When it comes to health-conscious lifestyle changes, many of us make overly ambitious resolutions at New Year’s, only to abandon them by Valentine’s Day.
“It’s a common mistake,” says Debi Pillarella, a fitness program director in Munster, Ind. (pop. 21,511), and spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise. “It’s actually better to start small and feel successful than set your goals too high and feel like a failure.”
Even little changes can make a big difference if kept up for the long haul. These simple resolutions are easy to stick with all year long.
Start each day with a stretch
“A morning stretch wakes up your body in a relaxed way,” Pillarella says. “It brings oxygen and blood flow to your muscles, and it also helps relieve any joint stiffness.”
Take a walk instead of a coffee break
During your morning work break, walk up and down the stairs and hallways or around the outside of the building. Being physically active for as little as 10 minutes at a time contributes to better cardiovascular fitness. Plus, “it increases blood flow to your brain, so you’ll return to work with a fresh outlook,” Pillarella says.
Read a joke each day
A joke a day helps keep the therapist away, says Elizabeth Lombardo, psychologist, physical therapist and author of A Happy You. “When you’re stressed out, problems seem unmanageable,” she says. “Humor helps you see things in a different light, and problems roll off your back more easily.” Studies show that laughter also may reduce stress hormone levels and decrease sensitivity to pain.
Choose apple slices instead of chips
A sliced apple is a healthier option than chips or french fries on days when you have to eat lunch on the run, says Angela Ginn, a dietitian and diabetes educator in Baltimore, Md., and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. “Choosing the apple decreases your calorie intake,” Ginn says. “It also gives you more soluble fiber”—the kind that helps lower blood glucose and cholesterol.
Practice deep breathing
Twice a day, take five deep breaths to help keep stress at bay. To do this correctly, Lombardo says, “Place a hand on your abdomen about two fingers above your belly button. In a seated position, your hand should move out when you inhale and in when you exhale.” Breathe slowly, about four beats for each inhalation and another four for each exhalation.
Replace one sweetened drink a day
Sugar-sweetened beverages—such as sodas, juice drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, vitamin waters and sweetened teas—add calories to your diet and contribute to weight gain. They also promote tooth decay. “Replace them with drinks that have five calories or less per serving,” Ginn says. Possibilities include water, diet drinks, light lemonades and unsweetened herbal teas. Start by replacing one sugary drink per day, then gradually replace the others.
“A few times a week, call a friend to talk about what’s going on in each of your lives,” Lombardo suggests. “It doesn’t have to be a long conversation, but it does need to be meaningful.” The exchange can be about anything from discussing personal problems to bonding over sports scores. Research shows that people with strong social ties tend to be less stressed and have healthier habits, such as exercising more and not abusing alcohol.
Floss well every night
Flossing daily not only helps prevent gum disease, but also may help protect your heart. “The current theory is that bacteria in infected gums can come loose and enter your bloodstream,” says Dr. Raymond Martin, a dentist in Mansfield, Mass. (pop. 22,414), and spokesman for the Academy of General Dentistry. The bacteria may then irritate your arteries, contributing to the buildup of fatty deposits.
Set an electronic curfew
“An hour before lights out, stop texting and using the Internet,” says Michael Breus, psychologist, sleep expert and author of Beauty Sleep. “Studies suggest that these activities right before bed can affect your ability to fall and stay asleep.” Better choices for pre-bed activities include a hot bath, meditating or some light reading.