The New Year—a time when ambitious resolutions dance in our heads: Total body transformations, swearing off carbs, overhauling that fitness routine, “New Year, New You,” fear of failure, procrastination, postponement and … soon enough, it’s Jan. 1 again.
Well, it may be a new year, but you don’t have to be a new you. The one you are is just fine. And you don’t have to make massive changes to your daily routine when a few small, super-simple changes can have major positive results. The Remedy asked doctors and health and fitness experts across the country for the easiest things you can do to seriously improve your health.
One of the easiest and best things you can do for your health is to prioritize getting more quality sleep—seven to nine hours each night, and do it consistently. “Come up with a sleep routine and stick to it,” says Bill Fish, a certified sleep science coach and co-founder of Tuck.com. “Do your best to structure your day so that you are going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning. Our bodies crave consistency, and this will give you the best chance of waking up feeling refreshed each day.”
The Remedy Rx: Fish recommends turning your bedroom into a “sleep sanctuary.” “While the quantity of our sleep is important, they quality is often overlooked,” he says. “Charge your electronics in another room and make your room cool and as dark as possible. Invest in a white noise machine to block ambient sounds that can disrupt your sleep.”
The new year is prime time to see social-media boasts from people going on juice cleanses or fasts. Don’t join them. “Our body is naturally designed to manage its own detoxing,” says Rachel Fine, RD, CSSD, CDN, a registered dietitian with To The Pointe Nutrition in New York City. “From the liver and skin to our intestines, we are metabolically wired to naturally excrete waste that builds from both natural metabolism and from our environment. Cleanses place havoc on your metabolism with the constant cycle of under-eating and over-eating.”
The Remedy Rx: To help your body cleanse itself, eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, good fats and lean protein. Drink plenty of water daily, and limit alcohol to two drinks a day (for men) or one (for women).
That’s a walk that you take within 20 minutes after eating. “The process of digestion causes our metabolisms to speed up temporarily (the thermic effect), roughly for 20 minutes,” says David Chesworth, an ACSM-certified personal trainer and fitness director at Hilton Head Health. “Going for a leisurely walk also has a slight boost on the metabolism. Pairing up light walking with the thermic effect of food increases the metabolism by approximately 20%, leading to a slight increase in caloric burn. Over the long run, it can make a big difference.”
The Remedy Rx: The walk doesn’t have to be long—even walking for 10 minutes or around the block can have benefits. “There’s another good reason to adopt this habit—it pairs the habit of walking with the habit of eating,” says Chesworth. “Evidence suggests that when we form a new habit by pairing it with one that already exists, it’s more likely to stick.”
“Set a goal of meeting with your doctor at least once this year and ask questions,” advises Kristine Arthur, MD, an internist at MemorialCare Medical Group in Fountain Valley, California.
“Know your health history and stay up to date on preventative care.”
The Remedy Rx: Schedule that annual physical now. “If you moved or changed doctors call for your old records and bring them to your next appointment. Your new doctor will be very pleased!” says Arthur. “Check if any vaccinations are overdue (like tetanus) or if you need a Pap smear (usually every 3 years if they have been normal).”
“Also known as diaphragmatic or belly breathing, this simple task will help to alleviate stress, increase relaxation and can even lower your heart rate and blood pressure,” says Lesley Bell NASM-CPT, CES, CSC, a certified personal trainer and brain health coach at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, California. “Additionally, research has shown that deep breathing through the nose (versus the mouth) enhances cognitive function and behavior such as fear discrimination and memory retrieval.”
The Remedy Rx: You can do this one anywhere: Breathe slowly through your nose until your belly is fully distended, then breathe out. It quickly relaxes you and quells anxiety. “My favorite time to practice this is right before bed,” says Bell.
The American Heart Association recommends everyone eat two servings of fish per week: Their omega-3 fatty acids are excellent for heart health. Fish is also rich in lean protein, vitamin D and calcium.
The Remedy Rx: How to choose? Fatty fish like salmon have the most omega-3s, and light tuna is safe to eat three times a week. “Rule of thumb: if you are fearful of high levels of mercury: Don’t eat fish that require a steak knife — think swordfish, bluefin tuna, marlin and shark,” says Andrew Gruel, founder and executive chef of Slapfish. “Look for a BAP (Best Aquaculture Practices) logo when purchasing fish. If you want to have a fail-safe approach to seafood, buy frozen. When the seafood thaws it begins to develop the bacteria and histamines, but if bought frozen then you don’t risk that process.”
When cooking, “‘Low and slow’ is always better — you can ensure it’s cooked all the way through without worrying about it being overcooked,” says Gruel. The general rule: For each inch of thickness, cook for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.
“More and more studies are showing the negative side effects of using social media daily,” says Arthur. “It not only prevents us from interacting with actual humans on a day-to-day basis, it can cause anxiety and depression.”
The Remedy Rx: Separating from your phone may seem daunting, but you can do it. “Start with a small goal like putting your phone and computer aside for 30 minutes daily,” says Arthur. “Do something else that you enjoy. Make it a point for dinners with family or friends to be phone free. Most importantly, for good quality sleep, turn off all electronics at least 30 minutes before bed, and keep them at least two to three feet away from where you sleep.”
“The base of our diet should be veggies, and many of us are falling short,” says Kellie Blake, RDN, LD, IFNCP, a registered dietitian nutritionist with NutriSense Nutrition. “Vegetables contain powerful nutrients needed to maintain the health of every organ, especially the brain and gastrointestinal tract.”
The Remedy Rx: “I encourage my clients to get a jump start on their vegetable servings for the day by having a green smoothie, a big salad, a bowl of homemade vegetable soup, or leftover vegetables from last night’s dinner for breakfast,” says Blake. “They’re filling, have fiber for the gut and help keep you alert for the day ahead.”
Don’t let an overloaded work schedule or traveling make you skip workouts this year. Erika Shannon, director of fitness for MYXfitness, recommends carrying a mini resistance band with you. “It weighs basically nothing, takes up no space in a suitcase, and you can do so many exercises with it,” she says.
The Remedy Rx: Remember you can do a good workout just about anywhere. “Ultimately, it’s all about keeping yourself moving,” says Shannon. “You don’t need to just be at a gym or using a machine—whether it’s dancing at a wedding, riding a bike with your family or playing with your kids and running around, all of that movement works toward improving your health.”
“Put your weight loss goals on the back burner,” says Fine. “I know it sounds strange, but focusing on weight loss can set you up for unsustainable habits, especially if you’re considering calorie-cutting. Instead of goals, set realistic intentions.”
The Remedy Rx: Those intentions might be to move more, to cook at home more frequently instead of ordering takeout, or to get better sleep—all of which can contribute to weight loss. “Generally, goals encompass the big picture while intentions help one to create a more actionable approach to eventually reach those goals,” says Fine. “When we focus solely on the big picture—that goal—we forget about the path leading us there. In doing so, we can easily turn to quick fix options that are unsustainable.”
“An easy way to get healthier in 2020 that doesn’t include overhauling your diet or spending thousands of dollars on a new fitness regimen is to incorporate meditation into your daily routine,” says Jess Penesso, a yoga teacher in New York City and founder of the SWEAT Method. “Meditation has many benefits, all relating to bringing you back to your body and the present moment.” In fact, studies have shown regular mindfulness exercises such as meditation can reduce depression and anxiety.
The Remedy Rx: “Carve out ten minutes during your day to commit to your mental health,” says Penesso. “A daily meditation practice trains your mind to slow down and be more thoughtful with your decisions. This can help when it comes to eating—before you reach for a craving, you can take a moment to think about if you really want that. You feel the benefits of whatever workout you’re doing because you’re out of your head and in the moment.”
“Snacks should be an addition to your daily nutrient needs,” says Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN, author of The Southern Comfort Food Diabetes Cookbook. “Think of them as adding value to your overall day. If your body is asking for a snack, you should listen, even if it’s close to mealtime.”
The Remedy Rx: Feller recommends making your snacks balanced and nutrient dense. “Choosing to have a snack like one serving of almonds paired with one serving of plain yogurt is delicious,” she says. “This nutrient-rich snack will deliver fiber and heart-healthy fats that can bridge the gap between meals. Opt for a snack in its whole or minimally processed form, with names that you can recognize.” Worried about impulse snacking? On Sunday, batch-prepare snacks like single servings of almonds for the week ahead.
In 2020, “commit to engaging in genuine social interactions,” advises Mayra Mendez, PhD., LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist at Providence Saint John’s in Santa Monica, California. “Humans are social beings who perform best when engaged in meaningful and sincere relationships. Pull away from technology, social media, television, and texting and make a conscious effort to reach out and engage in face-to-face interactions.”
The Remedy Rx: “Joining a social club, a gym, a book club, taking a class, attending lectures, reading, religious associations and get-togethers with friends and family are a few examples of opportunities for social interactions and face-to-face engagement,” says Mendez. “This may be attained by adding one social activity in the month, or at whatever frequency is realistic and ensures follow-through.”
“Hold a low plank (on elbows) for 30 seconds, once a day,” says Bell. “This may not seem like a challenging task—or maybe it does—but properly strengthening your core muscles can have way more benefits than one might think.” Those include improving posture and preventing low back pain caused by weak muscles. “Additionally, it will strengthen the shoulders, quadriceps and glutes if all muscles are engaged. This will take unnecessary pressure off of the hips and decrease your risk of injury.”
The Remedy Rx: Start on all fours. Place your elbows and forearms on the ground, with your heels off the ground. Raise your hips until your back is straight. Hold the position for 30 seconds. If being on your elbows and toes feels too difficult, drop your knees as a modification.
This year, eat more brain food. “The results of a study recently published by the American Academy of Neurology indicates that following a Mediterranean diet can have positive effects on the health of our brains, especially as we age,” says Vernon Williams, MD, sports neurologist and founding director of the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine in Los Angeles.
The Remedy Rx: What’s the Mediterranean diet? Lots of fruits and vegetables, olive oil, beans and cereal grains, moderate amounts of fish, dairy products and wine and limited amounts of poultry and red meat.
“The absolute most common—and easily fixable—mistake that my clients make is simply not hydrating throughout their day,” says Bell. “Our bodies are made up of 60% water and desperately need sufficient amounts for healthy brain and kidney function, joint lubrication to avoid stiffness and injury, saliva production, ridding the body of toxins, and overall energy.”
The Remedy Rx: Bell recommends drinking 80 ounces of water daily. That’s about 10 cups or five tall glasses. “Water intake recommendations vary depending upon things like activity level, age and weight, but giving yourself a specific and achievable goal is a good place to start,” she says.
“Brief competitions playing non-serious games are increasingly a part of small group fitness programs,” says says Jim Frith, certified personal trainer and author of End the Yo-Yo; the EAMAYW® System. “Fun and games build much greater enthusiasm for returning time and again to exercise. Heart rates and exertion levels tend to be higher during the games than at any other part of the workouts. Fun as a part of sustainable exercise strategies is definitely here to stay.”
The Remedy Rx: If you dread the gym, check out the group fitness classes — you may find that calisthenics have been replaced by dodgeball or skaterobics. Try one that incorporates games or just sounds fun.
“Most Americans get about half of the fiber needed each day, so boosting fiber intake can go a long way toward overhauling your health,” says Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and advisor to Performance Kitchen. “Getting sufficient fiber can help regulate your appetite, and one study found that increasing fiber intake to 30 grams per day can help you lose weight as effectively as more complicated dietary changes.”
The Remedy Rx: “Aim to get fiber from a variety of sources, including vegetables, fruits, pulses (beans and legumes), nuts, seeds, and whole grains. If you’re not used to a fiber-full diet, ease into this amount and be sure to drink plenty of water, too.”
“Resolutions to exercise usually don’t work, because the people who make them don’t think through their schedules,” says Frith. “A general intention to exercise is not enough; it must be accompanied with a plan for how exercise will specifically fit into your life. Busy people tend to allow other things such as work or social events to have a higher priority than their own personal health or fitness.”
The Remedy Rx: Treat your scheduled workout time like you would treat a visit to a doctor or an appointment with your boss, says Frith: “Put it in your calendar, and show up every time!”
“Many resolutions can be stressful or feel like work,” says Arthur. “Pick at least one that is just for you.”
The Remedy Rx: “Maybe it’s learning a new hobby or sport, taking a class or saving enough money to go on a vacation. It can be as simple as setting aside a time every week that is just for you. As long as it is something that makes you happy and relaxes you that is what matters because in the end resolutions are meant to make us better, healthier and happier people.” And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don’t miss these Worst Things For Your Health—According to Doctors.