The beginning of a new year is always an exciting time. It’s a time to get organized, a time for a fresh start and a time to evaluate habits and set goals for positive change. What better time than this new year to make some improvements in your health?
If you’re like many others, the prospect of a lifestyle overhaul may sound daunting. Perhaps the journey to wellness seems so long and difficult that you don’t even want to take the first step – but don’t be discouraged!
Becoming healthier doesn’t have to include drastic resolutions like joining an overly vigorous boot camp, significantly changing your nutritional approach or enduring a month-long juice cleanse. It is important to remember that even subtle shifts in habits and behaviors can have an immense beneficial impact over time. Additionally, research indicates it is easier to commit to and achieve smaller goals.
So for 2021, here are 21 small, baby-step ideas that can lead to better health. Pick one or two that appeal to you and make a commitment to yourself to start this week. Once those are mastered, you can slowly add in other small steps.
Small steps to a healthier you
- Drink one more cup of water per day. Drink it first thing in the morning when you wake up and think about how that water is cleansing your body.
- Add a fruit to breakfast. Half of a banana, sliced on top of cereal, a handful of fresh berries mixed in yogurt, or ½ cup of orange juice are all easy additions, and each are packed with phytonutrients.
- If you smoke, smoke one less cigarette per day. Once you do that for a month, drop one more the next month and so on. Don’t panic about quitting. Just focus on decreasing the amount you smoke-one cigarette at a time.
- Spend your first five minutes in the morning in quiet thoughtfulness, meditation or prayer. A healthy body starts with a healthy mind.
- Take the salt shaker off of the kitchen table and put it in a cupboard. If you have to get up to use it, chances are you will use it less.
- Use a spray oil in your frying pan, instead of liquid oil when you sauté or fry food. You will use significantly less fat.
- Try eating a meatless dinner once a week. Meatless dinners tend to be less fatty, have more fruits and vegetables, and are more affordable.
- Bring a bag of veggies to snack on at work. If you have it handy, you will probably eat it. At first, just try it once a week. Once you master that, add another day.
- Set a timer on your phone for every 1-2 hours to remind you to get up and move for a few minutes.
- Try a new fruit or vegetable this week. Jicama, jack fruit, kohlrabi, oh my! Look up how to prepare it and give it a try. (Did you catch that rhyme?)
- Schedule your annual physical exam. Get it on the calendar and don’t let anything get in the way. You get your car checked regularly, so why not you?
- Whatever you like to do for fitness, add twenty minutes to your current workout regimen. (Binge watching Netflix does not count!)
- At the end of the day, spend 10 minutes in slow, sustained stretching. (Okay, okay…This can be done while watching Netflix).
- Instead of white bread, try whole-grain bread. It has more nutrients, acts as a prebiotic, helps with constipation and has a lower glycemic index than white bread.
- Start eating breakfast, even a small one. Research shows that eating breakfast correlates with a healthier body mass index.
- Drink half of the alcohol you normally would at dinner or a party. Alcohol adds extra calories and taxes the liver.
- Try to eat dinner at home for one entire week. Studies show that families who regularly eat dinner together enjoy many physical, emotional and financial benefits.
- Add some type of resistance training to your workout routine. Cardio is great, but you need strength-building activities, too. Hand-held weights, leg lifts and exercise bands can all help maintain muscle mass.
- Get your rest. Sleep is critical for growth, healing and repair. If you do not get 8 hours of sleep a night, go to bed 15 minutes earlier. Once you have mastered that for a week or two, try adding another 15 minutes.
- Go raw. Make sure that your plate has at least one raw fruit or vegetable on it each time you eat. Then, actually eat that raw food.
- Walk at lunch. Even a quick 10-15 minute walk will help you feel refreshed, stimulate your mind and prepare you for the afternoon tasks ahead.
Those are just a few ideas to get started. You might be inspired with several ideas of your own. We all want to put 2020 in the rearview mirror and emerge into a pandemic-free life. Why not also make that a healthier life? You have the power to change. Take it one small step at a time – to a healthier you!
Dr. Michele Carr is a registered dietitian nutritionist and clinical educator with Encompass Health – Home Health & Hospice.