18 Things Milwaukeeans Can Do Now to be Happier and Healthier

From hiring a housekeeper to volunteering, these scientifically backed suggestions are as enjoyable as they are good for you!

Illustrations by Good Studio

1. Take a nature bath

The Japanese call it “forest bathing” – getting out and spending time in nature. Researchers say even five minutes around trees or green spaces may reduce stress and improve health, with benefits to immune system, blood pressure, attention span, energy levels and mood. You don’t even have to leave the county – visit the Urban Ecology Center, Havenwoods State Forest or Wehr Nature Center, for starters.

2. Join up

Whether it’s a church group, support group, grief group or hobby group, studies show we do better together. Benefits in heart health, depression, immune system, even a longer life – Harvard researcher Robert D. Putnam claims if you join your first group, you cut in half your risk of dying over the next year. Just getting started? Meetup.com lists more than 50 groups in the Milwaukee area alone.

3. Eat your (CSA) vegetables

Community-supported agriculture (CSA) membership supports local, small-scale, sustainable farming. Locally grown, fresh produce retains more nutrients, and regular deliveries of a wide variety of in-season vegetables increase the odds that you’ll actually eat them. Log onto the Urban Ecology Center’s website for a chart comparing 16 area CSA farms, and if you want to get some exercise as well, sign up for a worker share to swap labor for food.

4. Simplify your life

Reducing clutter and stimulation has been shown to combat chronic stress, improve concentration and creativity, increase quality of sleep and even boost your relationships. “Getting organized helps you stay focused on what is important by eliminating the unnecessary,” says Jayme Radomski of Top Shelf Home Organizing. “Decluttering helps improve your health by removing old memories, old stuff that drains your energy and gives you room to breathe. Simplifying helps you focus on people, relationships and tasks important to you.”

5. Support your local community organization

Greater Milwaukee Foundation works with The Tandem restaurant

Giving has measurable health results, producing “warm glow” neural responses, according to researchers at the University of Oregon and Northwestern University. “Our bodies produce a chemical response to being generous, which leads to the feeling known as ‘helper’s high’ caused by the release of chemicals like serotonin and dopamine,” says Jeremy Podolski at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. Last year, GMF’s 1,300 funds awarded more than $95.5 million in grants to causes prioritized by the community. “When a person gives to or through their community foundation, they … know their gift could make a difference [for] a neighbor, co-worker or friend.”

6. Stand up every 30 minutes

You may have heard Mayo Clinic Dr. James Levine’s catchphrase “sitting is the new smoking.” That’s not too far from the truth, says Dr. Jacquelyn Kulinski, a cardiologist at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin. “Evidence shows that lack of exercise and too much sitting are risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, cardiovascular death [and] some cancers,” says Kulinksi. An hourlong workout won’t cancel out eight hours of sitting at your desk, she adds, but new research suggests standing up every 30 minutes will help.

7. Laugh it up

Laughter burns calories, keeps minds sharp and hearts strong, bonds us to others and releases powerful brain chemicals like serotonin and endorphins, according to a 2017 Journal of Neuroscience article, and laughing with others even triggers an opioid release. “It provides physical benefits, but also benefits to the mind, creating real chemical changes in the brain that can shift how you feel, allowing more positive thinking,” says Di Philippi, certified Laughter Yoga leader and a psychotherapist. Diane Kane, founder of the Milwaukee Laughter Club, will even visit your work, school or support group for an hourlong session covering science, actionable steps and laughter exercises “where we practice laughing for no reason,” says Kane, “because sometimes in our lives there is no reason to laugh.”

8. Superfoods 2.0

From activated charcoal to functional mushrooms and matcha, local restaurants are incorporating several new superfood trends.

Activated charcoal

Urban Beets Café is super-focused on superfoods. “One of my goals when opening a vegan juice bar and cafe was we wanted these superfoods to be accessible to all and educate our customers to the benefits,” says Dawn Balistreri. Her Lemon Aid Smoothie mixes immune-boosting lemon essential oil with activated charcoal, a form of heat-processed carbon from coconut shells or other natural sources said to trap and flush out toxins and chemicals in the gut.


Matcha, a traditional Japanese green tea powder touting higher concentrations of caffeine, antioxidants and amino acids than typical green tea, claims to protect the liver and heart and aid with weight loss. “Not only have we been offering matcha for years, but we directly source from our favorite gardens with micro-lots produced exclusively for Rishi Tea,” says Maggie Oliver of Milwaukee’s Rishi Tea, which supplies a half dozen varieties of matcha to Kickapoo, Fuel Café, Brewed Café and others.


“Mushroom Mike” Jozwik cultivates mushrooms for more than 250 restaurants, and says there’s never been higher demand for functional mushrooms, such as Hen of the Woods (immunological benefits), Turkey Tail (anti-carcinogen properties) and Lion’s Mane – which he can barely keep in stock (new vegetarian haunt Strange Town is “using a ton.”) “[Lion’s Mane is] being studied quite heavily for neurological diseases and regeneration of certain types of cells that might assist in working against Alzheimer’s disease.”

Bonus trend

The Third Ward’s Bavette La Boucherie is serving up $7 mugs of bone broth for those hoping to detox, lose weight, protect joints, support the immune system, aid metabolism and more.

9. Volunteer or mentor

If you can’t give by treasure, give with time and talent. You won’t be alone; the Milwaukee region’s volunteer rate is 33.2 percent, or more than 381,800 people. Carnegie Mellon University researchers found that adults who volunteered regularly were less likely to develop high blood pressure, lowering risk for heart attack, stroke and premature death. Log on to the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee’s Volunteer Milwaukee.org to find your best volunteering fit, or use your skills to help others develop theirs through mentorship programs such as at Startup Milwaukee, Milwaukee Artists Resource Network, Big Brothers Big Sisters or Operation DREAM. “The health benefit to mentorship is it makes me engaged in my work. I have job satisfaction, it prevents burnout, it gives me purpose day to day,” says Noah Franz, operations manager with Froedtert Hospital Inpatient Pharmacy and mentor for Project SEARCH, an employment training transition program for adults with disabilities. “It’s not going to make you stronger, it’s not going to make you thinner, but it’s so rewarding.”

[alert type=blue ]According to a Harvard study, satisfying relationships are the key to happiness as we age. Loneliness can be as debilitating as smoking or alcoholism.[/alert]

10. Get bored

We’ve all heard the horror stories of screen addiction. In her new book, Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self, Manoush Zomorodi argues we need to toss aside our phones and daydream our way into original ideas. Zomorodi challenges us to delete our most addictive app, and use vacation messages to take a “fauxcation.”

11. Food = Mood

Ninety percent of serotonin is produced in the gut – and the health of your microbiome can have a big impact on your mood. “Even low-level anxiety and depression will manifest as GI symptoms like abdominal pain and altered bowel habits, poor appetite, nausea,” says Dr. Daniel Stein, gastroenterologist and head of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease program at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin. His advice: Slow down and aim for a diet that’s half vegetables and fruits, 25 percent high-fiber carbs and 25 percent protein.

[alert type=blue ]Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland are the top four happiest countries, according to the 2017 World Happiness Report. Each ranks high in the factors that lead to happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.[/alert]

12. Meditate

There’s plenty of scientific evidence that meditation changes the mind, brain and body, potentially affecting everything from anxiety and depression to inflammation and heart disease, including ground-breaking research by world-renowned UW-Madison neuroscientist and Center for Healthy Minds founder Richard Davidson (who counts the Dalai Lama among his besties). There’s no “wrong way” to do it, and even five minutes a day can have a measurable impact. Join guided meditation groups at Dragonfly Meditation Studio, Rooted in Mindfulness Community Insight Meditation Center or the Milwaukee Mindfulness Practice Center. Get kids involved with the Growing Minds and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin’s Take 5ive online mindfulness practices. Download an app like Headspace or Insight Timer.

13. Get a pet

If you want to lower your blood pressure, cholesterol and feelings of loneliness, while increasing opportunities for exercise, outdoor activities and socialization, get a pet. Dogs, horses, cats, pigs and birds have all been tapped for a wide range of therapies treating autism-spectrum disorders, addiction, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia and more. “Often times we’ll see patients with complaints of increased pain and tenderness and overall anxiety, and when we put them in the room with the dogs you can see that the pain goes down and they relax themselves,” says Erinn Kulba, a recreational therapist with Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Animal Assisted Therapy Program, a partnership with Health Heelers Inc.

14. Forgive

As St. Augustine said, resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Forgiveness is medicine, leading to a stronger immune system, heart health, mental health, lower blood pressure, healthier relationships and more. UW-Madison’s Dr. Robert Enright studies forgiveness’ role in healing from bullying, gender-based violence, poverty and trauma. More than 30 countries are teaching his K-12 curriculum on forgiveness, including a group of Milwaukee Catholic and charter schools, and he’s working with the United Nations to bring it to schools in war zones.

15. Creative recycling

Recycling is good for the planet, but it makes for happy people, too. Living with purpose and feeling part of something larger are linked to health benefits for individuals. Beyond recycling paper, aluminum and plastic, get creative, with greater community impact, recycling books, clothing or cars. Donate used bicycles to DreamBikes, Milwaukee Bicycle Collective or the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative’s Bikes for Stripes program. Use Zappos for Good to ship gently used shoes and clothes free to Nashville-based Soles4Souls. Roll used wheelchairs, strollers, scooters and walkers to the IndependenceFirst Mobility Store in Wauwatosa (formerly Wheelchair Recycling Program), a nonprofit aimed at making equipment accessible for those who can’t afford it.


16. Hire help

Hiring a cleaning service, having groceries delivered, employing the neighbor kid to mow the lawn – it’s all money well spent, according to results of an experiment comparing the emotions of those spending money on things versus services. A survey of more than 6,000 people agreed. The clear results: Spending money to save time leads to greater life satisfaction.

17. Fitness trends worth trying

The American College of Sports Medicine’s 2018 top 10 fitness trends: High Intensity Interval Training; group training; wearable technology; body weight training; strength training; educated, certified and experienced fitness professionals; yoga; personal training; fitness programs for older adults; and functional fitness.

18. Give blood

There are powerful altruistic reasons for giving blood; according to the Red Cross, one donation can save three lives. But besides that, science suggests blood donation is as good for you as it is for the community. Regular blood donors have improved blood flow, which may result in fewer arterial blockages – one study showed donors were 88 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack. It triggers red blood cell production, keeping iron levels balanced and potentially warding off anemia and even some cancers. Make an appointment with the Blood Center of Wisconsin and find more specific ways to help – including live organ, tissue and marrow donation, or participating in a new research project gathering data from a million-plus volunteers.

“18 Tips for a Happier, Healthier YOU” appears in the 2018 Health issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning April 30th, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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Maggie Ginsberg is an award-winning freelance writer whose work has also appeared in Madison Magazine, Midwest Living and Wisconsin Bride.