You don’t have to set dramatic goals to live a healthier life.

When we consider ways that can improve our health, we often think of dramatic lifestyle changes or commitments, like overhauling our diet or training for a marathon. While these goals can certainly help make you healthier, they’re also harder to stick to long-term. Dramatic changes aren’t a prerequisite for becoming healthier, though, you can build a healthy lifestyle that fits your unique needs and abilities by making a series of small, simple changes and developing them into habits. Living a healthy lifestyle that aims to improve your physical and mental health involves more than eating healthily, however, so here are a few tips you can use to improve your overall health.

1. Start with a visit to the dentist.

Your oral and overall health share a complex relationship, each impacting the other in surprising ways that modern science is still learning about. In addition to being the leading cause of tooth loss in America, untreated gum disease allows oral bacteria to reach your bloodstream and cause a range of serious short- and long-term health issues, increasing your chances of pneumonia, high blood pressure, poorly controlled diabetes, heart disease, stroke, pregnancy complications, and endocarditis, a potentially life-threatening infection of your heart valves.

On the other hand, diseases can manifest symptoms in your mouth—impacting your oral health or giving clues about what’s going on in your body. For example, dry mouth is a common symptom of multiple diseases, including several autoimmune diseases and poorly controlled diabetes, as well as medications or treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. While it simply sounds uncomfortable, dry mouth can actually make it more likely that you’ll get cavities or gum disease because saliva is your body’s natural defense against oral bacteria.

This connection between your oral and overall health makes it even more important for you to visit your dentist regularly—treating and preventing oral health issues can keep you healthier in general, and Dr. Wilson may be able to give you advice about how to combat or reduce symptoms from any health issues you may have. If you’re suffering from dental health issues related to a disease, you don’t have to put off coming to the dentist because you’re worried about the cost of treatment—we can submit a claim to your medical insurance for you to cover the cost!

2. Get the best gum disease treatment.

If you already have gum disease, it’s incredibly important that you get the best treatment for it right away. Minor gum disease can usually be remedied with a dedicated oral hygiene routine—including regular flossing—and perhaps antibiotics or specialized mouthwash. Even though it’s less severe, you should get gingivitis treated right away to prevent it from getting worse and developing into periodontitis. Treating periodontitis is much more involved, but cutting-edge technology like the Laser Assisted New Attachment Procedure (LANAP) is making it more effective than ever. LANAP uses a laser to kill bacteria and remove diseased tissue without harming healthy gums, and it has a number of advantages over traditional surgical treatments for periodontitis.

The lasers reduce your recovery time by encouraging your gums to heal and regenerate—something traditional surgery can’t do—and cause less tooth sensitivity, inflammation, and pain during the healing process; they also carry a lower risk of infection because the laser sterilizes your gum tissue. It’s a giant leap forward from traditional surgeries, enabling Dr. Wilson to easily eradicate all of the bacteria while making your recovery easier and faster.

3. Find a hobby that engages your mind.

A more enjoyable way you can protect your overall health is to find a hobby—or two—that engages your mind. Studies have shown that giving yourself regular mental challenges and stimulation can help reduce your odds of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other forms of cognitive impairment as you age. Scientists believe it works by making your brain more adaptable, enabling it to compensate as you get older. Any activity that gets you thinking can be helpful, so you’re sure to find a hobby you genuinely enjoy—making keeping your mind active a treat instead of a chore. You can try regularly engaging in a puzzle or word game or knitting, art, reading, or even volunteering in the community. This may also help you to relax and relieve stress, making it great for your blood pressure and overall mental health.

4. Take long walks.

Walking regularly is an easy and enjoyable form of exercise; like other types of exercise, it has a boatload of benefits for your overall health, including helping lower your cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation levels while reducing your risk of diabetes, dementia, peripheral artery disease, and colon cancer. Though it won’t heal periodontal disease on its own, one study found that exercise may help improve gum disease. Walking is also great for your mental health, lowering your stress levels, anxiety, and risk of depression—especially if you walk outside. Multiple studies have found that spending time in nature has these effects and boosts your mood as well.

5. Be proactive.

When it comes to protecting your health, it’s best to be proactive. This means taking steps to prevent illnesses—like a healthy diet, exercise, and good oral hygiene—but it’s just as important to get all of the recommended health screenings regularly. If you wait for medical problems to make themselves known, you may end up with a medical emergency, facing irreversible damage or more invasive treatments than if you’d caught the illness earlier, or even discover an advanced disease that doctors can no longer heal. Cancer screenings are particularly important, so always get the screenings when they’re recommended—including at the dentist. Think in the long term: a cancer screening may seem like a waste of time or an extra bill right now, but catching cancer early is vital, especially with how quickly some cancers spread.

Additionally, you should always ask your doctor what you could do differently to improve your health. At your next appointment, ask Dr. Wilson how you can better care for your teeth and gums. He can let you know if there’s an area of your mouth you’re not cleaning as well as you could be, if he thinks you should switch to an electric toothbrush to avoid overbrushing, or if he recommends a mouthwash designed to help fight cavities or gingivitis. Thinking in the long term helps here, too; just a little extra effort now can translate into a much healthier mouth and body in the future.

Although improving your health doesn’t require you to accomplish extreme feats of physical fitness, it does require commitment. It’s a lifestyle filled with simple, daily habits and proactive measures to ensure that you’re healthy, but it more than pays off. Living with your health as a priority will help you to live a longer, happier, and healthier life.