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When I was growing up, my family’s New Year’s Eve tradition was to sit around the fire and write New Year’s resolutions. Our resolutions changed from year to year, depending on what lay ahead of us. My sister resolved to get a lead in the school play, I said I’d study harder in math and stop biting my nails, my dad wrote about medical textbooks he hoped to finish writing, and my mom put down her volunteering goals.
One thing never changed. Every year, my mom and I also wrote: “Lose weight.” Sometimes it was five pounds, sometimes it was ten, and sometimes it showed up as “exercise more,” but no matter the variation, those resolutions were always ineffective.
Because whether or not we lost five or ten pounds that year had nothing to do with writing it on a piece of paper on New Year’s Eve. Meeting a goal takes specific, repeated actions. Without a plan, our yearly resolutions were just an expression of our dissatisfaction with our appearance.
Goal setting is a valuable exercise, but it has to be done strategically (whether we’re talking about “studying harder” or losing weight). If you want to make a change this year, don’t focus on the finish line. Instead, choose a few healthy habits you can start following right away.
If you need some ideas, here are four healthy resolutions that will also improve your happiness — and, as a bonus, might even help you lose weight.
1. Start Meal Planning
The key to eating well is planning ahead. It’s impossible to make good choices when you’re hungry and tired with no fresh, healthy food in the house.
There are two basic approaches to meal planning and preparation: you can buy all the ingredients and make your meals each day or prepare the week’s meals ahead of time. If you have very little time after work, prepping all your meals in advance is a good idea. For me, I hate the idea of spending a day in the kitchen preparing a week’s worth of meals, so I plan and shop for my meals on Sunday and make them each night. (You can read all about my personal meal planning and prep regimen in this article.)
Either way, your meals don’t have to be difficult. A quick stir-fry takes only about fifteen to twenty minutes, especially if you buy pre-chopped vegetables. I’m a big fan of baking broccoli or Brussels sprouts with chicken or fish. Many meals can be prepared in the time it would take to go buy takeout — provided you have the ingredients waiting for you at home.
P.S. Make sure to check out our recipe section for plenty of quick, healthy ideas for all occasions.
2. Get More Sleep
Easier said than done, right? We’d all love to get more sleep, but who has the time? And what if you struggle with insomnia or sleep disruption?
As someone whose sleep is easily disturbed, I know that sometimes a good night’s sleep is out of your control. I also know there are certain things I can do to increase my odds of getting a good night’s sleep.
- The first is regular exercise. Even just ten minutes of exercise can improve sleep, and regular, longer exercise sessions reduce stress and tire out your body.
- The second is getting outside each day, especially in the early morning. Exposure to sunlight between 6 and 8:30am each day helps regulate your internal clock, making it easier to be awake when it’s light and sleep when it’s dark.
- The third is avoiding screens — smart phones, tablets, laptops, and TV — thirty minutes before bedtime. The blue light emitted by these screens interferes with melatonin, a hormone that controls sleep. Reading the news, emails, or social media at night can also wake up your brain, making it difficult to wind down.
Follow these three tips and you’ll drastically increase your odds of getting a good night’s sleep.
3. Regularly Give Back
Focusing on your own health and fitness is essential, but it’s also important to take a look around and help others. Regular community service can help you live longer, improves your happiness, lowers your blood pressure, and gives you a sense of purpose.
The most difficult part about volunteering is fitting it into your already-busy schedule — it easily falls to the bottom of the to-do list. I have found it helpful to get involved in a monthly volunteering commitment. Weekly would be too much for me to handle, but monthly is manageable and by committing to a manageable amount, I’m able to maintain my volunteering resolution.
And much like going to the gym, I often find I am reluctant to get up and go volunteer, but every time I do I come home feeling happy, energized, and grateful.
4. Add Intensity
In last year’s year-end survey of health-related news, New York Times health writer Gretchen Reynolds said research supported the idea that high-intensity exercise is key to healthy aging. One study found intense exercise positively affects the muscle cells responsible for aging, especially for people over age 64. Going for a walk is better than sitting, but one of the best things you can do for your health is push your limits.
You’ll know an exercise is intense if you have trouble talking without gasping for air. If you’re just starting out, jogging may be intense. If you’ve been regularly running for thirty minutes every day for a year, now is the time to pick it up.
It’s easy to build intensity into any kind of workout. If you like to run, try interval training. Or, find an outdoor staircase that you can sprint up and then walk down. In the gym, you can incorporate dumbbells into your high-intensity training or do bodyweight movements like burpees or push-ups. Whatever movement or exercise you choose, be sure to make it difficult — your cells will thank you.
Healthy Resolutions Are Really Healthy Habits
If the new year has inspired you to make some changes, pick one or two healthy habits you can start working on right away. It’s impossible to immediately lose five pounds or “get in shape,” but you can meal plan or make your next workout more intense today. Small, consistent changes make a big difference in the long run, so get started.