Many of us consider the new year the start of a new-and-improved version of ourselves. While this can be motivating, it can also involve unrealistic or harmful attempts at weight loss. But wellbeing is much more than weight, so these healthy New Year's resolutions can help you start the year right.
"Holiday pictures may show unwanted pounds or make us realize we have gained a bit too much weight over the last year, so many people choose to make weight loss their number one goal for the upcoming year," Roger Adams, PhD, personal trainer, doctor of nutrition and owner of eatrightfitness, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
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The media certainly doesn't help: Advertisements for weight-loss programs and gym memberships tend to pop up all over the place, like billboards on your drive to work or your phone's newsfeed.
While weight loss is not always a bad resolution if you approach it safely and sustainably, it shouldn't be your only health goal. "Focusing solely on the number on the scale often leads to feelings of failure and not recognizing other ways to improve your health," Adams says. What's more, if you don't lose the weight you hoped to, you might be tempted to give up on your targeted health goals altogether.
At the end of the day, your wellbeing should be a top priority all year round. Here, experts share realistic health resolutions beyond weight loss.
1. Drink More Water
This might sound like an obvious to-do on your list of health goals, but it's certainly not one to be overlooked. In fact, most of us aren't drinking enough water each day, and it affects our health in myriad ways.
In addition to flushing out lingering toxins in our bodies, water helps every organ function at its best, says S. Adam Ramin, MD, urologist and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles.
"Water helps the kidneys remove waste from your bloodstream and urine and keeps your blood vessels dilated, allowing them to nourish the kidneys with essential nutrients," he says. "When your body is dehydrated, your kidney function can become impaired."
Plus, even mild dehydration can drain your energy, leaving you sluggish and tired, per the Mayo Clinic.
So how much water a day is enough to properly hydrate? The answer, according to Dr. Ramin, depends on the individual and their daily activity. For example, if you're an avid exerciser, you'll need more water than someone who remains mostly sedentary throughout the day.
"Generally, healthy people should aim for 30 to 50 ounces of water at consistent intervals throughout the day — not all at once," he says. And if you don't love the taste of plain water, try adding fruit to make it more interesting or opting for naturally flavored seltzer.
Need a way to easily track your daily water intake? Download the MyPlate app to do the job, so you can stay focused and achieve your health goals!
2. Eat More Fruits and Veggies
Instead of focusing on the scale, Adams suggests focusing on your plate. "Set a daily goal to consume three or more servings of non-starchy vegetables and two or more servings of higher-fiber fruits each day," he says. "Non-starchy vegetables — such as green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, etc. — tend to be lower in calories than most foods, have more fiber and are more filling."
They're also packed with vitamins, minerals and beneficial nutrients like fiber, which can help you better control your appetite. Adams says the added fiber also helps improve cholesterol levels, colon health and even digestion.
One December 2019 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating two apples each day helped lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke in adults with mildly high cholesterol.
3. Cook at Home
On the subject of food, another dietary resolution can be to cook at home more often. Not only do you get the chance to dabble in a new hobby, but cooking in the comfort of your own kitchen may help you hone in on more nutritious ingredients to include in your everyday meals, according to the University of Washington.
Cooking at home may also provide the following benefits:
- It can save time
- It can save money
- It can promote portion control
- It provides an opportunity to unplug and enjoy a meal with loved ones
4. Increase Non-Exercise Activity in Your Day
Exercise is important, but for far more than just weight loss. In fact, exercise helps reduce your risk of nearly every kind of disease, especially common ones like diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease and cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If you're having trouble allocating enough time in your busy schedule to head to the gym, Adams says a healthy goal to set is to increase non-exercise activity throughout the day. This includes things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking farther away from the store so you have to carry your heavy groceries a bit longer.
These quick bursts of movement weaved into the day are known as "high-intensity incidental physical activity," or HIIPA, according to a September 2019 editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. HIIPA can improve your fitness and may even improve your heart health and respiration, even if you're only getting in a few minutes each day.
"This will not only limit the negative effects of prolonged sitting, such as an increased risk of chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease and diabetes, but it may actually energize you and eliminate food cravings brought on by fatigue," Adams says.
5. Spend More Time Outside
If you're upping your daily activity, why not commit to doing some of it outside? Not only does it open up a world of opportunity for different types of movement to engage in (hello, hikes, swimming and kayaking), but enjoying the great outdoors comes with a host of other health perks, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
The benefits of spending time outside include:
- Getting more vitamin D, which can help your body function well
- Improved mood
- More relaxation
- Better ability to concentrate
Remember to wear sunscreen when you go outdoors to protect your skin (more on that later).
6. Set Aside Time for Self-Care
The fast-paced, high-pressure world we live in today leaves very little, if any, time for us to relax and truly feel at peace. For this reason, it's important to carve out time in our busy schedules for self-care.
"Even a few minutes of an engaging and pleasurable activity can lift negative mood states, clear the mind for more accurate and effective problem-solving and support energy needed to face challenges that inevitably occur," says Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California.
Mendez recommends carving out self-care time in the most natural way possible.
"For example, when doing routine, mundane tasks such as cleaning house, sorting mail, filing papers, clearing out and decluttering, doing dishes or preparing meals, add in pleasurable alternative tasks such as listening to your favorite music, singing along with a favorite song or reaching into your imagination and drawing out thoughts of recent positive experiences and interactions," she says.
She also suggests scheduling activities and tasks mindfully. "If reading is something that brings you joy, plan to schedule in 20 minutes of reading time two to three days weekly," she says. "Share your agenda with loved ones and be mindful to follow through as a way of being true to yourself."
Self-care can also look like volunteering in an area that interests you and adds meaning to your life, learning about a subject of interest or committing a day or two to engage in a hobby or activity that is non-obligatory.
7. Try Therapy
Sometimes self-care involves enlisting the help of a professional. Whether you want to improve your mental health, relieve anxiety, work on your relationships or break a cycle of harmful behavior, therapy can help, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Not sure where to begin? An internet search, doctor referral or asking loved ones for recommendations are all good places to start when it comes to finding a therapist.
There are also ways to get mental health care when you are on a budget.
8. Increase Quality Sleep Time
Thirty-five percent of Americans are getting "poor" or "only fair" sleep quality, according to a December 2014 survey by the National Sleep Foundation. Too little sleep has a profound effect on your health, particularly when it comes to your brain.
"Study after study has shown that even an hour or two less sleep each night for just a few consecutive nights can have effects on the brain that last longer than those few days of disrupted rest," says Vernon Williams, MD, sports neurologist and founding director of the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, California.
"From delayed reaction times that can put you in danger while driving or working to fatigue and depression, 'burning the midnight oil' can have serious health and brain repercussions," Dr. Williams says.
Make brain health a priority by aiming for seven to nine hours of sleep each night, as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. One of the best ways to score more sleep is to stick to a schedule, according to certified sleep science coach Chris Brantner.
"Doing so will help your body expect when it is officially bedtime, so you should have an easier time falling and staying asleep," he says.
Another tip is to make a to-do list before going to sleep. A January 2018 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that putting pen to paper before bed can help you derail worries, get better sleep and be more productive.
Brantner also suggests avoiding coffee in the afternoon or evening. "While it might make you more productive, caffeine can ruin your sleep [because] it stays in your system for about six hours," he says. He recommends sticking to one to two cups a day, ideally in the mornings, so it doesn't interfere with your sleep.
Practicing good sleep hygiene by snoozing in a quiet, dark and cool room may also help you catch more shut-eye.
Whether you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert, all humans crave sincere and meaningful relationships. The problem is that the day-to-day aspects of life can get in the way of staying in touch and spending quality time with the people we care about. That's why it's important to make the time for social activity.
According to Mendez, some health benefits of being more social may include:
- More opportunities for sharing ideas and exploring new thoughts and actions generated by exchanges with others
- It gives you a break from work or other daily stressors
- You can build camaraderie and trust with others
As a bonus, an increase in social exposure can also reduce symptoms of depression, per an older April 2009 study in the Journal of Counseling Psychology. "Consistent and daily exposure to social contact that involves conversation, storytelling, sharing of thoughts and feelings, drawing shared inferences and problem-solving promotes cognitive functioning and stimulates brain activity," adds Mendez.
When possible, try to carve out time to talk to your friends or family on a regular basis.
"Be realistic about frequency and timing to not set yourself up for failure by creating a schedule that is not doable given competing life demands," she says. "Pull away from technology, social media, television and texting and make a conscious effort to reach out and engage in face-to-face interactions such as joining a social club, gym or book club."
10. Spend Time Alone
On the flip side, perhaps you feel burnt out from constantly socializing, working with people and tending to the needs of those you live with. If this is the case, spending more time alone may be a healthy New Year's resolution for you.
Setting aside time for yourself gives you the opportunity to engage in activities that interest you. And if you'd rather use that time to relax, even a few hours of alone time every week can provide you the much-needed window to practice self-care.
Indeed, spending time alone is beneficial for your wellbeing in more ways than one. According to Michigan State University, taking time for yourself can also:
- Improve your creativity
- Help you become more self-sufficient
- Encourage self-reflection
- Give you a sense of freedom
11. Learn How to Better Manage Stress
Stress in life is inevitable. We have little to no control over the majority of stressors in our lives, but we do have a say in how we manage stress and let it affect our day-to-day life.
Too much stress is unhealthy, as it releases the hormone cortisol in our bodies that can negatively affect blood pressure and metabolism, among other things.
Try to regularly engage in mindfulness activities so you can better recognize the signs of stress in the body, Mendez says.
And the key to managing that stress is sleep and down-time, Mendez adds. "Setting limits and adding calm and pleasure time to life goes a long way in supporting stress management," she says. "Engaging in activities such as mediation, yoga or any physical activity such as biking, swimming or walking helps the body reduce cortisol levels and improves overall health."
Your strategies to relieve stress don't have to take up much time — habits like cuddling a pet or taking a deep breath can help you feel more at ease in the moment.
12. Find a Better Work-Life Balance
Whether it's an overloaded email inbox or long hours, work can be a source of stress. But setting the intention to create a better work-life balance in the new year may help you quell some of that anxiety.
This is easier said than done, though, which is why attempts to build a work-life balance are often abandoned. But denying yourself the time to decompress and enjoy life outside of your job can contribute to fatigue, stress, poor health and even conditions like substance use disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Per the Mayo Clinic, here are some tips to help you find a better balance after the holidays (or anytime, for that matter):
- Don't over-schedule yourself.
- Prioritize your responsibilities and tasks, and then say "no" to asks that aren't in line with those goals.
- Disconnect at the end of the work day — don't check your email or take calls from colleagues, for instance.
- Don't be afraid to ask for what you need, whether that's time off, flexibility with your work hours or help on a project.
13. Cut Back on Alcohol
Perhaps you enjoyed more than your usual share of alcoholic beverages during the holiday season.
It's a good idea to cut back on alcohol as the new year approaches, as drinking beyond the recommended limits per day — two drinks for people assigned male at birth and one for people assigned female at birth, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans — is dangerous to your health.
"Excess alcohol can lead to liver failure, cancer, infertility and affects work and relationships negatively," says Kristine Arthur, MD, internist at MemorialCare Medical Group in Fountain Valley, California. "If you aren't sure how much you are drinking, keep a journal for one month of every drink you have and see where you are at the end of the month. It can be eye-opening."
14. Improve Your Posture
Maintaining good posture is crucial when you exercise to help ensure good form. And it's also important in everyday life — in fact, bad posture is one of the top causes of chronic aching backs, according to Neel Anand, MD, professor of orthopedic surgery and director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center in Los Angeles.
"Good posture, with the spine aligned straight over the pelvis, helps maintain the body's natural curves, while a hunched posture can pull the muscles and add additional stress to certain areas," he says. "The upper back muscles will become overly developed and as the lower back and core muscles try to compensate, horrible back pain may ensue."
To prevent this from happening, Dr. Anand recommends looking at yourself in the mirror until you become more comfortable with the feel of good posture. Certain exercises can also be helpful, specifically ab exercises, such as planks and crunches.
"The torso is a combination of muscles that all work together, and if the muscles in the front (the abdomen) are weak, guess which ones must pick up the slack — the lower muscles at the back of the torso," he says. "Weak abdominal muscles end up diverting the extra stress around back, which leave the muscles overworked, sore and painful."
To master the perfect plank, start by lying on your stomach on the floor, place your feet shoulder width apart and come up into a position like you were going to do a push-up. "Instead of going down into the push-up, hold the plank position for about 30 seconds and then repeat three times (with a short break in between)," Dr. Anand says.
Crunches can also help enhance posture. "Start these by lying flat on the floor on your back, bend the knees at a 90 degree angle and focus on bringing your head and chest up to the ceiling," Dr. Anand says.
15. Take Care of Your Skin
Ever heard that your skin is the largest organ of your body? Well, that's true, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine. That's why taking better care of your skin is always a worthy undertaking for a healthy new year.
If you're not sure where to start, here are some skin care basics to consider, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Protect your skin from the sun by wearing sunscreen, protective clothing and staying in the shade
- Quit smoking, which can damage your skin
- Regularly wash your skin with mild cleansers, and avoid any soaps that cause irritation
- Eat a nutritious diet
- Stay hydrated
16. Practice Saying "No"
Burnout is real. But instead of spinning your wheels, prevent further exhaustion by setting this healthy New Year's resolution: Start saying "no" more often.
Not only will this provide you with more time and space to practice self-care and do the things you enjoy, but saying "no" allows you to set clear boundaries with others, whether that's your friends, family or colleagues.
- Mayo Clinic: "Water: How much should you drink every day?"
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Two apples a day lower serum cholesterol and improve cardiometabolic biomarkers in mildly hypercholesterolemic adults: a randomized, controlled, crossover trial"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Physical Activity Prevents Chronic Disease"
- British Journal of Sports Medicine: "Short and sporadic bouts in the 2018 US physical activity guidelines: is high-intensity incidental physical activity the new HIIT?"
- National Sleep Foundation: "Lack of Sleep Is Affecting Americans, Finds the National Sleep Foundation"
- National Sleep Foundation: "National Sleep Foundation Recommends New Sleep Times"
- Journal of Experimental Psychology: "The effects of bedtime writing on difficulty falling asleep: A polysomnographic study comparing to-do lists and completed activity lists."
- Journal of Counseling Psychology: "Depression and Everyday Social Activity, Belonging, and Well-Being"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans"
- University of Washington: "6 Benefits of Homemade Meals + 7 Recipes"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "A prescription for better health: Go alfresco"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)"
- Michigan State University: "Solitude enhances your social-emotional health and well-being"
- Mayo Clinic: "Work-life balance: Tips to reclaim control"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Skin layers"
- Mayo Clinic: "Skin care: 5 tips for healthy skin"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.