Out with the old, in with the new. It’s a new year, so why not start fresh with some healthy habits?
Here are seven easy habits you can create to improve your overall health. They’re all fairly simple and shouldn’t take much time out of your schedule. And, hey, you may already be doing some of them!
A glass of OJ in the morning may seem like a good idea, but it’s not the best way to get your fruit in for the day. “It takes six to eight oranges to make a glass of orange juice,” said Sophia Yen, MD, MPH, cofounder and CEO of Pandia Health and a member of HealthyWomen’s Women’s Health Advisory Council (WHAC). “You’re just mainlining sugar straight into your blood. If you eat the orange instead, you get less sugar and you’re getting the fiber and the satiation.”
Being grateful isn’t just good for your character — it’s good for your health. Studies have shown that practicing gratitude daily can improve sleep, mood and immunity. Feeling thankful can also decrease depression, anxiety, difficulties with chronic pain and risk of disease. You don’t have to alter your life much to begin practicing gratitude. You can begin by incorporating a gratitude mindfulness practice into your morning, or by simply thinking of what you’re grateful for each day. You can take it a step farther and spread joy by sending thank you texts to friends and family every evening to close out your day.
Because our circadian rhythms, metabolism and nutrition are closely linked, research shows that eating food at the same times every day helps our systems sync up, leading to a more rested, nourished and balanced system.
“Do your best to eat your meals at the same time every day. Our bodies love schedule and regularity,” Yen said.
Even just a short 10- to 20-minute walk after a large meal has health benefits. It can help you feel fuller, reduce heartburn and acid reflux, and help control blood sugar. “Walking after a meal aids in digestion by speeding up the time it takes food to travel to the small intestine,” said Isa Kujawski, MPH, RDN, a functional mind-body nutritionist and the author of “The Book of Korean Self-Care.”
The mental health benefits of journaling are vast. Research has shown that journaling can not only help reduce stress and anxiety, and help you cope with depression but it can also help you prioritize problems so you can tackle challenges better.
Angela Ficken, a psychotherapist, recommends keeping a journal handy to keep track of your successes and mistakes so you can get yourself back on track.
“Seeing where you’re successful or not can help you process your thoughts and emotions faster than having them stew in your mind, and it allows you to see that even when you’re going through a hard time, you do have successes and small wins,” Ficken said. “Journaling can be a wonderful strategy for our general mental well-being, and when practiced consistently, it can accelerate your progress in fighting stressors.”
“I think one of the keys to good mental health is mindfulness, or simply, practicing being in the moment,” said Susan Whitman, MS, PA-C, NBC-HWC, a faculty member at the integrative health and wellness program at the University of Vermont. She recommends mindfulness as a daily habit. “Choose an activity a day that you will do ‘mindfully.’ It doesn’t have to be long, but you need to work to do only this one thing and give your full attention to it.”
Sure, you can break out the yoga mat and do a full meditation session, but you can even practice mindfulness while brushing your teeth.
“While you are brushing your teeth, bring all your energy and attention to the act,” Whitman said. “Smell the toothpaste. Feel the bristles against your teeth and gums. Notice how your hand is moving. Watch your movements in the mirror. Hear the sounds it makes. Notice the thoughts that come into your mind, any judgments, and let them go, bringing your attention back to all the sensations of the moment.”
“Determine what rewards are meaningful to you and use them to connect positive behaviors to your desired outcomes,” Ficken said. “It’s not just for kids — rewarding yourself can be a great way to help you develop positive habits and keep them.”
Rewarding yourself doesn’t have to look like overindulgence. It can just be self-care. Start that new book you’ve been wanting to read, enjoy a bubble bath or spend some time just doing nothing at all.