Happy 2018! If you’re like millions of other Americans, you’ve made New Year’s resolutions, some of them likely health-related. Maybe you want to drink more water each day, go to the gym more often, or start meditating―all great goals!
Forming good habits takes discipline and conscious effort over a period of time – somewhere between three weeks and two months. So, stick to your resolutions and their automaticity will grow stronger and stronger over time.
As you’re forming good habits, we thought we’d suggest a few small changes that can be extremely beneficial over time and help keep you healthier throughout 2018:
- 1. Go to sleep 15 minutes earlier. How hard can that be? Set an alarm to remind yourself to go to bed if you must, because 15 additional minutes of sleep each night adds up. Consider taking it to the next level by moving your bedtime ahead in 15-minute increments until you wake up naturally before your alarm, feeling refreshed. The benefits of 7 to 9 hours of undisturbed sleep per night are critical to overall health―including improved mental function, lower blood pressure, lower risk of stroke or heart attack, and improved hormonal balance that impacts health and mood.
- 2. Floss daily. It’s not just your teeth that will thank you. Flossing helps rid your body of the bacteria that cause periodontal disease. If left unchecked, that bacteria can―and will―travel to other areas of your body and wreak havoc. People who are missing teeth have a higher incidence of heart disease, for example. And remember: you only need to floss the teeth you want to keep!
- 3. Chew food more slowly; eat mindfully. Have you ever been so hungry that you wolfed your food down too quickly, barely tasting it at all? This resolution will prevent that outcome. Eating can be a great pleasure; slowing down to enjoy it enhances the experience. Remember to chew your food thoroughly: 5 to 10 times for soft foods and fruits, and up to 30 times for dense foods such as vegetables and meats. The benefits are multiple: it will take you longer to eat, giving your body the opportunity to feel full on less food; it helps your body’s digestive tract absorb the maximum nutrients from each bite; and will help minimize digestive issues such as gas or bloating.
- 4. Wear your seatbelt. It’s hard to believe (especially with late-model cars that warn if you’re not buckled in) but we’re not yet 100% compliant in wearing our seatbelts. In 2016, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that seatbelt use reached 90%, but that leaves one in 10 people who aren’t safely buckled in when operating or riding in a car or truck. With the steady rise in seatbelt usage since 2000, the number of unrestrained passenger deaths has steadily declined. All the more reason to buckle up!
- 5. Eat more veggies. Yes, we should all probably be eating a lot more veggies, but here’s a good start toward that goal: eat something green every day. Enjoy a breakfast salad – by serving your eggs over a delicious bed of spinach or arugula. Bonus for adding avocado! At lunch, choose broccoli as your side, enjoy lettuce on your sandwich, or dip sliced zucchini or celery into hummus. Dinner is easy: choose a side salad, Brussels sprouts or kale. When it comes to filling your plate, more green is better.
- 6. Make smart food swaps. Small decisions can make a big impact on your health. Try these healthful food swaps.
- Breakfast: Abandon granola for oatmeal. A half-cup serving of steel-cut oats has about 150 calories, while the same serving of granola has 200 calories, twice the fat and 13 times the sugar—and that’s before adding milk.
- Lunch: Opt for a whole-wheat bun instead of white. The calories are about the same, but the whole wheat option has extra protein and fiber, filling you up for longer.
- Dinner: Substitute spaghetti squash for pasta. It’s a low-calorie, high-fiber swap that may save you up to 200 calories and adds folate, magnesium and Vitamin C to your diet.
- On the side: Instead of mashed potatoes, try mashed cauliflower. The caloric difference is huge: 116 calories per cup vs. 27 calories per cup. Plus, you’ll gain a day’s serving of Vitamin C—and it’s delicious!
- 7. Exercise for 20 minutes per day. While the benchmark is 10,000 steps per day, that’s not always realistic. By getting at least 20 minutes per day of physical activity, you’ll still improve your cardiovascular health, lower stress and reduce your risk of dying young. And you don’t have to get all 20 minutes at once: go for a 10-minute walk around your office building at lunch, then walk up and down the stairs during two 5-minute breaks in the afternoon. Take advantage of every opportunity to move!
- 8. Be kind and grateful. Kindness and gratitude are shown to increase happiness and improve overall health. There’s even evidence that practicing these two positive mental attitudes can help you live longer. So go ahead and give someone an unexpected compliment, pay for the person behind you at Starbucks or start a gratitude journal by writing down three things you’re thankful for each morning. Here’s the best part: modeling these behaviors for others—including your kids—makes them more likely to be kind and grateful. You could single-handedly start a positive revolution in your corner of the world. It’s a great way to start this new journey around the sun!