Most of us make New Years’ resolutions with the best intentions. We really do mean to start hitting the gym every morning or cutting out the junk food. But then life gets in the way, and before we know it we’re well into spring and not much has changed.
This year, vow to make a few changes that will actually stick. And try to find a proportionate work-life balance. I’ve listed nine simple ways to tweak your day-to-day routine that delivers mentally and physically healthy benefits without much effort at all. Try including a few of these in your New Year, and see how small changes can have big results.
1. Take a walk
Walking just 30-45 minutes a day pays off in so many ways. Rapid walking after a meal cuts the rise in blood fats, builds cardiovascular fitness, burns calories, helps fight heart disease and other illnesses, and boosts well-being. Make a daily walking appointment with a friend or family member, and you’ll be more likely to stick to it. If it’s solitude you crave, a morning or evening walk with just your thoughts for company may become a highlight of your day. Don’t have a 30-minute block of time? Break it down into two 15-minute or three 10-minute walks. You’ll still get the benefits.
2. Laugh, spend time with family and friends
Good conversation, a laugh or two or three. All good things that balance stress and anxiety levels. Take every opportunity, especially after a hectic holiday season, to laugh. It helps not only with your mood, but your immune system and stress level as well. Spending time with friends and family can offer you the perfect opportunity to giggle and forget about the pressures of life. Boost your health with laughter as your medicine.
3. Order soup
Going out for dinner? Order soup instead of a calorie-dense appetizer as a first course. Broth-based soups such as chicken, minestrone or vegetable are a smart, tasty way to take the edge off of your appetite. Plus, they help you feel fuller, so you’re less likely to overeat when the main course comes. Choose them over creamy soups, which can be high in fat and calories.
4. Eat fat – The Good Kind, That Is!
Healthy fats such as those found in olive oil, avocadoes, walnuts and salmon actually lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and help preserve your cognitive function. Extra virgin olive oil decreases inflammation in the body, which researchers also believe may help prevent disease. Bad fats: trans and saturated. These raise your risk of disease, so read labels and know which fats are friendly.
5. Exercise your brain
When you exercise a muscle, you help keep it strong and toned. The same principle applies to the brain. Mental stimulation strengthens brain function and actually helps protect against loss of memory. Research has shown that our brains grow new neurons throughout our lives and continually adapt to new stimuli. So use your brain; keep it in shape with puzzles, brain teasers and other mental stimulation.
6. Help Others
Volunteerism can take many forms. Whether you choose to help out by serving meals to the homeless or give of your time at an orphanage or nursing facility, or by building a house, the emotional rewards of giving back are voluminous. If your time is in short supply, try donating the furniture, clothing and other household items that you no longer need. And not leaving them on the curb for the weekly garbage pick-up will keep them out of our landfills!
7. Be a better baker
No need to stop making your favorite cookies or famous brownies. But do replace oil or butter in baking recipes with the equivalent amount of unsweetened applesauce or other pureed fruit. Your baked goods will be lighter, healthier and every bit as tasty—if not more so.
Unless you take a yoga class or meditate, you may not pay much attention to your breathing. Deep, focused breathing slows your heart rate, reduces stress and helps you feel calmer and more relaxed. At least once a day, stop what you are doing, close your eyes, and focus on taking 10 deep, full breaths. Inhale through your nose, feel your diaphragm expand, and exhale through your mouth.