Oftentimes, we reach the holidays in a reflective mood: What went right or wrong this past year? What can we change for the better in the new year? Sometimes we reach December with lots of goals for January, and even though this is our habit year after year, studies show that by March most of us have abandoned these goals, and are left feeling like a failure.
Experts suggest this happens because these goals are often unrealistic (exercise every single day) or too restrictive (absolutely no sugar) for most of us. How about this year we set ourselves up for success by adopting 10 healthy habits to promote wellness as the overarching goal by incorporating these action steps into daily life. Whether your goal is to improve your general health, prepare for or rehab after pregnancy, or improve a current medical issue, these steps are sure to help.
1. SLEEP: Research tells us that sleep confers several health benefits including weight loss, psychological wellness, and decreased stress, so try for 8 hours per night and try to set a regular sleep schedule 80% of the time. Adopt healthy sleep hygiene habits and if you are still having problems, try acupuncture or recommended supplements from your physician. Also, try not to rely on Unisom, Benedryl, Tylenol PM, etc too frequently as these OTC sleep have been linked to increased risk for dementia.
2. WATER: YES! It really makes a difference. Dehydration affects body aches, skin tone & clarity, energy, & hunger. Don’t track ounces, just start the day with a big glass and throughout the day drink more water than wine, caffeine, and juice.
3. MOVE: Yoga, dance, walk the dogs, zumba, swim, bike along the canal, run or hike on a trail…It doesn’t matter what it is, just find something you like and do it for at least 30 minutes on most days…if you are still enjoying yourself, keep going. If you don’t even feel like starting, try 15 minutes and I bet you keep going. Add little extras along the way like pushups, squats and light weights during chores or commercials. Check out the resources page of my website for personal trainers, yoga studios, and exercise groups for women and moms.
4. EAT TO LIVE: Unless you have specific dietary issues, research has consistently pointed to the Mediterranean diet as a way to achieve & maintain a healthy weight, prevent and treat diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and certain cancers. Maybe you feel better eating paleo or vegetarian. That’s great too, just give yourself some slack and remember the 80/20 rule which will allow you to have fun and enjoy a variety of foods with family and friends. Contrary to what you will hear from other practitioners or read on the internet, there is no one diet that is perfect for everyone. Find the plan that works for you and try to consume foods that add to your health (whole grains, fruits & veggies, organic animal products) and limit those that increase disease (sugar & refined carbohydrates, alcohol). In Phoenix, we are so lucky to have an organic butcher Arcadia Meat Market, Tailored Bites for meal prep and nutrition guidance, and a great variety of farmer’s markets.
5. BE QUIET: Research has shown that meditation can actually change brain function over time, impacting our thinking & mood now as well as risks for several chronic diseases in the long term. It doesn’t need to be complicated, try sitting quietly while waiting at a stoplight or in line at the store, journal 3-5 things you are grateful for at the end of each day, take time to be thankful for what you have and what you DON’T have. Whatever form it takes, just pick one and try to practice most days of the week. If looking for more support, try an in-person class through One Breath Healing or Solution Mindfulness or try an app like Calm or Insight Timer for at-home guidance.
6. SOCIALIZE: Not just during the holidays or special occasions, but informally as well. Meet a friend to go for a hike or a pedicure, walk the dogs with a neighbor, talk to another parent at your child’s sporting event or the person on the mat next to you in yoga. These connections help improve mood and research shows that social connections as we age help predict mental and physical health. For moms, local places like Modern Milk, the motherhood co, and MiniSocialAZ offer lactation support, exercise, classes, and support groups where moms can come together.
7. GO OUTSIDE: We are blessed with at least 8 months of near-perfect weather…get out there! Walk or ride your bike to the gym, work, during lunch or on errands; hike on one of our amazing trails; read a book at the park; go to the Desert Botanical Gardens in the morning and take some photographs. Whatever it is, find a way to get outside, you will feel better!
8. HELP OTHERS: Volunteer for your favorite non-profit or your religious organization, befriend an elderly neighbor and offer to take their garbage cans out and in, offer to help a new mom or sick friend with meals and chores, send a relative a card for no reason. We help ourselves by helping others and in that way strengthen our whole community. And not just during the holidays; try to offer assistance on at least a monthly basis throughout the year.
9. GROW SOMETHING: Again, our wonderful climate allows for gardening fruits, veggies, and herbs nearly year-round. Don’t know where to start, check out your local nursery for classes. This is a great way to get outside, get your hands in the dirt, connect to nature, and produce food for your family and friends. Even if you only have a small patio, citrus, tomatoes, onions, peppers, greens & herbs do very well in those environments. Some neighborhoods even allow chickens…how nice are fresh eggs? Find something you like to eat and try to grow this year…you might save yourself some trips to the market. Follow me on instagram to see what I am harvesting from the garden throughout the year.
10. DON’T “SHOULD” ON YOURSELF: Many of us go throughout our day being kind to those we meet all the while not being kind to ourselves. Negative self-talk runs through our minds reminding us of all the things we didn’t do right, should’ve done better, or forgot to do all together. There have been many studies recently advocating self-compassion to decrease stress and improve psychological and physical well-being. Take some time to remind yourself of what you’ve done right, maybe during a walk, in meditation, or via journaling. Find a way to be kind to yourself, but if the negative self-talk extends to dark moods or anxiety, talk to a physician and/or check out my resources page to find a counselor near you who can provide more guidance.
Remember, the goal is PROGRESS, not PERFECTION. 80/20 is the key. Be kind to yourself.
Contact me if you would like more guidance.