As the new year approaches, many of us reflect on our habits and consider making resolutions to improve our overall well-being. Typically this includes starting a new diet and losing weight.
I would like to pose a new frame on this old rhetoric.
Why is this the only way we can feel better and make change? I say, it’s not! Here are a few other ways we can aim to change our lives and make sustainable change without falling into a diet trap.
1. Prioritize Quality Sleep
We can aim to establish a consistent sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Many people do realize quality sleep is important but don’t often realize how important it truly is!
Lack of sleep is linked to various health issues, including a weakened immune system, impaired cognitive function, and an increased risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. Too little or interrupted sleep can also increase the hormone cortisol. When our cortisol levels rise above normal for an extended period, this leads to increased inflammation and increased blood sugar.
How do we prioritize sleep as a New Year’s resolution?
- Setting standard times to go to bed and wake up
- Creating a relaxing pre-sleep environment
- Minimizing screen time before bedtime
- Incorporating calming activities like reading or meditation
- Reading right before bed or brushing teeth (studies have also shown that we can link certain activities to bedtime and create a sense of fatigue more easily, as long as it’s the same activity)
- Using magnesium or melatonin to promote calm restful states
2. Embrace Regular Physical Activity
Instead of setting unrealistic exercise goals, commit to finding activities you genuinely enjoy. This is aptly called Joyful Movement. Many people end up focusing purely on weight loss as a goal of movement and think there is only one path. This often is unsustainable and proves not to have the long-term results we want.
Instead, let’s see what else physical exercise can bring us! Is it increased strength, increased functionality in our lives, improved cardiovascular health, or better mental health we want to look for?
Regular exercise is associated with improved mood, reduced stress, and lower risk of chronic diseases. The World Health Organization recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week for adults. Now if we are starting at no activity, it should also be noted that trying to jump up to 150 min/ week is also unrealistic. Instead can we start with a resolution of 10-20 minutes 3x/ week!
Perhaps it’s hiking, dancing, or yoga that brings you joy. Perhaps you have always wanted to be a morning exerciser but don’t actually like that time of day. That is okay! Choosing an activity and time you like makes it more likely that you’ll stick with them throughout the year.
3. Practice Stress Management
Reducing chronic stress can have a profound impact on overall health. Chronic stress can contribute to mental health disorders, cardiovascular issues, and compromised immune function.Incorporate stress-reducing practices into your daily routine, such as:
- Mindfulness meditation
- Taking short breaks to stretch and relax
- Deep breathing exercises (see an example below)
Example: box breathing. This looks like breathing in for 3-4 seconds, holding your breath for 3-4 seconds, exhaling for 3-4 seconds, then waiting 3-4 seconds to start again. Make sure you engage in this for at least 3-5 minutes to see the effect we want!
4. Cultivate Healthy Relationships
Focus on nurturing positive relationships in your life. Start a resolution to make an effort to spend quality time with loved ones, communicate openly, and surround yourself with people who uplift and support you. Can we commit to one plan a week, or one plan a month. How about a phone call a week? Find what works for you.
Strong social connections are linked to increased happiness, reduced stress levels, and even a longer lifespan. On the contrary, social isolation has been associated with adverse health effects. In fact, across 148 studies that included a total of 308, 849 participants, it was found that there was a 50% increased likelihood of survival for participants with stronger social relationships.
5. Digital Detox
Reducing screen time and creating boundaries for device use, especially before bedtime can improve sleep quality, reduce eye strain, and foster more meaningful connections with others. Excessive screen time, particularly before bedtime, can disrupt sleep patterns and negatively impact mental health. The blue light emitted from screens can interfere with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
In addition, the use of social media can be useful or detrimental to a person’s health. A resolution of engaging in a short digital detox can help to show us what areas of our lives or thoughts are being influenced by this.
6. Hydration Habits
Proper hydration is essential for bodily functions such as digestion, nutrient absorption, and temperature regulation. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, headaches, and impaired cognitive function.
Instead of strict water intake goals, focus on building a habit of mindful hydration.
Tips for a successful hydration resolution:
- Carry a reusable water bottle and take sips throughout the day, paying attention to your body’s signals for thirst.
- Find one with a straw! We tend to drink way more water when there is a straw vs sipping.
- Make it fun! Try adding fresh fruits into our water to infuse it with flavor!
Check out some of our favorite water bottles here on our amazon storefront!
7. Mindful Eating
Shift the focus from restrictive diets to mindful eating. Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues, savor each bite, and choose nourishing foods that make you feel good. Mindful eating practices have been linked to healthier food choices for your body, improved digestion, and better weight management. Being present during meals can also enhance the overall dining experience.
Check out our blog post about recognizing hunger and fullness cues. For more support, work with a registered dietitian to figure out what is actually healthy for you vs what is simply a fad diet.
8. Learn Something New
Lifelong learning has been associated with increased cognitive health and a reduced risk of age-related cognitive decline. Engaging in intellectually stimulating activities can promote neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to adapt and form new connections. It can also continue to provide a wonderful sense of purpose and growth towards something
Mental well-being is an integral part of overall health. Commit to learning a new skill, hobby, or language. Engaging your mind in new and stimulating activities can positively impact cognitive function. To do this I recommend searching out something or someone to help. Look for local programs, classes or even apps on your phone. Commit to regular intervals of set aside time for this! This can also be a form of self-care.
9. Connect with Nature
Spending time in nature is associated with reduced stress, improved mood, and enhanced overall well-being. Nature exposure has been linked to lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Spend more time outdoors and connect with nature. Whether it’s a daily walk in the park or weekend hikes, being in natural surroundings can improve mood, reduce stress, and promote a sense of well-being. This can be as simple as making sure we just even go out and sit on our front porch.
10. Gratitude Journaling
Practicing gratitude has been linked to improved mental health, increased life satisfaction, and reduced symptoms of depression. Regularly acknowledging and appreciating positive aspects of life can contribute to a more positive outlook. I am a big believer in what we focus on we give power to.
Cultivate a positive mindset by keeping a gratitude journal to:
- Regularly reflect on the things you’re thankful for- this can shift your focus toward positivity and improve overall mental and emotional health
- Asking yourself at the end of the day to name one thing you are grateful for (extra plus if it’s something your bodies did for you) can make an overall big difference
By shifting the focus away from restrictive diets and weight-centered goals, these non-diet, health-focused resolutions can lead to sustainable improvements in overall well-being. Remember, the key to success is to set realistic and attainable goals that align with your values and bring joy to your life. Here’s to a healthier and happier new year!
Written by our Dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Genevieve Traversa MS, RD, CIEC