ThirtyFOUR  Health Skills Every Woman Should Know

The best fitness, nutrition, and health advice you'll ever hear


Healthy Life Road Sign

We polled hundreds of experts—from top doctors to restaurant menu planners to sex coaches—for all the essential health tips women need to eat better, feel better, and look better. What we found: fascinating advice and tricks to calm down anywhere, pack any meal with antioxidants, outsmart germs in a public bathroom, squeeze in a 10-minute workout, and much, much more.

Pill bottle made of money

1. Slash your health care bills
Bite back at dental costs. For routine cleanings, go to a dental hygiene clinic, where students supervised by a dentist and hygienist train on patients. The Montgomery County Community College Dental Hygiene Clinic in Blue Bell, PA, for example, charges $15 for a cleaning and exam. 
Halve drug co-pays. Ask your doctor if she can prescribe a pill at twice the dose, to be cut in half by you or your pharmacist, reducing the cost by 50%. Also, fill your prescription at chain stores that sponsor savings programs for steep discounts. Walmart offers hundreds of $4 prescriptions. The Prescription Savings Club at Walgreens includes over 400 generics for less than $1 a week.
Woman running

2. Breathe away more fat
Oxygen helps fuel your fat burn, so the more efficiently you breathe, the better your workout results. The trick: breathe in and out through both your mouth and nose.

Salt spilled on table

3. Spot stealthy salt
Up to 75% of the salt in our diets comes from packaged foods. This simple trick can keep your sodium intake in check: “Look for a 1-to-1 ratio of calories to sodium or less,” says Prevention advisor David L. Katz, MD, MPH, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center. If a food has 150 calories per serving, it should have no more than 150 mg of sodium. Keep your intake below 1,500 mg a day. 

Two woman jogging

4. Get a great workout in 10 minutes
Too busy for the gym? No problem. Just 10 minutes can burn nearly 100 calories and boost your energy level by up to 18%. Try this compressed routine from Jessica Dart, personal training manager at Equinox Soho in New York City:
Minutes 0:00-0:59: Climb stairs (walk, run, or sprint)
Minutes 1:00-1:29: Do reverse lunges with overhead presses (lunge backward, lifting arms overhead with each lunge; alternate sides).
Minutes 1:30-2:00: Do squats.
Repeat the circuit 4 more times. Beginners may want to incorporate 30 seconds of rest between each cycle.

Blank name tag

5. Never forget a name
Focus on the name as you hear it. People who are good at remembering names are interested in them, asking how they’re spelled or pronounced. Then repeat it not once but several times, says Cynthia R. green, PhD, coauthor of Prevention’s Brainpower Game Plan.
When you meet someone new, you might say, “Eliza? Hi, Eliza, it’s nice to meet you. That’s a pretty name...” Every time you restate the name, you’re more likely to recall it in the future. Bye, Calistus

Woman stretching

6. Test your posture
Stand up straight and count how long you can hold the pose at left before you have to put your foot down.
Repeat on the other side. If you can’t balance on each leg for at least 20 seconds, you aren’t standing as straight as you think you are, or your muscles are too weak to hold you in place.
Do the exercise 3 times a day on each leg to improve.

Bandage on leg

7. Scarproof your skin
Scars fade faster if you keep cuts covered and moist, says Jeffrey Dover, MD, president of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. If you tend to develop raised scars, switch to scar-reducing bandages once skin heals; studies show that silicone sheets help by reducing collagen production. Try Scaraway ($20; drugstores).


8. Find the perfect doctor for you
The best way to find someone who has experience treating your particular condition is to call the physician referral service at a large university hospital, says Lauren Streicher, MD, an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University. 
Woman reading food label

9. Learn the art of label reading
Rule 1: Ignore all front-of-the-box health claims. “They’re about marketing, not health,” says Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. A “low-fat” or “low-carb” claim tells you nothing about what else was added to compensate (think sugar or salt).
Rule 2: Flip to the nutrition facts and scan the ingredient list. Look for a list that’s not straight out of a science lab.
Rule 3: Remember that a daily value of 20% or or more for any nutrient is considered high (great for calcium, but a warning sign for saturated fats).

Sports bra

10. Pick the right sports bra
Try this dressing room “workout” from LaJean Lawson, PhD, an adjunct exercise science professor at Oregon State University:
Reach arms overhead and circle them 10 times in each direction. If the bra shifts too much, the straps slip, or you feel chafing, keep looking.
Bend forward at the hips and stretch. Make sure your breasts don’t peek out over the top or sides.
Jog or jump in front of a mirror. If your breasts move up and down more than an inch or you feel discomfort, you’re not getting enough support. 

Woman laughing

11. Make anyone laugh (including yourself)
Laughter zaps stress, improves cholesterol, and boosts circulation and immunity. Need fresh material? Steal ideas from top comedy coaches:
Exaggerate the truth. Instead of complaining that you were stuck at the department of motor vehicles, say, “I just got back after lunch from the DMV. I got in line at 9 am...last Tuesday.” There’s a surprise element, but also recognition of a shared truth that makes people laugh. —Stephen Rosenfield, director of the American Comedy Institute in New York City
Poke fun at yourself. Self-deprecation helps people let down their guard. (Abraham Lincoln: “If I had two faces, would I be wearing this one?”) Just list your faults and exaggerate them. —Mary Scruggs, head of writing and education programs at the Second City Training Center, Chicago
Be overly enthusiastic. Say yes in a big way, even when you don’t mean it. Your husband wants season tickets at the new football stadium? Offer to move there. ——Will Hines, teacher at the Upright Citizens Brigade Training Center in New York City


12. Resist menu words that pack pounds
Mouthwatering descriptions can suggest that an unhealthy dish is worth the splurge—when it’s the same old grub you’d get anywhere. Some red flags, according to Brian Wansink, PhD, author of Mindless Eating:
Grandma’s homemade apple pie: We have positive associations with certain means of preparation—think homemade or traditional—that encourage us to order them.
Kansas City barbecue: We assume regional food tastes better, even if the restaurant isn’t in the referenced locale.
Velvety chocolate mousse: Sensory words like creamy, juicy, and triple-rich induce cravings, even though items without such labels taste the same.
Jack Daniels glazed ribs: If you like a specific brand, you think you’ll like menu items featuring its flavor.

Woman doing a push-up

13. Do a proper push-up
Push-ups are hands down one of the best full-body toners—the basic move works your abs, arms, and chest. (Just ask First Lady Michelle Obama.) To easily master full push-ups, start in a more vertical position, working your way down to doing them on the floor as you master the form.
  1. Start standing up, leaning against a high counter.
  2. Lean against a desk.
  3. Lean against the stationary seat of a stable chair.
  4. Lean against the second step of a staircase.
  5. Do them on the floor.
When you can do 5 reps with good form (body in line from head to feet), move to the next step.

Happy man and woman

14. Reboot your love life for $20
For lustier sex, experts have a word of advice: novelty. New experiences heighten levels of the brain chemical dopamine, which can send sexual desire soaring, says Susan Kellogg-Spadt, PhD, cofounder of the Pelvic & Sexual Health Institute in Philadelphia. (We're thinking one of our 8 all-natural sex productscan help, too.)
Fool around with a vibrator. Research shows that 53% of women and 45% of men use one. Incorporating one into your sexual play can generate greater desire, arousal, lubrication, and frequency of orgasm. Try a Pocket Rocket, available for $9.99 at
Experiment with Zestra. This arousal-enhancing botanical oil, applied topically, increases blood flow, creating a warm, tingling sensation. Women who use it often climax more quickly and have more intense orgasms. A three-pack, available at mass merchandisers, costs $9.99.


15. Buy the best catch
Here’s a “supergreen” list of fish that’s not only high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids but also low in contaminants (such as mercury and PCBs) and sustainably raised and caught. Among the best choices: rainbow trout (farmed), oysters (farmed), and wild caught Alaskan salmon. Also good: arctic char (farmed) and bay scallops (farmed). Find the entire list at (and soon, in a free iPhone app). (Then, toss 'em in one of our 5 Healthy Seafood Dinners.)

Woman grooming

16. Get age-erasing brows
Step 1: Trim the excess. Brush brows straight up, then carefully snip hairs that extend above the top of your natural brow line.
Step 2: Tweeze between brows. The inner edge of your brow should line up with the inner corner of your eye.
Step 3: Define the shape. To accent your arch, which should line up near the outer edge of your iris, tweeze two rows of hair from beneath it. Let the brow’s tail extend slightly past the eye’s outer corner.

Honey tea on table

17. Heal common aches at home
For heartburn: Take deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) as a chewable tablet 20 minutes before eating to soothe mucous membranes in the digestive tract and prevent reflux, says Tieraona Low Dog, MD, director of the fellowship at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.
For back pain: Try comfrey root salve, an ancient but proven back pain reliever. Low Dog likes the product Kytta-Salbe f by Merck, available at
For a common cold: Sip thyme tea with honey, says Debra Brammer, ND, associate clinical dean in the School of Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University. Put loose leaves in a filter (if dried, use 1 rounded teaspoon per 1 cup of hot water; if fresh, use 2 tablespoons) and steep for 3 to 5 minutes. Thyme is a mild expectorant, and honey is a known cough soother and antimicrobial.

Piles of sugar cubes

18. Spot hidden sugars
Avoid products with any form of sugar in the first five ingredients. If the word is a “syrup” or ends in -ose, it’s an added sweetener. (Up to snuff on where the sweet stuff lurls

Woman sleeping

19. Get the sleep you crave
A good cardio workout, such as a 30-minute jog, can help you snag more slow-wave sleep, the deep restorative kind you need to feel refreshed, according to sleep expert Michael J. Breus, PhD. 

Woman with hand cream
20. Heal cracked cuticles
If your cuticles are bleeding, apply Super Glue for a few days to seal skin, suggests Mary Lupo, MD, a dermatologist in New Orleans. To prevent damage in the first place, use an ultrahydrating hand cream (tip-off ingredients include petrolatum, shea butter, and linoleic acid); it keeps fragile skin soft and pliable—and more resistant to wear and tear. Little-known fact: Digging in your purse is the number one cause of traumatized cuticles, says Lupo.

Woman on stationary bike

21. Master an indoor cycling class
Don’t be intimidated! Indoor cycling is super-popular even among gym class newbies, and with good reason: The right technique can blast more than 500 calories in 45 minutes. Kate Hickl, master instructor at Flywheel Sports, an indoor cycling studio in New York City, shares her top riding tips:
Adjust seat height so knee is only slightly bent at bottom of the stroke for more power and comfort.
Draw abs in to take weight off hands and avoid bouncing up and down.
Pedal in “circles” using the same resistance as you push the pedal forward and down and as you pull the pedal back and up


22. Do a 5-second health check
Toilet test: Is there blood in the bowl after a bowel movement? It’s likely just hemorrhoids, but if you’ve never been diagnosed before, see a doctor, says Yale gastroenterologist Anish Sheth, MD. Blood in the stool may be a sign of colon cancer or diverticulosis, small pouches in the lining of the colon.
Sleep test: How fast do you fall asleep? If you routinely conk out in less than 5 minutes, that’s a sign you’re sleep deprived, Breus says. Skimping on sleep is linked to a host of serious ills, including high blood pressure, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes. Sleep 30 minutes longer and see how you feel.
Bloating test: Do you tend to bloat and get full easily? This symptom—if it’s new for you and lasts 2 weeks or longer—could be a symptom of ovarian cancer, says ob-gyn and Prevention advisor Mary Jane Minkin, MD. This sign is usually present at the earliest stage, but because it’s so common, women often ignore it. 

Fist smashing donut
23. Stop a craving right now
Follow these 5 steps:
Name 5 things you see in front of you.
ID 4 colors you see.
Describe 3 things your body is feeling (such as temperature or a texture, like your shirt fabric).
Identify 2 sounds.
State 1 thing that you can smell.
Why it works: “Focusing on your senses quiets the chatter in your mind so you can tune in to your body’s signals better—and decide whether you’re really hungry,” says psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD, author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food.

Water pouring into glass

24. Drink purer water
At home: First, assess the quality of your tap water. If you’re on a municipal system, your utility should mail you an annual Consumer Confidence Report; you could also test your water through a certified lab (find one at If you have good-quality water, a simple carafe filter can improve taste and remove lead. Consumer Reports named the Tersano Lotus, Clear20, and Brita Smart Pitcher as its top three picks for 2010. If your H20 requires more filtration, try a faucet-mounted filter, which removes additional contaminants such as arsenic. CR’s top picks: Culligan, Pur Vertical, and the Brita OPFF-100.
On the go: Tote filtered tap water in a reusable stainless steel (not plastic-lined) bottle that’s BPA free. The chemical, found in certain plastics, can pose health problems.

Foam roller

25. Relieve post-workout soreness
Gentle stretching can boost blood flow and help repair damaged muscle. or try one of these other proven healers:
Give yourself a rubdown: Roll a foam roller or tennis ball along your achy body part. Massage can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness by up to 40%. (Give yourself an at-home massage with these tips.)
Eat ginger: A daily dose (a teaspoon of raw or powdered) can ease postexercise pain by up to 25%. Add to hot food, like a stir-fry or grilled salmon salad.

Food on a plate

26. Know your survival dish
When you’re too exhausted to think about dinner, it helps to have a fallback recipe that requires minimal effort and is made with ingredients you keep on hand. Find ideas in our recipe channel.

Woman meditating

27. Rewire your brain for happiness
Matthieu Ricard, PhD, a scientist, humanitarian, and Buddhist monk, is often referred to as “the happiest man in the world.” His secret: meditation. Try this 10-minute exercise adapted from his new book Why Meditate? Work up to 20 minutes or more daily.
Find a balanced position sitting cross-legged or on a chair.
Breathe calmly and naturally. Concentrate on the passage of air through your nostrils.
When you’re clearly aware of your breath, imagine an innocent, joyous young child approaching. In your mind’s eye, look at him with tenderness and feel unconditional benevolence and love.

Woman cutting her own bangs

28. Trim your own bangs like a pro
Follow these easy steps from Louise O’Connor, owner of OC61 Salon and Spa in New York City:
Step 1: Style hair normally. Wet hair is longer, so cutting bangs dry keeps you from going too short. Use sharp, straight-edged scissors; utility ones are usually too dull for cutting hair. Try Tweezerman Styling Shears ($15;
Step 2: Snip vertically, starting at the center. Slightly lift a 1-inch section of hair and hold it loosely between your index and middle fingers. Hold scissors with the ends pointing up and chip into hair upward on an angle to create a soft fringe—never straight across.
Step 3: Be conservative. Snip about 1/4 inch at a time. You can always go shorter, but growing out hair takes weeks.

Man and woman ready to run

29. Keep your laces snug
Try this simple trick for a more secure bow: Reverse the very first step in tying your shoe, then make your bow as usual. If you typically cross the right lace over the left one, now tie left over right, for instance. Experts say this method results in more tension in the knot—regardless of how you start the process—so it gets tighter, not looser, over time.

Woman applying a whitening strip

30. Whiten teeth by tonight
Try aquafresh white trays ($34; drugstores). Wearing them for 45 minutes in the morning and then again at night (instead of the recommended once a day) can noticeably whiten your teeth, says NYC cosmetic dentist Gregg Lituchy, DDS.

Antioxidant boosters

31. Boost antioxidants at any meal
Herbs and spices can deliver just as much disease-fighting punch as fruits and veggies, says Cheryl Forberg, RD, author of Positively Ageless. Here, how to add low-calorie flavor while dramatically boosting your antioxidant intake.
Tarragon, fresh: Add to scrambled eggs
Score*: 155
Oregano, dried: Add to tomato bruschetta or chicken breast marinated in olive oil and garlic.
Score: 1,753
Cloves, ground: Add to mashed sweet potatoes or acorn squash.
Score: 2,903
Cinnamon, ground: Add to oatmeal, French toast, or applesauce.
Score: 1,752
Thyme, fresh: Add to fresh orange slices with black pepper and olive oil.
Score: 137
Sage, fresh: Add to cornbread and stuffings.
Score: 320
Turmeric: Add to curries and bulgur salad with chickpeas and currants.
Score: 1,271
*Scores, per 1/2 teaspoon, are in ORAC points, a measure of antioxidants in food. As a comparison, a 1/2-cup serving of blueberries has an ORAC score of 3,502.

Woman's restroom sign

32. Stay clean in a public bathroom
The ladies’ room is a hot spot for bacteria, says Philip Tierno Jr., PhD, director of microbiology at NYU Langone Medical Center. Here are four surprising ways to keep germs at bay:
Avoid the middle stall: It tends to be used the most and accumulate more bacteria, says University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba, PhD. The first stall is likely cleanest.
Don’t put your purse on the floor: Gerba found that one-third of pocketbooks placed on restroom floors had fecal matter on the bottom. If there’s no hook on the door, hang your purse on your shoulder.
Flee after flushing: The flush, usually more forceful than your home toilet’s, aerosolizes germs in the bowl, so leave before they land on you.

Woman after a workout

33. Beat a workout rut
When you’re bored, so is your body—and your fitness level can reflect that mental ennui. To keep things fresh, create a Wildcard Workout Jar: Jot down 20 different routines on scraps of paper—from skipping rope with your kids to a specific interval walk. Pull one from the jar each time your workout starts to feel ho-hum.

34. Never skip flossing
You know flossing is important—it helps remove bacteria from under the gum line that can contribute to heart disease—but it’s easy to forget. Keep it top of mind by stashing Y-shaped floss holders or any other flossing aides near your TV remote and get the job done during a commercial break, suggests Lynn M. Ramer, LDH, president of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association.