By Beth Lipton
A new year is a powerful moment, a time to hit of the restart button, and to make big, sweeping resolutions that will magically transform our lives. And yet, studies consistently show that resolutions don’t work. By February, they are all but forgotten — or worse, they cast a shadow of failure, causing us to feel worse than if we had never made any to begin with. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to have a healthier 2021. We can harness the power of the new year and direct our desire for renewal into smaller, more incremental changes. Over time, those tiny changes can really add up, and before you know it, you’ve reached that greater goal, and in a way that’s actually sustainable.
Here are 25 tiny changes you can start to make today that can have a big impact on your wellbeing in 2021 and beyond.
1. Add a new vegetable to your plate.
Try something new at the grocery store (kohlrabi, anyone?) or farmers market. Or toss something green on your plate when you wouldn’t normally — say, a salad instead of toast with your scrambled eggs. Whip up a this creamy squash dip and dunk vegetables in it for a snack.
2. Try a meal kit service.
Meal planning is a common resolution, but after a week or two, we often lose steam. Home Chef offers a fantastic solution for meal-planning fatigue with chef-created recipes and pre-portioned ingredients delivered straight to your door. Whether you want a week’s worth of meal-size salads, lighter comfort food, or anything in between, you can customize their plans to your taste and eating style. Right now, Home Chef is offering $90 off your first month of meal kit deliveries. This once a year offer ends in January and this is the perfect time to invest in your health, your finances, and the environment.
3. Take a deep breath.
Slowing and deepening your breathing is proven to help in moments of extreme stress, but it also can improve your health in other ways. It can lower blood pressure, increase lung endurance, improve immunity, and boost your mood. There are many methods for deep breathing, but here’s one that’s simple to remember, which you can employ any time.
Pro tip: Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to take some deep breaths a few times a day.
4. Say something nice.
The “helper’s high” is well-documented: Acts of kindness can reduce stress and anxiety, diminish pain, lower blood pressure, and boost both your mood and the recipient’s. A gesture as small as paying someone a genuine compliment counts.
5. Get some daylight in the morning.
Light is the signal to our brains that it’s time to wake up and be alert. Getting daylight into your eyes first thing helps set your circadian rhythm, making you more alert during the day and better able to sleep at night. Step outside first thing in the morning if you can, or just stand by a window. If you wake up before the sun, turn on a bright light.
6. Hydrate first thing.
So many of us reach for coffee first thing, but having a glass of water upon waking is a better idea. We’re dehydrated after all those hours of sleep, and water can help wake us up, get the blood flowing, dilute stomach acid, and more.
7. Take a walk after dinner.
Resist the urge to sink into the couch after dinner. Instead, take a walk. Even 10 minutes makes a difference. Walking after eating helps regulate blood sugar regulation and can boost your energy. Plus, short bursts of exercise throughout the day add up, so even if you don’t have time for a workout, those bits of walking count.
8. Be grateful.
Something you can do in 2 minutes that has the potential to make you happier, more likely to help others, and more satisfied with your life? Yes, please. It’s as simple as taking the time to be grateful. Write down 3 things you feel grateful for once a day, or make gratitude a topic of conversation at the dinner table.
9. Read for fun.
Take a break from work and Netflix and curl up with a good book. Reading for pleasure is correlated with everything from better sleep and reduced anxiety to improved creativity and increased empathy. If you’re having trouble focusing on books right now, put some headphones on and listen to an audiobook while you take a walk.
10. Call a friend.
Human beings need connection. Socializing can help stave off loneliness, keep your memory sharp, boost cognitive skills, and give you an overall sense of wellbeing. While in-person contact is difficult right now, get your dose of connection by calling a friend or loved one. Make regular dates with friends to keep everyone feeling better on the regular.
11. Pet a pet.
Whether you got a pandemic puppy or not, even just 10 minutes of interaction with a pet can reduce stress. If you have to walk the dog, that’s a few times a day that you’re getting some activity and fresh air, too. If you don’t have one of your own, offer to help out a friend or neighbor and walk theirs.
12. Take a bath.
Taking a bath is one of the most pleasurable forms of self-care. Bonus points for adding epsom salts to the water; they contain magnesium, which can help with everything from headaches and menstrual cramps to muscle soreness and constipation.
13. Eat some gut-friendly foods.
Gut health has gotten a lot of press in recent years, and for good reason. A healthy microbiome is linked with improved immunity, metabolism, mood, and sleep, as well as disease prevention and more. To get your gut in fighting shape, enjoy fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and miso.
14. Meditate for a minute.
People have been meditating for thousands of years, and no wonder: It can lower blood pressure, reduce stress and anxiety, help with focus and concentration, and so much more. Even just one minute can help, though making time for 10 to 15 minutes is even better.
15. Do a set of two.
If getting stronger is one of your goals, commit to doing a set of two of something each day: two pushups, or sit-ups, or squats. You may do more, but you don’t have to. According to Stanford behavior scientist Dr. BJ Fogg, author of Tiny Habits, committing to something small means you’ll keep it up even when your motivation wanes, and that’s what helps you maintain it over time.
16. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier.
Bedtime procrastination, i.e. staying up late when we know we need to get to bed, is a common problem. Rather than trying to convince yourself to get into bed hours earlier, make it just 15 minutes. When that time becomes your new normal, move it up 15 minutes again. The goal is to have a regular bedtime that will net you the optimal 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. This gradual change can get you there.
17. Clean up your beauty routine.
Just as you read food labels, you should be doing the same with your beauty products. Look for brands and products with ingredients you recognize, or use an app like Think Dirty, which lets you scan products with your phone and gives you ratings, as well as suggestions for cleaner options where applicable.
18. Season your food.
Herbs and spices make food taste better, which is reason enough to use them, but they also bring numerous health benefits. Some reduce inflammation, some boost heart health, others fight cancer, but rather than trying to tease out which ones play which role, use a wide variety for maximum benefits. If you’re not sure where to start, buy some seasoning blends, such as Italian seasoning, herbs de Provence, curry powder (yep, it’s a blend) and za’atar.
19. Have a mocktail.
Many of us found ourselves drinking more during the pandemic. No judgment here — but know that cutting back can help you sleep better, improve your mood, boost your energy and focus, and improve your long-term health. Try instituting drink-free days (start with just one a week), incorporating lower-alcohol drinks or mocktails during your normal drinking times, and using leftover wine in recipes instead of sipping it.
20. Break out the cast iron skillet.
One of the easiest ways to boost your health without even trying is by using your cast iron skillet. Simply cooking some of your regular meals in it instead of another pan can add a significant amount of iron to your food. Lack of iron causes anemia, which can lead to fatigue, feeling cold, headaches and more.
21. Laugh every day.
Aside from being fun and making life more enjoyable, laughter has real health benefits. It increases your oxygen intake, which helps your heart, lungs, and muscles, and causes a release of feel-good endorphins. Long-term, regular laughter can help boost immunity, relieve pain, and soothe depression and anxiety. Find shows or podcasts that make you laugh, or better yet, call or FaceTime a funny friend.
22. Set up your “sleep cave.”
Getting consistent sleep is one of the most important things you can do for good health. To get a good night’s rest, make your bedroom an optimal environment. Set the thermostat to between 60 and 71ºF, use blackout shades to make it as dark as possible, and make sure it’s quiet (or use a white noise machine if it’s noisy in your bedroom or sounds are unpredictable).
23. Change your focus.
Eye strain is no joke, and many of us stare at screens for long stretches with no break. To avoid the blurry vision, sore or burning eyes, headaches and other symptoms of strain, try to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. Set an alarm on your phone at first, until it becomes a habit.
24. Day dream.
How often do we all reach for our phones when we’re bored, waiting in line, or other idle moments? Just once a day, when you notice yourself reaching for your phone, stop for 1 minute (or longer) and let your mind wander instead. Giving your brain some time off to just go where it wants can help boost creativity.
25. Clean out your bag.
When’s the last time you cleaned out your bag? (Yeah, we can’t remember either.) But having a heavy purse, aside from making it difficult to find things, can cause back and neck strain, sore muscles, poor posture, and more. Go through your bag and get rid of anything that isn’t absolutely essential. Ultimately, it shouldn’t weigh more than 10 percent of your body weight. And when you carry it, switch sides often.