The Good Enough Guide to Health

Perfectionism may seem like a desirable trait, but to boost your health, aim for "just enough."

"Trying to do everything right promotes an all-or-nothing attitude," says Martin Binks, a psychologist at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, N.C.

So if you can't do something perfectly (i.e., work out an hour a day), you don't do anything at all (i.e., watch TV instead). A better mindset: Believe that every little bit counts. "It's small changes that are most effective," Binks says.

So forget perfect! Here, the "good enough" guidelines for nine common get-fit recommendations that will ensure you're on your way to a longer, healthier life.

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Fruits & Vegetables

Gold Standard: Up to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day

Good Enough: Five a day

That's all it took for men and women to lower their stroke risk by 31 percent, according to a Harvard University study.

"Five servings provide significant antioxidants and fiber to reduce heart disease and cancer risk and keep your weight in check," says Rosa Mo, a nutrition professor at the University of New Haven. (One serving is equivalent to one medium piece of fresh fruit, 1/2 cup of cut fruit, a cup of raw leafy greens, or 1/2 cup of other cooked vegetables, such as broccoli.)



For more health tips, check out the latest issue of Prevention, on shelves now!

Boost the Benefit: Keep 'em cool and eat a rainbow of colors. Refrigerating berries, citrus, and fruit with edible skin (think apples), as well as veggies, preserves antioxidants. And aiming to eat from at least three different color groups (such as green, orange/yellow, red, white, and blue/purple) a day will ensure you get a wide variety of nutrients.

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Exercise

Gold Standard: 30 minutes of cardio, five or more days a week

Good Enough: 17 minutes a day

A new study from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston found that women who exercised just two hours a week (or 17 minutes daily) reduced their risk of heart disease and stroke by 27 percent.



"You don't even have to do it all at once. No fewer than 10 studies since 1995 show that breaking up physical activity into small segments of about 10 minutes is just as effective," says Barry Franklin, director of cardiac rehabilitation and exercise laboratories at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., and spokesperson for the American Heart Association's national "Start!" program.

Boost the Benefit: Pick up your pace for 30 to 60 seconds several times during your workout. A study from McMaster University in Canada found that people who did a total of two to three minutes of high-intensity exercise in the form of 30-second all-out sprints improved their cardiovascular fitness and muscle endurance as much as those who did 40 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise.

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Sunscreen

Gold Standard: Apply SPF 30 or higher several times a day

Good Enough: Use SPF 15

"Most women don't put on any sunscreen, so this is a huge improvement that can decrease your risk of both skin cancer and skin damage," says Dr. Doris Day, a Manhattan-based dermatologist.



SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of rays, compared with 97 percent for SPF 30 (which also lasts longer). Unless you're spending the day poolside, put a moisturizer with at least SPF 15 on your face, neck, chest, hands, and any other exposed areas in the morning.

Boost the Benefit: Reapply sunscreen before you go out for lunch, when the sun's rays are strongest. Day recommends Colorescience's Sunforgettable ($50; colorescience.com for stores), a colorless powder with an SPF 30 that easily goes over your makeup in just five seconds. (You can use it on other body parts, too.)

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Staying Hydrated

Gold Standard: Eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily

Good Enough: Drink with meals and when you're thirsty

Sipping water isn't the only way to stay hydrated. Other beverages (including caffeinated options such as coffee and tea) and foods that contain water (such as soup and fresh fruits and vegetables) contribute, too.



In fact, food makes up about 20 percent of your water intake daily. A recent National Academy of Sciences panel determined that healthy women get adequate amounts of fluids (an average of 11 glasses a day) from normal drinking habits like having beverages with meals, through the foods they eat, and by letting their thirst guide them.

(The exception: Active women and those living in hot climates may have to make a concerted effort to stay hydrated.)

Boost the Benefit: Gulp before you eat. A study from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University found that postmenopausal women who drank 1 1/2 cups of water prior to eating a meal reported feeling fuller, and as a result consumed about 60 fewer calories than those who didn't drink beforehand.

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Sleep

Gold Standard: Eight hours a night

Good Enough: Seven hours

You may feel less than peppy the next day, but you won't be putting your health at risk, says Susan Zafarlotfi, director of the Institute of Sleep/Wake Disorders Clinic at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.



But less than that and you might: Research is turning up links between inadequate sleep and heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. A study from Case Western Reserve University of about 68,000 middle-age women found that those who slept five or fewer hours were 32 percent more likely to experience major weight gain, and 15 percent more likely to become obese, than those who slept an average of seven hours.

"Sleeping less than six hours even just a few nights has been tied to poorer decision making and reduced alertness," says Zafarlotfi. Make it a habit and your risks of diabetes and depression increase, too.

Boost the Benefit: Slip on socks. Warm feet widen blood vessels, which better enables your body to transfer heat so you sleep more soundly. And turn your alarm clock away from you. Light signals your brain to wake up, and the "blue light" from your digital clock and cell phone are the worst offenders.

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Portion Sizes

Gold Standard: Measure everything you eat

Good Enough: Size up grains and fats only

"Few people become obese eating lots of fruits and vegetables," says Mo. On the other hand, grains (such as bread, rice, pasta, and cereal) and fats (such as nuts, butter, oil, avocado, and salad dressing) tend to be more calorie-dense, advises Mo.



Doubling up on these types of foods can quickly add to your total calorie intake, while extra large portions of fruits and veggies do less damage, and their high fiber content makes it hard to overeat them.

Boost the Benefit: To naturally cut back on calories, start lunch or dinner with one or two baseball-size servings of high-fiber water-filled vegetables (such as steamed cauliflower, broccoli, or spinach). "You'll be less likely to overeat the more calorie-rich foods in your meal because you'll already feel full," Mo says.

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Strength Training

Gold Standard: Two or three times a week

Good Enough: Once a week

Research showed that people who lifted weights weekly for two months gained nearly as much lean muscle (about three pounds) as those who worked out three times a week.



"It took them several weeks longer, but the results were similar," says Wayne Westcott, fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass., and coauthor of Get Stronger, Feel Younger (published by Rodale, 2007, which also publishes Prevention).

Boost the Benefit: Slow down! Taking your time while lifting builds muscle faster. Allow three to four seconds to lift or contract a muscle (like raising a dumbbell during a biceps curl), and three to four seconds to release or lower the weight.

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Washing Your Hands

Gold Standard: Lather for at least 15 to 20 seconds before rinsing

Good Enough: Wash for 10 seconds, then rinse

A study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed that's enough to knock off more than 90 percent of infection-causing microbes.



"The length of time is less important than simply doing it regularly--especially after you use the bathroom, touch someone who's ill, or handle raw meat or unwashed vegetables," says Dr. Paul Lyons, an associate professor of family and community medicine at Temple University School of Medicine. "You don't have to be stringent about technique either; just create a lather and rinse thoroughly."

Boost the Benefit: Skip the antibacterial soap. Regular soap and water is not only just as effective, but it may actually be better for your health, too.

"Some research suggests that overuse of antibacterial soaps may contribute to the development of super-resistant strains of bacteria," explains Diana Noah, an infectious disease expert with the Southern Research Institute, a nonprofit health research organization in Birmingham, Ala.

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A Healthy Weight

Gold Standard: BMI between 19 and 25

Good Enough: Aim to lose 5 to 7 percent of your current body weight

That's equivalent to 8 to 11 pounds if you're 5-foot-4 and 165 pounds. Although, according to a BMI scale, you're still in the overweight category, a National Institutes of Health study found that weight loss in this range can reduce your risk of diabetes by 58 percent.



"Numerous other studies show that it's also enough to lower blood pressure and cholesterol as well as risk of heart disease," says Dr. David Arterburn, an obesity researcher at the Group Health Center for Health Studies at the University of Washington.

Boost the Benefit: Exercise and eat MUFAs. More commonly known as monounsaturated fatty acids, these healthy dietary fats, found in olive oil, nuts, and avocado, can help you shed some of the most dangerous body fat -- the disease-promoting kind around your middle. And dieters who also exercise lose up to 57 percent more belly fat than those who aren't active.

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