I love fresh starts and new beginnings. And I love the onset of a New Year. Whether you like making New Year’s resolutions or not, you have to admit, they are a great way to be forward thinking showing positivity by working towards some form of self-improvement.
For many of you, resolutions may revolve around getting yourself healthy and happier. Since my profession is so closely associated with helping people reach healthier lifestyles, it just makes sense that dietitians are often heavily involved in making New Year’s resolutions suggestions for just that sort of thing. Luckily, with a little imagination and a lot of motivation, there are dozens of healthy lifestyle habits you can improve helping start the New Year off right.
However, how many of you have made a New Year’s resolution only to fail in meeting your goal? I know I have. To help dramatically improve your chances of following through with whatever resolution you make, I wanted to share with you a 3-part pattern called the habit loop. Written by author Charles Duhigg of the book, The Power of Habit, he explains that there are 3 habits that can vastly improve your likelihood of developing a healthy goal or resolution turning it into a consistently healthy habit – they are cue, routine, and reward.
Here’s an example of a not-so-healthy habit – The cue could be seeing a McDonald’s sign in the distance. The routine is to pull up to the drive-thru window to order a chocolate milkshake and the reward is the delicious chocolatey taste. This can become a habit loop causing you to repeat this behavior over and over each time you see a McDonald’s sign.
By understanding habit loops, you can use them to help you form new healthy habits. Here’s an example of piggybacking a new healthy goal onto an existing behavior: If you want to set a goal or resolution to walk after dinner each night, you can piggyback your walk onto putting your dinner dishes in the dishwasher. The cue is loading the dishwasher after dinner. The walk following loading the dishwasher is your routine. The reward is feeling more energetic, healthier and praising yourself for following through on your goal. Keep this up and eventually you’ll have a new healthy habit.
Do you need a few ideas for healthy resolutions? Here are some old standbys but others you may not have thought of. Not each suggestion is linked to healthy eating but all are linked with leading a healthier lifestyle in general. Pick and choose which one(s) that just might light the spark inspiring you to live and lead a healthier and happier year ahead:
• Reduce stress
You will always experience stress but when it is chronic, it can hurt your health by increasing the risk of insomnia, depression, obesity, and heart disease. This year, make it a priority to relax and enjoy life more. At least once a week, socialize with people you enjoy being around, get outdoors to watch a sunrise or sunset, get more sleep, have a massage or take a weekend getaway. Do whatever it is you look forward to and plan ahead to make it happen.
• Keep in touch
If it’s been a long time since you last connected with friends or family, reach out to reconnect with them. This year can be the year to mend the ties that have loosened over the years creating a loss of connection. Research has shown people with strong social ties tend to live longer. When we lack social bonds, our health is harmed, both physically and mentally. Take the time to look them up through social media or with a phone call. Everyone needs friends and when we nurture and cherish the bonds we share, it can enrich and reward our lives immensely.
• Quit smoking
There are more people who don’t smoke than do. Don’t be a dinosaur. Smoking is out of style and it is harming your health. This year, you will quit. Ask yourself what benefits are gained from smoking cigarettes. Then ask yourself what do I gain from not smoking. Here are a few – you’ll save cash, you will smell better, you won’t age so fast, you will have more energy, you will become healthier. Quitting smoking can be done – don’t give up.
You may wonder how does volunteering benefit my health? It helps by making you happier. Happiness can definitely occur when we better ourselves but it also increases when we help others. Find volunteer positions for interests you care deeply for and are passionate about. Believing in and wanting to improve a situation can create positive emotions when you know you are making a difference. When you feel happy and productive you tend to have better health. Those positive feelings make you more resilient and resourceful which reflects in your attitude in all things you do.
• Eat healthier
There are numerous ways to do this but here a few to work on for the coming year:
- Eat more plant protein – you don’t have to be vegan but do include more beans, lentils, whole grains, and nuts to get higher intakes of health-promoting nutrients.
- Switch sugary carbs for healthy fats – Cut way back on processed carbs such as white pasta and baked goods and instead focus on consuming more healthy fats found in nuts and seeds.
- Slow down when eating – If you inhale your food, slow down. Eating at a slower pace allows you time to get a sense of fullness making you less likely to overeat. Practice eating mindfully by taking smaller bites, putting down your fork after each bite, and thoroughly chewing your food.
• Get moving
This is your year to move as in becoming more physically active. Find an activity you enjoy, start off slowly easing yourself into working out most days of the week. Whether it is yoga, running, dancing, walking, hiking, or swimming, each are good making you a healthier person. The human body is meant to move and you are the one who can make it happen.
• Take the stairs
This year, make a commitment to walk up a flight of stairs whenever the opportunity arises. When you take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, you are making a big health difference for your heart. You’ll also be building endurance while working the large muscles of your legs, buttocks and abdomen.
• Chill out and rest up
Getting adequate sleep is a must. Most adults require between 6-8 hours of restful sleep each night. While getting a good night’s sleep won’t promise immunity from disease, study after study has found a link between insufficient sleep and some serious health problems such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. If sufficient sleep is elusive for you, begin a bedtime routine each night, darken your room by drawing the curtains, and sleep in a cool room. Turning down the thermostat to 68 degrees or lower before you tuck into bed can help you sleep better.
• Keep a gratitude journal
Even if you don’t want to write it down, think of at least 3 things each day you are grateful for. Even in the most drastic of situations, there can be glimpses of gratefulness to hang onto. By focusing on the good in your life, a sense of peace and well-being evolves, making you stronger and flexible in all circumstances.