Whether time crawled or flew for you, 2022 has gone. The calendar is back around to another new year, and you may be reviewing the resolutions made last January.
At the top of a lot of resolutions lists every year is to live healthier, whether that be through getting more exercise, eating a more nutritious diet, or losing weight. But for us, the new year also falls during the time of year when the days are shortest, and the weather can be challenging. So how do we start out to reach our goals and maintain momentum through the winter season?
Change is hard for everyone and trying to modify everything all at once is a path to defeat. Starting slowly with minor changes is a better plan for success. Here are some small things that can be implemented now to help us ease into a new routine. Then, once the days become more amenable to going outside again, we can add more. And by starting now, we will be in better shape and have good habits already established by the time we get to those longer days and warmer weather.
o Increase your daily activity. Just like you might take a coffee or snack break, take a “movement break.” Mobility and balance are really impacted by “use it or lose it,” so adding more activities that challenge you physically can add to overall quality of life. And taking 5 minutes at a time, several times a day, is effective in adding up to a total daily goal. Be aware of what your individual body is capable of and talk to your health care provider or a fitness professional if you have questions about what is safe for you.
· Believe it or not, anyone can get effective exercise from a chair! Whether in your office or the comfort of your home, chair exercises are a great way to add extra activity to your day, as well as destress. For examples of chair yoga visit https://www.mondaycampaigns.org/destress-monday/chair-yoga.
· Aerobic exercises like jumping jacks and toe touches can also be modified to a chair.
· Strength training builds muscles which burn more calories, so keep a small pair of hand weights or exercise band nearby and do some arms curls a few times a day.
· If you work on your feet all day, use your break time to get off your feet and relax and stretch with chair yoga.
· When the weather allows, take a walk around the block during a break.
o Eat a more nutritious diet. Changing what you eat can be challenging. In the winter, we may have less time or energy to shop and prepare meals than we would like. There may not be a good variety of fresh fruits and vegetables available. Many of our favorite foods provide more than just sustenance: there is a reason some dishes are called “comfort food.” But eating healthier can help you lose weight if needed and reduce your risk for some chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, as well as lowering your risk of some cancers.
· Portion control is key. Portion sizes have increased over the generations and many people overeat without realizing it. One way to reduce portions without feeling deprived is to use a smaller plate! The Plate Method can help you choose the correct portions and mix of food groups. On a 9-inch plate, fill half with non-starchy vegetables and fruits; one quarter of the plate with lean protein; and the last quarter with whole or enriched grains. Unless you have a specific reason for not being able to eat carbohydrates, grains do have nutritional benefits including dietary fiber, B vitamins, and iron. Find more info and support at www.myplate.gov.
· Eat more variety. Make a point to try new foods, ingredients, herbs, or spices. Try cooking readily available winter foods, like rutabagas or brussels sprouts, in different ways so they are more interesting. Explore vegetables or grains you might not be familiar with – many are much easier to prepare than expected. For example, quinoa has more protein and fiber than other grains and cooks in about 15 minutes.
· Exchange traditional ingredients for healthier alternatives in your favorite family recipes. For example, exchange olive oil for butter; use a whole grain in place of a refined grain; replace plain rice with cauliflower, or white potatoes with a green vegetable; and roast or bake food instead of frying.
· Keep frozen and canned food stocked at home for quick preparation so you don’t have the urge to eat unhealthy fast food.
o Drink more water! It is easy to say and for some it is easy to do, but for many, many people drinking plain water is a chore. Water keeps our bodies working properly, from lubricating joints to removing waste. Dehydration can lead to headaches, unclear thinking, mood changes, cavities, constipation, kidney stones, and can cause the body to overheat.
· Plain water has the best benefits for keeping the mouth and body clean and healthy, and has zero calories, but if you are used to drinking highly flavored drinks, it can be really challenging to switch “cold turkey.” So, start by replacing 1-2 drinks a day with plain water. Or alternate a glass of plain water with each other type of beverage you might crave.
· CDC recommendations include getting fluids from food as well as healthy beverages. Many fruits and vegetables have high water content. You can also use fruit, vegetables, and herbs to infuse plain or unflavored sparkling water. Lemon, blueberries, apples, melons, cucumbers, celery, and mint are just some options for infused water. Use frozen fruit when fresh is not available.
· Choose sugar-free flavor packets or water drops to add to plain water instead of drinking high sugar sodas, energy drinks, or fruit drinks.
· Choose water when eating out to reduce calories and costs!
o Make an appointment to see your health care provider. While you are working on improving your health with increased activity, healthier food choices, and more water, find out which types of preventive screenings are right for your risk factors and family history. These may include blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and various cancers, as well as counseling about healthy weight and substance use. Many insurance plans cover preventive screenings when requested by a primary care doctor.
New Year’s resolutions are notoriously hard to keep. Many times, that is because the goal is not self-motivated, too expansive for near-term success, or too vague. Give yourself the best chance for success by setting specific goals you can meet. As you build new habits, and feel better from the changes, you’ll have more motivation to continue and expand on your success.