaming

Show your teeth some respect by making sure they’re in good shape. Keep them healthy by taking proper care of them. Brush and floss daily. Avoid sugary foods that erode your enamel. And visit the dentist regularly.

Smile, because there aren’t any other teeth in the world like yours.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.

Brushing your teeth might help change your mood or prepare you for a good night’s sleep. It’s simple advice for good oral health. But the reality is that your mouth is one of your body’s most complex places. Partly because it’s the gateway to your digestive tract. And with everything you put into your mouth on a day-to-day basis, you’re inviting and hosting scores of different types of life—collectively known as the oral microbiome—inside your oral cavity.

It might sound a little scary, but there are colonies of bacteria everywhere inside your mouth. On your teeth. In your gums. On your tonsils. Beneath your tongue. On the inside walls of your cheeks.

The oral microbiome contains over 700 prevalent species of bacteria, according to the American Society of Microbiology. And all of these various bacteria come to hang out and play their part in your oral and overall health.

That’s right. There’s a big connection between oral health and your long-term health. But what do the different types of bacteria living inside your mouth provide in terms of functionality? What influences the makeup of these varying types of microbes? And perhaps most importantly, what’s the key to maintaining a healthy balance of oral bacteria?

Science helps break it down.

Why Oral Bacteria Exists

The fact is, bacteria and other microbes are almost inescapable. They live everywhere around you, on you, and inside you. That’s prompted experts to refer to these microbes as “permanent guests.”

The oral microbiome is no different. Various bacteria and microbes contribute to health—positively and negatively. And this complexity has been a topic of focus among cell biologists, microbiologists, and immunologists over the last decade. These microbial communities create a fascinating world for experts to explore. Purnima Kumar, professor of periodontology at Ohio State University, said every time a person drinks a glass of water, they’re swallowing millions of bacteria.

Kind of gross. Also fun to think about, right? But it’s not much fun for the residents of the oral microbiome.

There’s a battle raging inside your mouth. It’s a life-or-death fight for space and food. And the outcome is important to you. Some bacteria in what is also called your biofilm help protect your mouth and maintain the health of your teeth and gums. Others create issues for your dental health.

The ongoing fight between the good and bad sides can be easily swayed based on things you do. That includes behaviors—like diet and poor oral hygiene—as well as recurring health problems. One interesting development scientists have figured out is your overall oral health is generally influenced by your mother’s oral health. That’s because you’re more likely to be born with similar bacteria.

That’s right—you weren’t born with teeth, but you’re born with oral bacteria.

It’s Time to Start Caring About the Composition of Your Oral Microbiome

You know that gross feeling when you wake up every morning? With the film on your teeth and your breath not at its best—to put it kindly? What if that was permanent? No thanks.

The easy answer to this issue might be to remove all the bacteria in your mouth so you don’t have to feel that way. But if you wiped away all the bacteria in your mouth, you would be ridding yourself of those that work on your behalf, too.

Certain bacteria fighting on your team can help your breath stay away from nasty territory. On top of that, some bacteria of the oral microbiome work to break down foods in an enzymatic reaction that starts with your saliva.

Some strains of bacteria like Streptococcus and Neisseria are linked in studies to the maintenance of esophageal health. And Neisseria has proven to play a part in the breakdown of toxic substances like tobacco smoke.

There are bad guys in there, too. And they can have their say both in the short-term and the long-term health of your mouth. So, the important thing is to create a balance of bacteria that is beneficial to your health. Just like you can do in your gastrointestinal tract.

It’s all about space and food. That starts with good hygiene. Experts will tell you what your parents have said all along: brush and floss to keep bacteria under control. That’s why when you let oral care slide for a while, things in your mouth can get dicey. Bacteria levels can rise, which could cause issues for your teeth and gums.

There are other factors you might not think of—like saliva. It helps wash away lingering bits of food and provides protection from acids produced by bacteria. But some medications can reduce the flow of saliva in your mouth. Be aware of this if you take some decongestants, antihistamines, and antidepressants.

Your diet also plays a role in the health of your mouth and your oral microbiome. That means concentrating on a healthy diet that supports the growth of good bacteria instead of bad ones. Adding an oral probiotic also might be useful to support a healthy balance for your oral microbiome. You’ll find more tips later on in the story.

What Kind of Bacteria Live in Your Mouth?

Don’t worry, there’s no way to cover all the types of bacteria in your oral microbiome on one page. There’s simply too many. Covering the hundreds and hundreds of different species would require a full book.

But here are some common types of bacteria you should be familiar with:

  • Streptococcus: One of the largest players in the oral bacteria community, there are several different strains that fall under the Streptococcus family. Usually they are oval-shaped chains of bacteria cells. And some can cause issues for your teeth. Streptococcus mutans, for example, is a potential pathogen that can convert sugar to lactic acid. And that acid buildup is bad for your teeth.
  • Porphyromonas gingivalis: This is one type of bacteria you don’t want to see show up. Luckily it isn’t usually present in a healthy oral microbiome. Avoid it to maintain the health of tissues and bone structures that support your teeth.
  • Lactobacillus: These strains are long, rod-like bacteria that have thick cell walls. Like Streptococcus strains, Lactobacillus helps change lactose (a milk sugar) into lactic acid. This means more acids that shouldn’t be allowed to linger in your mouth. But Lactobacillus is a beneficial bacteria for your gut, which is why it’s in many probiotic products.
  • E. Coli: Most E. coli in the human body is found in your guts, but a trace amount of the bacteria is also part of the oral microbiome. Thankfully, not all E. coli strains are alike. And these aren’t the same as the ones you hear about on the news from contaminated foods.

The oral microbiome’s residents are created equal. In fact, different strains of the Streptococcus family actually are helpful. Streptococcus salivarius K12 aids in fighting bad breath. Like you read above, Neisseria helps breakdown bad substances like cigarette smoke, and some strains help break down food.

It’s not currently possible to design your bacterial mix to be purely good. So, maintaining a healthy balance in your mouth microbiome is what’s important. And there are several ways you can support this healthy balance.

Tips to Maintain a Healthy Balance of Oral Bacteria

There will always be a variety of neutral, harmful, and helpful oral bacteria renting out space in your mouth. That’s just the reality of the situation. Don’t fret, though. There are simple answers for keeping your oral microbiome in good shape.

First and foremost, it’s about maintaining the necessary level of oral hygiene. Brushing—twice a day—and daily flossing keeps bacteria at bay.

Your lifestyle and diet also have a big impact on the bacteria in your mouth. A healthy, whole-food diet that’s mostly plant-based is a great start. You also need to avoid things that stimulate the growth of bad bacteria. Sugar is a big source of food for oral bacteria. Also stop smoking—or, better yet, never start. Nicotine is damaging to your oral microbiome. Stress is also as bad for your bacteria as it is for you.

Oral probiotics can also help add more beneficial bacteria to the microbiome, too. Researchers have found that supplementing with oral probiotics can be a useful tool in supporting and maintaining the health of your mouth. Oral probiotics are generally chewables or in tablets of various forms that allow the bacteria to set up shop in your mouth and adapt to their new environment.

The gateway to your body is one of the most complex parts of you. Understanding what’s going on inside your mouth and your oral microbiome can help maintain your long-term health. The oral microbiome is the initial line of defense for your overall health, so start taking steps to care for it every day.

Let’s face it, sugar is delicious—especially if you have a sweet tooth. But it’s clear a diet high in sugar isn’t great for your health or weight. Alternative sweeteners or sugar substitutes have emerged in recent decades as an option to cut back on table sugar while still enjoying the same sweet sensation. The truth, though, is a lot more complicated.

One of the reasons sugar can be so detrimental to health is that it can add up quickly. Sugar contains nearly four calories per gram. The average 12-ounce (355 ml) can of soda contains 39 grams of sugar. So, that’s 156 calories!

In other words, you don’t have to consume many sugary foods to get a huge dose of calories. And the more calories you consume, the harder your body has to work to burn them off. If calories aren’t burned, that can translate to weight gain.

Alternative sweeteners typically contain far fewer calories per gram. That’s what makes them so appealing for those looking to limit calories without suffering sweets withdrawals.

Luckily, you have a lot of choices.

Table Sugar: Glucose and Fructose

Before the conversation shifts to alternatives, let’s talk about the real thing—simple table sugar. It is by far the most widely used sweetener, over 175 million metric tons were consumed worldwide last year.

Table sugar, or sucrose, is what is called a disaccharide. That’s a carbohydrate made up of simple sugars called monosaccharides (made of a single sugar molecule, which makes a disaccharide those sugars made of two saccharides). In this case, the monosaccharides are glucose (also known as dextrose) and fructose.

As already discussed, sucrose isn’t the healthiest substance to consume in large quantities. The body breaks it down into glucose and fructose. And the glucose is quickly absorbed into your bloodstream. This often results in a quick boost of energy, but makes it a poor choice for those looking to maintain their healthy, normal blood-sugar levels.

But what about the primary components of sucrose—glucose and fructose? Both are among the most abundant simple sugars on the planet. They’re present in many fruits, vegetables, and even honey. Both are also available in refined forms. Glucose doesn’t have the same sweetness level as sucrose, because it doesn’t contain fructose. Fructose has the ability to easily adhere to the sweetness receptors in your mouth. But both fructose and glucose contain a similar number of calories as sugar—about four per gram.

Glucose’s ability to quickly raise blood sugar levels also makes it a trigger for the release of insulin. Insulin is a hormone made in your body that allows sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates to enter cells for use as energy. This is a big reason why glucose is used as the reference food for Glycemic Index (GI) testing. GI is a test designed to measure how quickly a carbohydrate food raises blood glucose levels compared to glucose. Consuming pure glucose is not suitable for most people. Although the sweetener can be ideal for athletes or those needing quick energy during a workout.

You’ll find glucose as a common additive in foods because it is easy to produce. That comes from the fact that it can be derived from starches like potatoes and rice.

Fructose, meanwhile, has a higher sweetness level than both glucose and sucrose, nearly 1.7 times that of normal table sugar. It’s the sweetest of the naturally occurring sugars. Fructose is commonly found in fruits, vegetables, fruit juices, and makes up part of honey.

Like other simple sugars, a diet rich in fructose could lead to weight gain and potential health problems. Fructose must be converted to glucose in the liver before it can be used for energy. So, it doesn’t raise blood-sugar levels as quickly. Because the body processes fructose differently than other sugars, an excess of fructose could contribute to higher levels of triglycerides and cholesterol, and could cause the liver to store excess fat.

Now that you have a good idea about regular table sugar, let’s dig into some of the most popular sugar substitutes.

Stevia: A Potent Plant

One of the most widely used alternative sweeteners is derived from Stevia rebaudiana, a shrub native to South America. Stevia is anywhere from 100 to 300 times sweeter than sugar, but contains zero calories. It also doesn’t raise blood-sugar levels. That makes it a good choice for people who want to support healthy blood-sugar levels already in the normal range.

Stevia leaf and extracts are classified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a “dietary supplement,” but have not been granted Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) status yet. However, Rebaudioside A—one of the chemicals in stevia—was granted GRAS status in 2008, and is used as a “food additive” and sweetener.

There are no known serious adverse health effects from stevia observed during human trials. There are, however, some commonly reported side effects. They include bloating, nausea, and a bitter aftertaste.

Xylitol: Best for Oral Care

Xylitol is what’s known as a sugar alcohol—a carbohydrate found in many different types of fruit. Don’t let the name fool you though, it doesn’t contain any of the alcohol most are familiar with.

Xylitol does have a sweetness very similar to sugar with about 40-percent fewer calories. It also doesn’t have a noticeable effect on blood-sugar levels.

Some studies have indicated that xylitol may support dental health, which is why you will find it in many different types of chewing gum and oral-care products. The bacteria in your mouth also can’t feed off of xylitol, which may help maintain good oral health and hygiene.

There are a few concerns with xylitol, though. It doesn’t break down in your gut as efficiently as sugar does. So, if you consume it in a high enough dose, it can cause diarrhea or gastrointestinal pain. The U.S. FDA has granted xylitol GRAS status. But it can be highly toxic to dogs, so be careful if you have pooches at home.

Erythritol: Great for Taste

Another sugar alcohol, erythritol, is also found naturally in many different fruits. Erythritol has about 70 percent of the sweetness of sugar, at a fraction of the calories. With 0.24 calories per gram, it contains six percent of the calories of sugar.

One of the major advantages of erythritol as an alternative sweetener is that it tastes remarkably similar to sugar. It manages to do this without having major effects on blood sugar, either. So, it’s another good sugar alternative for those looking to maintain healthy blood sugar already in the normal range.

The human body does not have the ability to break down erythritol, so most of what is consumed is excreted unchanged.

The powdered, commercially available form is produced by industrial methods. And it was granted GRAS status in 2001.

As with most sugar alcohols, consuming a large amount can cause gastrointestinal discomfort. Several studies have shown that erythritol does seem to be better tolerated by the body than other alternative sweeteners.

Two More Sugar Alcohols: Mannitol and Sorbitol

Mannitol is another sugar alcohol that has a variety of uses, particularly in the pharmaceutical field. It’s most commonly used as a diuretic (which helps your body expel salt and water). And mannitol has many other medical applications, to go along with its role as an alternative sweetener.

Mannitol has roughly 40 percent of the calories of sugar, but only about half of the sweetness. This makes it a poor choice for those counting calories. However, mannitol isn’t absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, which makes it an ideal choice for people concerned about maintain healthy blood-sugar levels already in the normal range.

It is also nonhygroscopic, which means it doesn’t absorb any moisture from the atmosphere until the humidity level is above 98 percent. This makes mannitol effective as a hard coating for candies, chocolate flavors, dried fruits, and chewing gums. Like other sugar alcohols, it can have a laxative effect in high doses.

Sorbitol is a sweetener with an abundance of commercial and culinary applications. This sugar alcohol does occur naturally in many fruits like pears, apples, peaches, and prunes. Technically, sorbitol is not an artificial sweetener, but, as an additive, it’s most often highly processed.

Sorbitol contains about 2.6 calories per gram, or about 65 percent that of sugar. Like mannitol, it has roughly half of the sweetness. So, there are better options for people on a low-calorie diet. Similar to other sugar alcohols, sorbitol is good choice for those concerned about supporting healthy blood-sugar levels already in the normal range. That’s because it isn’t absorbed by the body quickly.

Sorbitol is popular in the production of sugar-free products like chewing gum, mints, and toothpaste. One non-sweetener benefit is it can control moisture content and act as a preservative. Sorbitol also doesn’t metabolize in the mouth, so bacteria can’t feed on it. This is another reason why it’s commonly found in chewing gum. Like other sugar alcohols, it can have a laxative effect.

Aspartame: Controversial and Effective

You may have seen aspartame marketed as Nutrasweet® or Equal®. Under either name, this artificial sweetener has become somewhat controversial over the years. Anecdotal evidence abounds on the internet blaming the substance for everything from hair loss to more serious health issues.

There was some early research done in Italy that linked aspartame to certain types of health problems in rats. But later evaluation of the data cast doubt on the research. To date, there have been no studies linking aspartame to any adverse health effects, and the U.S. FDA has granted it GRAS status.

Aspartame has roughly the same number of calories per gram as normal sugar—around four. But it’s 200 to 300 times sweeter, which means the same sweetness level can be achieved by using a small amount of aspartame.

Like most low-calorie sweeteners, aspartame doesn’t have an effect on blood sugar. People working to maintain healthy blood-sugar levels already in the normal range have been using it for years. And it’s one of the most common artificial sweeteners on the planet.

It should be noted that individuals with the rare genetic defect known as phenylkenoturia (PKU), should avoid aspartame altogether. Aspartame contains the amino acid phenylalanine. People with PKU (a genetic disorder) can’t metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine efficiently and must avoid it. If blood levels get too high, neurological, behavioral, and dermatological problems can occur.

Maltodextrin for Sweetness?

Maltodextrin is a white powder produced from a variety of starches like rice, potatoes, wheat, and corn. It is a common food additive, typically used as a thickener to increase the volume or consistency of a processed product. It’s easy to produce, you can find maltodextrin in everything from gelatins to sauces, salad dressings, powdered drinks, and even lotions or shampoos. It’s also used as a preservative.

Maltodextrin is generally tasteless and contains a relatively low amount of sugar. But it’s still highly caloric—around four per gram—and is highly processed. Maltodextrin is also absorbed into the blood stream quickly, which makes it a poor choice for people concerned about maintaining healthy blood-sugar levels.

But maltodextrin is a quickly digested carbohydrate. That makes it an excellent ingredient in sports drinks and energy bars. Since it also doesn’t require a lot of water to digest, you can get efficient calories without risking dehydration.

Yacon Syrup: Great for Gut Health

Yacon syrup is an alternative sweetener that has recently become very popular as a weight-loss option. It is derived from the yacon plant, also called Smallanthus sonchifolius, which is native to South America. And the syrup has received GRAS status.

Unlike many other alternative sweeteners, yacon syrup does contain some sugar in the form of fructose, sucrose, and glucose. These sugars give yacon syrup its sweet taste—similar to molasses. It’s still a sweetener that is very low in calories, though, packing about 1.3 calories per gram. That’s about a third as much as sugar.

Yacon syrup is primarily composed of what are known as fructooligosaccharides, a type of soluble fiber. These fibers aren’t digested when consumed. Instead, they make their way down the large intestine, where they can feed the helpful bacteria in your gut. Many studies have indicated that having healthy gut flora has positives for overall health—including weight management and immune support.

Yacon syrup is a sugar alternative that isn’t capable of handling the high temperatures associated with cooking or baking. So, just use it to flavor already cooked or raw foods.

What About the Health Benefits of Honey?

Humans have been eating and enjoying honey for millennia. And it is often advertised as superior to sugar. The truth is that honey still contains a large amount of sugar. It comes in the form of glucose and fructose, which means honey carries some of the same problems as normal table sugar when overconsumed.

Honey contains roughly 75 percent of these common sugars, with the remaining 20 to 25 percent split between water and traces of fat, fiber, and protein. With 3.34 calories per gram, honey has slightly fewer calories then sugar. But it’s also denser than sugar. This means if you flavor your coffee or tea with a tablespoon of honey, instead of a tablespoon of sugar, you would actually consume more calories.

What sets honey apart from other sweeteners is that it contains antioxidants like vitamin E. Dark buckwheat honey and other floral honeys tend to have the most antioxidants. And consuming antioxidants is important. They can help support overall health by fighting free radicals in the body.

Just make sure you aren’t relying on honey as your sole source of antioxidants. That would mean you have to consume a lot of honey to meet your needs. This would put you well over the daily recommended amount of sugar. Most fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants in significantly higher concentrations and are more important to a healthy diet.

Honey is considered safe for most. There is a risk of botulism that is rare, but potentially life threatening, if honey is consumed by infants. So, don’t give honey to children younger than 12 months old.

Honey is also available in powdered form. Because liquid honey has the ability to absorb moisture in the air, the sugars can ferment and cause it to spoil. This is why regular honey is best kept in a sealed container.

This isn’t a problem with honey powder. It is very shelf stable and will last for years. Honey powder does really well as a replacement for honey when used for baking. It doesn’t brown as quickly as normal honey.

If you’re going to use honey powder, just be mindful to check the ingredient label. Make sure it’s the pure stuff. It can often include additives that aren’t as healthy as the powdered honey itself.

Alternative Sweeteners and Your Skin

Sugar frequently makes the lists of food to avoid if you’re interested in healthy skin. There are many popular links to skin issues with sugar-filled diets, but the scientific evidence isn’t crystal clear. There appears to be a link between acne and high glycemic diets, although more research is needed to confirm. But how do alternative sweeteners effect your skin?

There isn’t concrete evidence in studies that show alternative sweeteners impact skin. The advice that is scientifically validated will sound familiar. Eat a wholesome diet with plenty of veggies and fruits is a good way to support healthy-looking skin.

Be Mindful About Your Use of Alternative Sweeteners

If you’re choosing between alternative sweeteners, there are a lot of factors to consider. Safety, effectiveness, and potential side effects are important. One positive side effect seems to make honey and yacon syrup better bets for your health. That’s because they can be helpful to your gut flora.

Because many alternative sweeteners are significantly more potent than sugar, it’s possible that your sugar receptors may become overstimulated. If you become dependent on something so sweet, it’s likely you could find genuinely healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, less appealing.

While it’s nearly impossible to completely avoid sugar, the good news is you don’t have to. Naturally occurring sugar can be found in many foods, and is a healthy part of a balanced diet. An apple, for example, has a high amount of sugar, but also contains fiber and various micronutrients that offset many of the negatives from the sugar. The danger comes from the added sugar found in many of your foods, usually included by manufacturers to enhance flavor.

Whether you are dieting, concerned about your skin, or have other health issues, there can be a role for naturally occurring sugar and healthy alternative sweeteners. But moderation is always the most important consideration. Just because you use alternative sweeteners, doesn’t mean you can consume excessive amounts of sugar in other places. In other words, don’t reach for the donut just because you drank a diet soda.

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The importance of exercise to your overall health can’t be emphasized enough. Regular exercise can help boost heart health and manage weight, while increasing endurance, strength, and flexibility. It’s not just the countless physical benefits, either. Regular exercise can contribute to a healthy state of mind. That means increased social interaction, better sleep patterns, and the release of stress-fighting hormones like serotonin and endorphins.

Basically, exercise is absolutely essential for well-being. But a busy schedule doesn’t always leave a whole lot of time for exercise.

Going to the gym may be a difficult, if not impossible, proposition. Some people just don’t like gyms, either. If you can’t handle the culture you find or don’t appreciate people watching you exercise, a gym membership might go unused.

That doesn’t mean you have to give up exercise entirely, though. There are many ways to stay in shape right in the comfort of your home. Let’s take a look at some of the most affordable and effective ways to exercise without even taking a step outside your front door.

Bodyweight Exercises are Efficient and Free

The gym might have more machines, free weights, and treadmills than you know what to do with. But remember that you can get a great workout without investing a dime towards equipment. Instead, use the bodyweight you already have as resistance for your workout. All you need is a bit of space in your living room, office, bedroom, or even hotel room.

In addition to saving money, bodyweight training can help save time. It requires no special equipment or gear, which means it can be done anywhere and is accessible for almost anyone. Whether on a trip, or busy at work, you don’t have to make it to the gym to stay in shape.

Quick sets of exercises that focus on the full body—like lunges, burpees, squats, crunches, and planks—can be very effective for building muscle. In fact, when done regularly, bodyweight training has shown to be more effective than cardio for weight loss.

Ready to use your built-in workout equipment? A quick search on Google or YouTube will yield more than enough exercises to keep you busy and build a bodyweight workout routine to take anywhere.

Free Weights, Much Better than Machines

Most gyms have a large amount of space dedicated to big resistance machines. That doesn’t necessarily translate well to a house or apartment. The good news is a set of free weights, like barbells, can be tucked into the corner of a room or closet. To make it even better news: free weights offer an all-around better workout than those huge machines.

Most resistance machines require you to sit down and lift weight with a limited range of motion. Free weights, on the other hand, don’t move on a fixed path. This means you have to keep the weights from wobbling around. Your body not only has large muscles like biceps and quadriceps, but lots of smaller stabilizer muscles and a core. Free-weight exercises hit all of these muscles with one simple workout like bicep curls. Because so many muscles work all at once, free weights burn more calories per rep than machines. Muscles working together also means your balance and flexibility improve, too.

Free weights are also readily available, and can often be picked up secondhand for really cheap. Some of the more space-efficient dumbbells can adjust their weight settings from five to 50 pounds. That puts a whole gym in your closet.

For those who might have a bit more space available, it’s tough to beat an old-fashioned adjustable weight bench and barbell. While they can be underappreciated, squats and bench presses are tried and true exercises that work many different muscles in your body. Just the ability to sit, or have the back braced can add stability while focusing on several upper-body muscle groups.

Despite all of the modern machines and technological advances of late, the adjustable weight bench usually is the most-used piece of equipment at most gyms. And it could be at your house, too.

Resistance Bands are a Light, Portable Solution

Resistance bands are long, thin pieces of rubber that have handles attached at either or both ends. They pretty much do what their name suggests—provide resistance to a variety of exercises and movements.

Resistance bands are a great addition to any classic, well-known exercise, and work especially well with bodyweight workouts. They can even add support, not just resistance, to help you work towards more difficult exercises. If you struggle to do a pull up, try using a resistance band to get a little extra boost. Soon enough you’ll be able to perform one unassisted.

Many people struggle with lifting weights, because gravity is providing the primary resistance. This isn’t the case with resistance bands. Their resistance simply comes from the elasticity of the rubber itself. That helps keep your joints safe, while improving range of motion. This is the reason these bands are so widely used by people undergoing rehabilitation after an injury. It also makes them popular for older folks that might not have the strength and balance required for traditional weights.

Some other advantages of bands: they take up little space, are affordable, and especially lightweight. Throw them in a bag on your next out-of-town trip to have easy, quick access to a great workout.

Kettlebells Provide Great Variety

You may have seen kettlebells at the gym. But they also make a great addition to any home gym. While technically a free weight, kettlebells warrant their own discussion due to their incredible versatility.

A kettlebell is a piece of cast iron or other heavy metal that resembles a tea kettle missing a spout. This unique shape is what makes them so effective. A standard dumbbell has its center of mass in the handle, but a kettlebell carries it away from the handle. The kettlebell’s handle is also unique in that it curves into the bulk of the cast iron, which allows the hand to grasp at different angles to open up a wide variety of exercises.

These exercises require more balance and stability to perform than traditional free weights. That provides a total-body workout that annihilates calories. Many exercises cause the heart rate to spike, which means you can achieve a cardiovascular and strength training workout. Some of the most common exercises include kettlebell swings, rows, squats, twists, and presses.

You can find kettlebells at most large retailers or online. They will also fit conspicuously anywhere in your home.

Practice Yoga to Build Flexibility and Mental Health

There is a reason people have been practicing yoga for 5,000–10,000 years. It’s powerful. There are many different schools of yoga that each focus on different aspects of mental, physical, and spiritual practices.

But when most westerners think of yoga, though, they’re referring to Hatha yoga. This type of yoga focuses on performing different poses, or asanas, that have various health benefits.

Regular yoga practice has been shown to:

  • increase flexibility
  • build muscle
  • correct posture
  • improve joint health
  • support mental health
  • balance emotional health
  • provide many other positive health outcomes

One of the major advantages of yoga is that you can do it almost anywhere. A yoga mat is all that’s really needed, and that’s only to make some of the poses more comfortable when the floor or ground contacts your body. A class or two at your local yoga studio can help familiarize you with different poses and important breathing techniques, but there are ample free lessons available online.

Stationary Bikes can be Great for Joint Health

Nearly everyone has seen an old exercise bike gathering dust in a basement for the last few decades. Maybe you even have one stashed away somewhere. If you’re serious about getting in shape or losing weight, maybe it’s time to drag that old behemoth out of storage.

A stationary bike is one of the best ways for fitness newbies to start a regular exercise routine. It burns calories quickly, but doesn’t require the same sort of commitment a treadmill or weight-training regimen might. These bikes are also a good choice for elderly folks or those with back, joint, or knee issues. That’s because there is minimal impact. Stationary bikes are also weatherproof. So, if it’s raining, snowing, or just too hot outside, you can still workout.

Stationary bikes have come a long way in the years since your grandmother bought that creaky, old beast, too. Today’s bikes are capable of tracking workouts, providing interval training, and can even have high-definition monitors to watch your favorite TV show or follow along with a personal trainer. The ability to watch the news, a movie, or other entertainment while putting in your miles is one of the major advantages of an exercise bike. If you can be distracted, you may find working out to be less of a chore.

There are some downsides, though. These bikes tend to take up a lot of space, and can be pretty costly. Plan to spend at least a few hundred dollars to ensure you get a quality product that will last. It also helps to speak with a trainer or professional to find one that will fit your size, body type, and needs.

Treadmills: Tried and True

Ahh, the dreaded treadmill. Long the bane of fitness enthusiasts the world over, these machines often take the brunt of exercise frustrations. Maybe because treadmills are an easy target. Or maybe it’s because running can be pretty hard.

The benefits of regular running are clear, though. Not many exercises come close to the mental and physical health it can provide. And if you’re serious about running, a treadmill can be a great choice for your home gym.

While running is an awesome exercise, it’s not for everyone. It can be particularly difficult for those with knee and joint issues. That’s because the impact of jogging on hard concrete or the uneven terrain of trails can be problematic. Today’s treadmills can alleviate that issue. These machines are designed with softer surfaces, and often have shock absorbers that can help reduce the impact involved with running.

There are other safety issues to consider, as well. Because many people don’t pay enough attention to pedestrians when driving, running outside at night can be dangerous. Women can be particularly at-risk due to the harassment and unwanted attention they can receive. A treadmill can at least help mitigate some of that.

Like a stationary bike or other larger equipment, cost and space can be factors. But if you choose to purchase one, speak with a professional to run over all your options. Perhaps try a few different models out to see which will fit your budget and lifestyle.

Make a Plan, and Stick with It

The type of equipment you ultimately purchase for your home isn’t nearly as important as developing an exercise routine and making it a habit. Whether you wake up early every day or burn some calories just before bed, consistency matters.

Try setting goals and daily alarms to remind yourself. Plan your workouts a week or a month in advance. And track your progress. Working out with a friend can also help you stay accountable.

Whatever the case, having some equipment set up at home can help you on the road to better fitness. Keep at it, and before long you will start to see results.