4 life hacks that will improve your health in 15 minutes or less

The Importance of Stretching
The Importance of Stretching

I've got to admit: I'm a sucker for anything that improves my efficiency or keeps me more organized. Who doesn't love those articles about life hacks and other shortcuts that allow you to bust through annoying obstacles and change your life for the better?

But what I'm really passionate about is getting people to adopt new habits to become healthier. That's why I want to share these life hacks for your health – little tweaks here and there that make a big difference in your overall quality of life. The best part is each one takes just 15 minutes.

1. Reset your alarm.

I used to jolt awake each morning to the sound of a blaring alarm or to my 3-year-old asking, "Is it time to get up yet?" My startled reaction shouldn't come as a surprise – one of the Merriam-Webster dictionary's definitions of the word "alarm" is "a feeling of fear caused by a sudden sense of danger."

Is that how you want to start your day? Not me. So I started waking up earlier (and to a nicer sound) in order to be up before the kids. I wanted to set the day's tone by acting on – not reacting to – whatever came my way. The result? I felt more controlled and happier, and it all started by waking up 15 minutes earlier to a more enjoyable sound.

  • Strategy: Start each day with a 15-minute ritual. After waking up and before doing anything else, spend five minutes in silence – meditating or simply breathing deeply. Next, take five minutes to write in a gratitude journal. This exercise can be as simple as writing down five things, people or opportunities you are grateful for. Finish your routine with five minutes focused on setting your intention for the day. Take a mental walk through the activities you have scheduled and determine how you want them to go. You may choose to be centered, present, clear, persuasive or something else. Select a word or phrase that describes how you intend to handle the day.

  • Why it's life-changing: Waking up and setting the tone and direction for your day allows you to feel less stressed and more centered. Plus, by setting an intention, you are driving your action, not simply reacting to whatever happens to you.

2. Chop your veggies.

There are few things that bother me more than finding bags of rotting vegetables in the refrigerator's crisper bin. But some weeks, my best intentions to eat fruits and vegetables are stronger than my follow-through. I solved that problem when I started prepping my vegetables for the week.

  • Strategy: Spend 15 minutes chopping vegetables at the beginning of the week and store them in clear glass containers. I like to chop immediately after grocery shopping and putting the rest of the groceries away.

  • Why it's life-changing: Cleaning and chopping vegetables all at once may seem like a chore in the short-term because it requires setting aside time. But that one 15-minute (or shorter) investment saves what feels like hours of mental energy during weekday meal prep. As a bonus, you'll end up eating more vegetables because they are convenient and accessible.

3. Stretch.

As an exercise physiologist, I know the importance of flexibility. But as a time-crunched mom and professional, I also know how tempting it can be to cut stretching out of your workout. But flexibility work is the one thing you shouldn't skip. That's why a 15-minute stretching session is my secret weapon for staying limber and reducing injuries.

  • Strategy: Lie down next to a wall with your back on the floor. Extend your legs and press them against the wall aiming to get them as straight as you can. Use this time to check your phone, read a book or watch TV.

  • Why it's life-changing: Poor hamstring flexibility has been linked to lower quality of life and lower back pain. This hack (when done daily) improves your hamstring flexibility and back mobility, decreasing your likelihood of pain and injury.

4. Walk.

In Europe, it's common to take a stroll around the village or piazza in the evening. I've always found this custom charming as it builds a sense of community. But it's more than a great opportunity to connect with others – this practice can also improve your health.

  • Strategy: After each meal, walk for 15 minutes at 1.2 mph. Not sure how fast 1.2 mph is? Think casual stroll. Try adding a stroll in the morning to start your day (if you take a bus, walk to a farther bus stop or get off a bit earlier), a walk after lunch (perhaps a walking meeting?) and a walk around the block or two after dinner.

  • Why it's life-changing: Many people don't exercise because they don't have the time or fear it's too intense. In the process, they increase their risk for chronic diseases like diabetes. But walking casually after each meal can cut your blood glucose levels in half. It's also a great way to incorporate more movement into your day. By simply working this hack into your life, you lower your risk for prediabetes and diabetes.

In our busy lives, it's too easy to say we don't have time. No time to eat healthy. No time to take care of ourselves. But these life hacks prove you don't need more 15 minutes to significantly improve your health – and how you feel.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

RELATED: Click through to learn about the healthiest snacks