25 Easy Ways to Be Healthier Than Ever in the New Year
Make 2018 your healthiest year with these simple health hacks.
Homemade meals tend to be healthier than take-out because you know what’s in them, plus you’re not tempted to order something deliciously unhealthy that catches your eye. You can ensure you get the protein, fiber, and nutrient-rich veggies your body needs to run and can limit your fat, sugar, and salt intake, all of which put you at greater risk for obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. If you’re short on time, invest in a Crockpot slow cooker for effortless one-pot meals—by the time you get home from work, dinner is ready. (Bet you didn’t know you could make these dinnertime favorites in a slow cooker!)
Don’t get hung up on resolutions
“January is the time of year when people are creating resolutions for the new year. This can be great for mental health, but it’s important that they’re reasonable and doable so you can see results and are likelier to succeed,” says Stacy Kaiser, a New York City-based psychotherapist and editor-at-large of Live Happy. “Don’t make a resolution to lose 30 pounds—instead, say you’ll exercise more and eat better.”
Schedule all your medical appointments at once
Make a list of all your doctor and dental appointments at the beginning of the year, then schedule them right away. “This way they are on your calendar and it sets the intention that taking care of your health is a priority,” says Josie Znidarsic, DO, a family medicine physician at the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute in Cleveland, Ohio. “Otherwise, it gets easy to postpone appointments.” Find out the secrets to getting the most out of your doctor’s appointment.
Create a sleep sanctuary
Snooze better by revamping your bedroom. Make sure it’s cool, quiet, and dark. Ban electronics (yes, even TV!) about 30 minutes before bed; the blue light emitted can cause insomnia by reducing the amount of sleep hormone melatonin your body produces. Add a few drops of lavender essential oil to a diffuser; studies show this scent promotes relaxation. And consider implementing a calming ritual, such as yoga or meditation, to help your body and mind wind down, says Raj Dasgupta, MD, a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. (Don’t make these other sleeping mistakes.)
Boost oral hygiene
There’s more to a healthy mouth than brushing and flossing each day. Be sure your toothpaste doesn’t contain the ingredient triclosan—it’s an antibacterial ingredient that was recently banned from all over-the-counter antiseptic soaps, gels, and wipes in the U.S. because of its potential to disrupt hormones, but it’s still allowed to appear in some kinds of toothpaste. And don’t forget to replace your toothbrush, too. Researchers found that brushes accumulated significant amounts of triclosan and continuously released it, even when a triclosan-free paste was used for brushing, opening brushers up to prolonged exposure. The American Dental Association recommends replacing a toothbrush every three to four months, regardless; when the bristles become frayed, their cleaning effectiveness decreases. And make sure to avoid these common toothbrushing mistakes.
“We often get so busy that we lose sight of our emotional well-being, which can lead to stress or negativity. Commit to doing a daily emotional check-in with yourself,” says Kaiser. Choose a time—when you wake up, midday, or right before bed—and focus on how you feel, even if it’s sad or angry. “Once you have assessed how you’re feeling, think of something that makes you happy to shift your mood to a more positive place,” she says.
“With healthy meals ready to go, you may be less likely to end up with fast food or other unhealthy options, which are more attractive when you’re hungry and pressed for time,” says Marisa Moore, RD, in Atlanta. Plan out a few balanced meals (lean protein, whole grains, and plenty of fruits and veggies) and prepare all the ingredients on the weekend; you can either cook them right then or store each ingredient separately (chopped and ready to cook). To keep food fresh longer, try a vacuum sealing system such as FoodSaver, an affordable option that’s easy to use. (Check out these other meal prep tips.)
Make over your digital habits
Disconnecting from your smartphone or laptop not only allows you to connect more with those around you, it can also prevent uncomfortable side effects of staring at a screen, such as blurred vision, headaches, neck pain, or irritated eyes. Limit social media use to one hour a day, resist checking e-mail after hours, or designate one night a week as a “no phone zone.”
Acknowledge if you’re “SAD”
If you feel down during winter, you’re not alone—many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that comes and goes with the season and is diagnosed in women four times more frequently than men. Symptoms include low energy, weight gain, craving carbohydrates, and depression or social withdrawal (These are other silent signs of SAD.), but there may be an answer: light therapy. Sitting in front of a light box, such as the Verilux HAPPYLIGHT, exposes you to bright light that mimics sunlight (without the UV rays) and may relieve some of your symptoms, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Commit to exercise
Getting the recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity per week doesn’t mean you have to spend hours in the gym. “You can spread this out over the whole week or do a few days of longer activity,” says Dr. Znidarsic. “It can be walking in your neighborhood or even at the store. Dance in your living room or enlist a friend to try a new class with you. Exercise is good for both your mood and physical well being.”
Drink more water
Dehydration can wreak havoc on everything from your skin to your waistline to your mind. (These are sneaky ways you might be making yourself dehydrated.) Reach for H20 whenever possible—add fresh fruit or herbs to make it more palatable—and cut out sugary beverages and limit caffeine, says Dr. Znidarsic.
“Laugh and think of something you’re grateful for that brings you joy. This can lower stress and boost motivation,” says Dr. Znidarsic. Find out even more benefits of gratitude.
Commit to sunscreen
“Everyone should wear sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher on their face every day, even during winter,” says Shilpi Khetarpal, MD, at Cleveland Clinic. Apply at least 30 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours. Look for sunscreen with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide on the label, as these offer the best protection from UV rays. Be sure to avoid these other common sunscreen mistakes.
Swap out your cleaning supplies, toiletries, and cosmetics for all-natural varieties that are free from toxins. Run your ingredient labels through the National Library of Medicine’s TOXNET database to identify which items to chuck. Or, download the Think Dirty app; scan barcodes of products you’re interested in buying and it’ll tell you whether they include ingredients that carry potential health risks.
Wash your hands more often
Don’t be one of the 10 percent of Americans who don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, according to a Michigan State University study, which also found only 5 percent of people wash their hands long enough to kill infection-causing germs. Scrub your hands with soap and water for the recommended 20 seconds after using the bathroom, being in public, or completing any other dirty task. (Don’t make these other hand-washing mistakes.)
Make natural air fresheners
Research shows that many commercial air fresheners—candles, plug-ins, incense—contain toxic ingredients that are endocrine disrupters. Opt for a few drops of essential oil in a water diffuser, open the windows, or make one of these easy homemade air fresheners.
“Research shows regular meditation can have powerful benefits,” says Dr. Znidarsic. It may help reduce stress and blood pressure, as well as keep the mind sharp. If you’re new to the practice, start with guided meditation videos, available online or via smartphone apps. “These are very helpful, especially if this seems way out of your comfort zone,” she says. Start with these mini meditations to ease stress and anxiety.
Go barefoot indoors
Studies have found that the soles of shoes harbor high levels of infection-causing bacteria, including C.Diff, a difficult-to-treat strain that causes diarrhea and other GI symptoms. Avoid tracking germs inside by removing your footwear before entering the house; keep them organized by implementing a shoe rack or mat right inside the entryway. These are other sneaky ways your house could make you sick.
Abide by the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) “Dirty Dozen” list to discover which fruits and vegetables are highest in pesticides, then buy those organic. Find out these other facts you didn’t know about organic food.
Test your water
Do you know what’s in your tap water? You should, especially if you don’t use a water filter—certain contaminants can increase your risk of cancer, brain or nervous system damage, fertility problems, or hormone disruption. Plug your zip code into the EWG’s Tap Water Database and it tells you what contaminants are present and what health risks they pose, based on millions of state water records. If your H20 comes up dirty, the site helps you choose the best way to filter it.
Instead of zoning out in front of Jeopardy while you munch, eat at the kitchen or dining room table. Studies have shown that distracted eating—such as in front of the television—leads to overeating, which can cause weight gain. Here are family dinner conversation starters to get the whole gang talking.
Learn something new
Seek out a new experience or skill: learning or experiencing something new promotes neuroplasticity, meaning your brain creates new synapses and neural pathways that enhance brain health and may help stave off Alzheimer’s disease.
Store fruit in a bowl on the counter or mixed unsalted nuts in a glass jar or canister—it’ll remind you to reach for those fiber- and protein-filled options instead of rummaging in the cupboard for cookies or crackers. “They will nourish the body and you’ll feel more satisfied,” says Moore. Even better, resist the urge to stock up on unhealthy items like chips or candy; not only are they high in calories, fat, sugar, and salt, they also often contain preservatives and other additives that can wreak havoc on your body over time. These are silent signs you might be eating too many preservatives.
The rules of drinking are no longer so clear—binge drinking is obviously harmful to your health, but you don’t necessarily have to abstain completely, according to the Mayo Clinic, which states moderate alcohol consumption (up to one drink a day for women and two for men) may actually reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Choose resveratrol-rich red wine, a polyphenol that acts like an antioxidant; light beer, which is typically lower in calories; and swap out sugary cocktail mixers for club soda or zero calorie options like Sparkling Ice, naturally flavored sparkling waters, iced teas, or lemonades. These are other ways to make skinnier cocktails.
You don’t have to deny your sweet tooth altogether. Instead of ice cream or cookies, nibble on a square of dark chocolate, which is filled with antioxidants that may protect against cancer, heart disease, and cognitive decay. Or savor a few frozen berries or grapes. “They’re a flavorful and nutritious answer and in the time it takes to finish them, the craving for dessert may pass,” says Moore. Learn more about the many health benefits of chocolate.