Clean up my diet, lose 10 pounds, take up cycling… these are the kinds of ambitious goals we set during the last week of December, when a healthy lifestyle overhaul seems the right response to the promise of a new year.
The problem is, most of those big, dramatic resolutions are history by March, as we get frustrated with the lack of quick results and go back to their old habits. So this year, why not try something different? Here are five manageable lifestyle changes you can make now that will pay off big-time in improved health.
1. Reduce Stress
Many people don’t realize that stress is a serious health risk, similar to smoking and abusing alcohol, leading to insomnia, depression, obesity, heart disease, and more.
This year, make a resolution to introduce some stress management techniques to your routine, whether that’s yoga or meditation, or just taking half an hour to yourself to read or take a walk.
2. Cut Back on Sugar
While some people are able to go “cold turkey” when quitting sugar, most of us need to take a gentler approach. Start by cutting out sugar in ways that don’t feel like huge sacrifices, such as substituting juice for soda or switching to a cereal brand with less added sugar. If dessert is the highlight of your day, don’t try to give up your afternoon cookie or you’re doomed to failure. Instead, try eating half and saving the other half for the next day. And when you do eat sweets, do so mindfully, enjoying every minute of it.
3. Make Time for Friends
Having a strong social network has been shown in numerous studies to improve both mental and physical health. So the next time you’re tempted to stay late at work and skip your girls’ night out or activity group, remind yourself you’re doing it for your health!
4. Be Body Positive
As you may know from frustrating experience, dieting – at least in the traditional sense – rarely works for long-term weight loss. What does work is changing your mindset and learning to love your body (at any size!) and treat it well by feeding it nutritious, healthy food.
If you want to reduce calories, follow this advice from the Harvard School of Public Health, based on multiple weight loss studies. Reduce your calorie intake by 500 calories a day and up your exercise to burn an extra 250 calories a day. Don’t worry if the scale doesn’t show results right away. (In fact, many experts advise avoiding the scale.) Instead, think of this as a longterm lifestyle change that you’re going to sustain for the rest of your life.
5. Say Goodbye to Smoking
Yes, this one is more daunting, but it’s also doable if you find the right strategy. And don’t think because you’ve tried to quit before, it’s no good trying again – studies show most smokers quit between 5 and 7 times before the resolution sticks. In fact, experts say multiple attempts are the path to success; you just have to find what works best for you.
If you’ve tried the patch, maybe e-cigarettes will work for you. Or if you’re tired of quit smoking aids, maybe this time try a support group or buddy up with a friend who also wants to quit. Wellness coaching has also been shown to help smokers quit. Want one more incentive? With cigarettes at more than $10 a pack, you’ll save a ton of money you can use to make one of your other 2021 dreams come true.