Have a Happy, Healthy New Year: 6 Steps to Put Yourself on a Positive Path in 2019.
Story and photos by Nicci Micco
Eat better. Exercise more. Go to bed earlier.
If you vowed to get healthier once January rolled around, it’s probably not the first time. This year, set yourself up for success by aligning your aims with what truly motivates you, choosing what feels good and celebrating your victories, big and small. Here’s how.
Create a mission statement
Taking stock of our values, goals and personal strengths can help us prioritize time and energy in healthy ways. Grab a pen and some paper and get down a game plan. Try this:
- List what matters most to you. Perhaps it’s family and friends. Your health. Serving others. Feeling brave. Having fun.
- Write down your number-one get-healthier goal. Want to exercise more often? Why? For more energy? To keep up with children? Dig deeper to get at the heart of what you really want.
- Name three of your top qualities — superpowers that will help you reach your goal.
- Create a mission statement with this formula: “I will use my [superpower 1] + [superpower 2] + [superpower 3] to [goal].” For example: “I will use my creativity, sense of adventure and encouraging nature to organize group outings that leave me feeling energized.” Edit until you love your words. Post your mission where you’ll see it often.
Get excited about exercise
You know physical activity is good for you. Still, getting it done is tough. Why? A study in “Neuropsychologia” suggests that it takes more brain power to choose active behaviors over sedentary ones. Override the urge to lounge by making exercise more compelling. Try this:
- Increase the reward. Walk to a nearby coffee shop or nature trail instead of just circling the block.
- Raise the stakes. Register for a fitness program that commits you to a series of classes. Or sign up for a challenge — a walk, a run, a bike ride.
- Recruit a friend. Getting fit is more fun with a friend — perhaps a four-legged one. And you may be less likely to bail if someone else is counting on you.
Nurture your social network
Surrounding yourself with people who support you — in good times and bad — may help your health, according to research out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Try this:
- Plan regular get-togethers. Start a book club or dinner club. Host family dinners or game nights.
- Connect with your community. Join a gym. Volunteer at the food pantry. Get involved with local government.
- Text. Stay close with friends and family near and far by exchanging short, frequent messages.
Fill up on nourishing foods
Instead of focusing on what you shouldn’t have, front-load your diet with satisfying, nutrient-rich foods. (See “Get bowled over,” page 50.) Chances are, not-so-healthful choices will drop down to a less-prominent role in your eating patterns. Especially if you keep them out of the house. Try this:
- Eat the rainbow. Packing your plate with a colorful mix of vegetables and fruit will help you get a wide range of nutrients and feel-full fiber. Keep it easy by stocking the fridge with no- or low-prep options: pre-washed greens, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, citrus fruits, apples, etc.
- Balance it out. Including a protein source (chicken, fish, tofu, yogurt, eggs) or a tablespoon or two of fat (nuts, salad dressing) in each meal gives it longer staying power.
- Make smart swaps. Try quinoa in place of white rice; whole-grain toast in place of a bagel. When a craving strikes, ask yourself what you really want. A sweet? Try yogurt with berries. If you just want something to munch on while you watch TV, try replacing your pretzels with carrots sticks or apple slices.
Cultivate your sense of presence
Practicing yoga or meditation can improve brain function and increase energy levels, according to a recent study from the University of Waterloo in Ontario. Preliminary research suggests meditation also may help keep aging brains healthy. Try this:
- Find a comfortable seat. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. When your mind wanders, simply refocus on your breath. Repeat this process for five minutes.
- Do yoga. Find classes near you, download the MINDBODY app or try the free videos on Yoga with Adriene (yogawithadriene.com).
- Unplug. For an hour or two each day, stash your phone and other devices out of reach. Tune in fully to the people and experiences around you.
Look for the light
Research shows that glass-half-full folks tend be happier and healthier. But when the news is depressing and even happy social media posts can make us feel “less than,” staying positive requires more than a Pollyanna perspective. Try this:
- Consume inspiring stories. Follow Upworthy (upworthy.com) on social media. Watch movies about compassionate leaders, like “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” about Fred Rogers.
- Buy yourself flowers. Frame a photo that makes you smile; place it where you’ll see it often.
- Note the good. Each day, write down one new thing for which you are grateful. Be specific. (“I’m thankful for how kind Jon is to my parents when they visit” versus “I’m thankful for Jon”). Capture progress toward your goal, and use these victory notes as inspiration to keep you going.
Nicci Micco has a master’s degree in nutrition, with a focus on behavior change, and is a certified yoga teacher. She lives in Vermont with her husband and two boys and heads up marketing for Mamava, a start-up that supports breastfeeding mothers.
This story originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Kiwanis magazine.