Now that the new year has begun, resolutions are in full swing, and many people are working on self-improvement, often by starting a new habit or breaking an old one. Whether it’s adding regular exercise, eating healthfully or getting more sleep, plenty of these new regimens are about healthy living.
Makes sense, right? Who wouldn’t want healthy living? The reality, however, is that it takes some effort to master it. And putting in this work, day after day, can be a challenge at times, and we can get derailed.
While healthy living can seem pretty simple, in terms of eating right, exercise and managing stress, actually implementing these smart practices consistently takes good decision-making, discipline and commitment. Here we’ve compiled some helpful recommendations to keep you on the right track as you pursue healthy living this year. Some of these may be obvious, but others may be valuable reminders. Here’s to great success!
Healthy Living This Year
Seems like kind of a no-brainer, right? But easier said than done for lots of people. While diets, like the Keto diet, and fads, like intermittent fasting, typically become popular for a while, a good practice is to eat healthfully approximately 80 percent of the time, allowing for a few treats or less nutritious choices the remaining 20 percent.
And smart eating recommendations don’t have to be rocket science either. At its most basic, it’s all about choosing more fruit and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and low-fat dairy products – and less processed, high-fat and sugary selections. It’s more water and less soda, juice, fancy coffee drinks and alcohol.
Ditch the diet concept, because diets aren’t successful over the long-haul, and multiple dieting periods over the years can lead to weight going down and up, and metabolism becoming negatively impacted.
And forget extremes of anything. That means no grapefruit diet or Jell-O diet or whatever. No extreme caloric restriction under 1,000 calories a day, unless you are following a medically supervised regimen. Eat approximately 3 meals or 5 mini-meals per day to keep your blood sugar stable; don’t stuff yourself or starve.
And practice portion control. Use smaller plates, serve yourself less, take home one-half of your restaurant meal, limit yourself to two bites of dessert or one glass of wine, etc. You get the idea.
Nothing should be entirely off limits forever, but some foods and drinks should only be consumed in moderation. That means lose the candy bar but keep the 1-ounce chocolate piece.
Again, not a surprise. If somehow you’ve missed it, research continues to show that exercise delivers a ton of powerful health benefits – way beyond just maintaining your weight. It helps limit the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease; boosts brain health; strengthens muscles and bones; improves mental health; and increases energy, to name a few.
If you already are a regular exerciser, keep up the good work! If you’ve been away from consistent workouts for a while, a new year is a great time to get back into an exercise routine. It’s never too late to reap the benefits of exercise.
For the most balanced regimen, include cardio, strength training and some sort of flexibility work, like yoga. Incorporate cross-training if you can to add variety and challenge your body and mind differently. And most importantly, be consistent. Aim for 3-6 workouts per week, and make them a habit.
Exercise is one of the best ways to enjoy healthy living, so find something you like to do and stick with it.
Get enough sleep
With overbooked schedules and 24/7 technology, many of us don’t get a sufficient amount of sleep. While every individual’s sleep needs vary, experts say adults require 6-9 hours per night.
Lack of sleep can lead to weight gain, irritability, lack of concentration, impaired coordination and balance and more. Do your best to turn off the TV, your laptop or your mobile devices one hour before bedtime, and replace these with a relaxing ritual, like a bath, book or gentle stretching, to help you unwind.
If you’re a light sleeper, use a white noise machine, room darkening curtains, earplugs and/or a sleep mask to help minimize nighttime interruptions. And try to maintain regular bedtimes and wake-up times to keep your body in a familiar rhythm.
Stress is common, and a stress overload can cause physical complications, such as migraines or ulcers, along with mental health issues, like anxiety and depression. With chronic stressors, our bodies are in a constant “fight-or-flight” state, which must be released so that we don’t continually internalize this tension.
Exercise is a very effective way to reduce stress, refresh your body and relax your mind. Other options include meditation, prayer, massage, heat therapy (whirlpools or a hot bath), journaling, deep breathing and aromatherapy. In some cases, professional therapy, behavior modification and even medication may be necessary to best manage stress and improve quality of life.
See your doctor
Don’t just go to the doctor when you are sick, but take control of your health with preventative medicine and participate in routine check-ups and medical screenings, like mammograms, colonoscopies, prostate exams and bone density tests. This way, you can monitor your health and address any potential issues immediately, before they worsen. Be sure to visit your dentist at least annually as well, as oral health is linked to overall health.
And of course, if you are experiencing pain or unusual symptoms that do not go away, don’t put off a visit to a physician or specialist. Sometimes, conditions can become more serious quickly without medical attention. Better safe than sorry.
Maintain a social network
Life can be hard. And humans are social beings and aren’t intended to go it alone. Even if you’re an introvert, it’s important to have meaningful relationships that offer companionship and support. You don’t have to have a packed social schedule, but knowing you have people with whom you can share activities, conversation, work and other experiences makes life more fulfilling.
And this social support becomes even more valuable during hardship, such as a health issue, financial crisis, relationship struggles and more. It doesn’t necessarily matter if your network is comprised of family, friends, neighbors or co-workers, but simply knowing you can call on someone for help — from babysitting to giving you a ride – makes life less stressful and more manageable overall.
It’s no surprise that today’s world is characterized by strife, disagreement, chaos and general unrest. Even just perusing social media can bring you down by comparing your life to the seemingly “perfect” ones shared on screens. And complaining and negative feedback are everywhere.
Resist the strong pull here, and boost your mental health by consciously aiming to be more positive. Learn to expect problems, manage expectations and seek compromise where possible. Accept differences, try not to be easily offended and take everything personally and practice forgiveness.
Even more, consider all you can be grateful for each day, and look for silver linings. Share optimism and a smile with others, and pay it forward by buying coffee for a stranger or volunteering for a cause you believe in. Keeping your mind healthy has a powerful impact on your physical well-being.