As a new year begins, you may be thinking about renewing your health and wellness goals. Of course, the health changes that benefit you on January first are the very same changes that would benefit you any day of the year—meaning the perfect time to revamp your health is always right now.
But how exactly can you take charge of your health to get the biggest impact? Experts say there are seven key ways to change your health for the better—in the new year, or anytime. Read on for seven simple tips that are sure to kick your health transformation into high gear.
Follow a healthy eating plan.
Beginning a new diet is perhaps the most common New Year’s resolution of them all. Experts say that while it can be counterproductive to attempt any extreme or overly restrictive way of eating, focusing on your nutrition is a great idea at any time of year.
Rather than jumping on the latest bandwagon or TikTok fad, you’re likely to see the greatest health with a well-rounded, whole foods-based diet that emphasizes plant-based nutrition. Many doctors recommend some version of the Mediterranean diet or MIND Dash Diet, which are known to slash your risk of heart disease, dementia, and more.
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Getting a good night’s rest can work wonders for your physical and mental health—making it a great goal for the new year or any time. According to the Mayo Clinic, most adults need at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep per night for optimal restoration.
“For adults, getting less than seven hours of sleep a night on a regular basis has been linked with poor health, including weight gain, having a body mass index of 30 or higher, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and depression,” the clinic notes. Following a regular sleep routine and practicing good sleep hygiene can help you make the most of your rest.
Get regular exercise.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), getting regular exercise is one of the single best things you can do for your health. “Only a few lifestyle choices have as large an impact on your health as physical activity,” they write.
They note that by building even short workouts into your routine, you can “improve your brain health, help manage weight, reduce the risk of disease, strengthen bones and muscles, and improve your ability to do everyday activities.” Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week—plus resistance training and flexibility exercises—to enjoy the biggest benefits.
Curb your vices.
If you currently smoke cigarettes, it’s hard to overstate just how much you stand to benefit from quitting. “Smoking leads to disease and disability and harms nearly every organ of the body,” explains the CDC, adding that over 16 million Americans are currently living with a disease directly caused by smoking. “For every person who dies because of smoking, at least 30 people live with a serious smoking-related illness. Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Smoking also increases risk for tuberculosis, certain eye diseases, and problems of the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis,” they write.
However, smoking isn’t the only vice you might want to consider curbing. Drinking alcohol in excess is linked to heart disease, hypertension, stroke, liver disease, certain cancers, weakened immune system, dementia and more. Men should limit their consumption to two drinks per day, while women are advised to limit their consumption to one drink per day, the CDC says.
See a doctor.
What better way to kick off your health-conscious new year than by checking in with your physician? While an annual physical is not a replacement for more targeted care throughout the year, it can help you and your doctor establish a baseline for the future, and can clue you into the status of your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and more. By knowing your numbers and managing any underlying health conditions, you’ll be better able to stave off other health issues, or address them as they arise.
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Swap sugary drinks for water.
Staying hydrated is crucial to your health, but if you often quench your thirst with sugar-sweetened beverages, you may be doing more harm than good. That’s why right now is the perfect time to quit those empty calories in favor of plain water and other unsweetened drinks.
Not sure how much water you need? The Mayo Clinic says that men require 15.5 cups of fluid a day, while women require 11.5 cups. The average person takes in roughly 20 percent of their water needs through food, and the rest through beverages.
Take time to de-stress.
If you’re dealing with unchecked stress, prioritizing relaxation can have a huge impact on your physical and mental health. Besides the emotional effects of stress—anxiety, restlessness, irritability, and depression among them—many people also notice bodily symptoms of stress. These can include headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue, sleep problems, and more, the Mayo Clinic says.
Though de-stressing your life may be easier said than done, many of the changes that keep your body healthy should also have a positive effect on your stress levels. Aim to get regular exercise, eat a balanced diet, spend time with loved ones, engage in hobbies that bring you joy, and prioritize sleep. If you find that you’re still struggling with stress after that, consider reaching out to a mental health professional who can help you come up with a strategy that works for you.