When you think of resolutions, the popular ones probably come to mind: exercising more, losing weight, and eating healthier.
If you’re looking for additional ways to improve your health in the new year, there’s no shortage of steps you can take. We talked with Dr. Cynthia Fisher, a Family Medicine Physician with ThedaCare Physicians-Oshkosh, about habits that can improve your health — and help you feel better.
1. Prioritize sleep
The benefits of getting consistent and quality sleep are clear. Good sleep improves brain performance, mood, and health, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Conversely, poor sleep increases the risk for many diseases and conditions including heart disease, stroke, obesity, and dementia. In other words, consider this your permission to make sleep sacred.
“Adults should have at least seven hours of sleep per night,” Dr. Fisher says. “People may not realize that they should be going to bed and rising at the same time each day — even on weekends. Maintaining a consistent schedule helps reinforce your body’s sleep-wake cycle.”
Also consider these smart sleep strategies:
- Create a restful sleep environment. Make sure your space is dark, cool, and quiet.
- Be careful about what you consume before bed. Alcohol, heavy foods, and caffeine can impact the quality of your sleep.
- Limit naps. If you do snooze during the day, keep it brief. Avoid napping late in the day.
- Incorporate physical activity in your day — but not soon before bedtime.
2. Sit less
Sitting for extended periods of time is linked to obesity, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, and unhealthy cholesterol levels. It can also put you at risk for cardiac disease and certain types of cancer.
“Remember, before we were virtual, we had time to walk between meetings. Same thing with kids in school. They had time to get up and move. You should be moving for at least three minutes for every 30 to 60 that you’re sitting,” Dr. Fisher says.
That can include walking around a bit or doing some simple stretches. You can also consider investing in a standing desk or simply working at a countertop for periods of time.
3. Say hello to hydration
While you’re taking a break from sitting, get up and refill your water bottle.
“Water decreases fatiguability, increases energy, and helps keep you regular,” Dr. Fisher says. “And for the teens and tweens who are into all the skincare products right now, drinking water helps improve your complexion.”
4. Rethink alcohol
As you pick up your water glass, consider setting down your glass of beer, wine, or spirits more often.
Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that men should have no more than two drinks per day and women should have no more than one. Drinking no alcohol, however, is best.
“Alcohol has been linked to seven different preventable cancers,” Dr. Fisher says. “Furthermore, researchers found that the problem is with the alcohol in the beverage, not the beverage itself. So yes, limiting alcohol in the new year is a great goal.
If you’re interested in dabbling with reducing your alcohol intake, Dry January may help you get started.
5. Mind your mental health
Mental and physical health are intertwined. Mental health can worsen physical health problems, and vice versa. Thus, it’s just as important to prioritize your mental health as your physical health.
“Take a pulse check on yourself. How are you feeling? What are your limitations?” Dr. Fisher says. “Take time out for yourself, and if you need help, ask.”
Also consider getting outdoors, as it can boost your mood and encourage physical activity. That, in turn, is likely to make you feel better. While you’re at it, take breaks from technology, and avoid “doom scrolling.”
6. Keep your mind active
Maintaining an active mind helps protect against memory problems and ward off depression and anxiety. Activities such as puzzles, word games, reading, and socializing can keep your brain engaged.
“Learn something new every day,” Dr. Fisher says. “This is your personal recommendation that you can get a new hobby this year.”
So, if you’ve been contemplating learning a new language, trying your hand at pottery, or taking a cake-decorating class, get to it!
As you embrace healthy new habits, remember that it’s about progress, not perfection. You don’t have to do everything at once, but setting intentions can be a powerful way to start to make lasting change.
Here’s to your health in the new year!