To say the year 2020 was a lot would be an understatement. To some, it may have felt like it flew by, and to others, it may have felt like ten years instead of one. Either way, you've probably been through a lot, which can have a major impact on your well-being — both physically and mentally.
Fortunately, a new year is upon us, and it's certainly a welcome sight. But just like all things from 2020, a change in your health won't occur when the clock strikes midnight. Regaining control takes effort, dedication, and perseverance.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest, and plenty of other obstacles last year, this year's New Year's resolution is an important one. Unfortunately, even though roughly 40% of Americans set a resolution each year, only about 40% actually will have kept them six months later.
This year, instead of making a grand New Year's resolution that you'll never keep, commit to improving your well-being in realistic ways. Here are just 5 ways to help you get started.
1. Stop focusing on the number of the scale.
Losing weight may be one of the more common New Year's resolutions, but that doesn't mean it's the right one for you. To start, the number on that scale is only one part of being healthy. Other things, like exercising, eating healthy, and not smoking are right up there with how much you weigh.
Of course, maintaining a healthy weight is still essential to your overall health. It can reduce your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. But losing weight in a safe way takes time — roughly 1 to 2 pounds a week. If you're too focused on that number, it's easy to become frustrated when you don't see results right away.
Instead, set a more motivating and action-oriented goal, such as:
- Running one mile without stopping.
- Doing 20 full-body pushups.
- Getting a certain amount of steps in each day (try starting at a reasonable but challenging number, such as 4,000, and increase from there).
- Completing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week (or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise ).
- Limiting your sodium intake to the recommended 1,500 mg each day.
- Getting the recommended amount of fruit (about 1.5 to 2 cups) or vegetables (2 to 3 cups ).
- Quitting smoking.
Read about ways to exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic.
2. Get hold of your stress.
Let's be real — the last year was a little (or a lot) more stressful than most. Unfortunately, high levels of stress can take a toll on both your mental and physical health. It can impact your ability to think clearly, complete tasks, and simply enjoy life. What's more, it can lead to health issues like headaches, heart problems, stomach issues, and neck and back pain.
The good news is that it's a new year, which is a great time to start managing your stress. Try setting one or two concrete goals in order to get started, such as:
- Starting a stress journal to identify major stressors in your life and patterns in how you react.
- Limiting or avoiding known stressors, such as watching or reading too much news, social media, certain individuals, or an overly packed schedule.
- Exercising regularly to release feel-good endorphins.
- Setting aside time each day to recharge, such as going for a walk, taking a bubble bath, or playing an instrument.
- Cutting back or eliminating stress-inducing lifestyle choices, like caffeine, alcohol, or cigarettes.
3. Finally prioritize your sleep.
Committing to sleeping later each morning might not feel like much of a New Year's resolution, but it can have more of an impact than you might think. Getting enough sleep is a crucial — but often overlooked — aspect of your health.
As you snooze each night, your body works to support your brain function and maintain your physical well-being. If your sleep is cut too short, you run the risk of chronic health problems, like heart disease and diabetes, as well as mental health concerns, like trouble paying attention and depression.
Most adults should get between seven and nine hours of quality sleep each night. If that's not happening, commit to taking one or more steps to improve your sleep habits, such as:
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day (even on weekends, if possible).
- Designating the hour before bed as quiet time, with no strenuous exercise or screen time, including TVs, computers, and phones.
- Avoiding heavy meals and alcohol a couple of hours before bed.
- Avoiding nicotine.
- Limiting caffeine, especially before bed (keep in mind — the effects of caffeine can last up to 8 hours).
- Making sure your room is quiet, cool, and dark to promote sleep.
Read more about how to improve your sleep.
4. Find your mantra.
Relaxation practices like yoga and meditation often use mantras — a repeated phrase to block out other thoughts and promote relaxation. But a go-to positive phrase can be handy in normal life, too, as a way to practice self-care.
Deciding on a personal mantra for the year depends on what you want to focus on. Whether your goal is to exercise more, ease anxiety, or simply be happier, create a declarative statement that helps remind yourself of something important. Then, repeat it to yourself whenever you need that reminder.
Ideas for a new year mantra include:
- I am responsible for creating a life I am proud of.
- I'm doing this for me.
- I give myself permission to slow down.
- I am present, right now.
- I've got this!
- I love myself.
5. Give yourself some grace.
Finally, remember to be patient and give yourself some grace as you kickstart the new year.
This year, make a serious effort to honor your body and mind. If you slip up, that's okay. Forgive yourself, then get back on track. With a little work and a lot of dedication, hopefully 2021 will be your best year yet.
Do you have questions about how to live a healthier lifestyle this year? Call 610-431-5000 to talk with a primary care provider at Chester County Hospital.
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