January’s upon us, and while we don’t exactly ascribe to the “new year, new you” mentality (’cause you’re already amazing just the way you are), it’s the perfect time to take stock of which areas in our lives could use a tune-up.
With each year that goes by, I’m even more convinced that good health is key to our vitality — and is at the core of an energized, happy life.
While our diets undoubtedly play a major role in our overall health, it’s just as important to take a look at our lifestyles as a whole: stress management, relationships, and sleep are absolutely fundamental to feeling (and looking) our best.
Keep scrolling for 14 simple ideas to put into practice this year that will help you achieve your best health yet. Some of these are habits that I’ve wholly integrated into my life with great results, while others are a continual work in progress for me. But I can guarantee that if you consistently add a few of them to your routine, by the time 2021 rolls around you’ll be lighter, stronger, calmer — and squeezing every drop of goodness out of life.
Go to bed earlier.
Research over the last few years has convinced pretty much all of us that we should be getting more sleep. Logging the recommended 7 – 8 hours results in a better mood, higher productivity, lower weight, and a stronger immune system, (among other benefits.) I was fascinated with recent findings that show that the sleep we get before midnight is deeper and more restorative – a major case for turning out the lights by 10 o’clock. I’ve shared some of my struggles with insomnia here before, and here are the strategies I’ve been able to use to cure it and get to bed early.
Schedule a “technology detox” every day.
I’m sure that many of you share my desire to spend more time unplugged this year — but it’s easier said than done, right? I’ve found that in my own life, it never feels like convenient time to disconnect from technology, and it usually doesn’t happen unless I schedule it in just like I would another appointment. Lately I’ve been trying a new strategy that’s worked for me: in the mornings when I’m going over my day’s schedule, I carve out a solid hour when I’m going to totally put away my phone and be unavailable to answer emails and text messages. Not only is it restorative; it frees up a chunk of time in my day to cultivate other areas of my life, like playing with my kids, cooking, or working on my photography.
Never leave home without your water bottle.
For me, water falls into the “out of sight, out of mind category,” so I do my best to keep a bottle filled with filtered water in my car or on my desk at all times. On days where I stay hydrated throughout the day, I feel more focused and awake — and less likely to reach for that afternoon coffee. One little mental trick that’s helped me: whenever I grab my purse and my keys, I force myself to fill up my water bottle for the road even if I don’t feel thirsty at that moment. I always end up drinking it.
Try out a meditation app.
I’m not always the most consistent with meditation. I go through phases where I do it every morning, then I’ll skip a few weeks before I decide to get back on the bandwagon. But I’m 100% convinced that when I start my morning with a few minutes of mindfulness (even if its just taking 10 very slow deep breaths), I’m calmer and better equipped to focus on what’s important the rest of the day. For anyone who’s beginner level (or like me, gets easily distracted), a meditation app downloaded to your phone can be the key to starting a regular practice. I’ve used Headspace and Calm. Oh, and here are some other really great reasons why you should be meditating.
Get your digestion in order.
I know it may not sound like the sexiest topic in the world, but I’m really into gut health. Is it just me, or does being bloated and, er, irregular put you in a cranky mood? This year, let’s do something about it. For me, healthy digestion is a combination of eating veggies at every single meal, taking a magnesium supplement and a probiotic, and making sure I get some form of live active probiotics in my diet, too. Lately I’ve been experimenting with at-home pickling, and you can also get probiotics from fermented foods like some yogurts, sauerkraut and kimchi. Our expert shared some amazing tips on gut health here, including whether you might have IBS.
Keep a gratitude journal.
Taking a few minutes to write down what you’re thankful for has been shown to lower stress levels, encourage better sleep, and enhance feelings of happiness. In other words, major bang for the five minutes it takes. The key is to just start doing it regularly so that it becomes a habit. I keep a notebook and pen in my nightstand, and every evening I jot down a few things – big or small – that I’m grateful for that day. Don’t worry about good handwriting or complete sentences; the simple act of writing will naturally encourage reflection. And if you’re still not convinced, find out why this might be the one habit that’ll make you more joyful.
Be laid-back (but consistent!) with exercise.
I’m not going to tell you that you should be getting some exercise, because… duh. But this year, I want to encourage you to find a way to move your body that makes you happy and doesn’t feel like a chore. Stop killing yourself at the gym and take a fun dance class, go for a hike, walk or bike to work, invite a friend to a chill yoga session. Just move your body and have fun doing it. Frequently.
Cut back on your sugar intake.
If there’s one piece of nutritional advice we can all agree on, it’s probably that we should be consuming less sugar. Improve your health and lose those holiday pounds by making these simple anti-sugar tweaks to your diet.
Eat your greens every damn day.
If there’s one dietary change that’s given me more energy, glowing skin, and healthy digestion, it’s this one. I’m a huge believer in eating some form of greens (any type of lettuce, kale, brussels sprouts, spinach, broccoli, you get the picture) at almost every single meal. It may sound extreme to some of you, but I promise that once you start, you’ll be hooked! Eat a big salad for lunch, sauté some spinach with olive oil and garlic at dinner, and for breakfast? There’s no quicker way to get your greens on than by throwing a handful of raw or frozen spinach into the blender along with the other ingredients.
Stretch your bod every day.
Stretching is one of those things that often gets pushed to the bottom of our priority lists, but it really makes a huge difference in both how your body feels, as well as how long and lean your muscles appear. If you have time to Netflix, you have time to stretch. I make it a habit to dedicate the first 5 minutes while I’m watching any show to getting down on the floor and running through a few stretches that have made me way more flexible – and help me sleep better, too.
Pack your lunch.
Yes, you CAN pack a healthy and delicious lunch in less time than you can pickup something from the fast food window. My go-to weekday salad is usually veggies that I prepped when I got home from the store, leftover cooked chicken or boiled egg or avocado, something crunchy like nuts or seeds, and a homemade dressing that I made for dinner over the weekend. Here are 11 recipes to get you started.
Schedule a date with someone you care about every week.
When schedules are packed and things get really busy, cultivating our friendships (and family relationships) can get pushed to the bottom of our priority lists. But it’s during these stressful times that we actually need the support and positivity of these relationships most. Plus, did you know that having close relationships increases your life span at a rate equal to that of quitting smoking? Friendships have to be fed to stay healthy, so at the beginning of each week I take a look at my schedule and make sure I’m carving out time for a lunch, workout, or phone call with people I care about.
Practice the 80/20 rule.
This is one of my personal goals for this year, since I generally eat a really healthy diet but often end up feeling uncomfortably full at the end of the day. I’m working on practicing the Japanese tradition of hara hachi bu, meaning: Eat until you are 80 percent full. This will involve making a conscious effort to eat slowly, put your fork down between bites and check-in with yourself to see if you’re still hungry.
Take a 5-minute breath break.
Only since I started meditating have I fully appreciated the benefits of breathing. It may sound simple, but taking a 5-minute break in the middle of the day to close your eyes and focus on your breath is a total game-changer. It’s a quick practice that will improve your mood, reduce stress, and focus your energy where you need it to be. Try setting an alarm on your phone a few times throughout the day to remind you of this mini-break.