New Year, New You

 In Tysons Premier

If you’re like most Americans, the word that best describes the past few months of holiday merry-making is “indulgent.” Which was great fun while it lasted, but the arrival of 2019 serves as a reminder that it’s time to shift to healthier habits while offering the perfect opportunity to hit the refresh button on mind, body and spirit. So how do you get back on track after the holiday hiatus and actually make your motivation—and your resolutions—go the distance?

First, the good news:  Research proves that those who make New Year’s resolutions are 10 times more likely to successfully alter a behavior than they would if there was no start-of-the-year vow.  Which is perhaps why 45 percent of American adults still ring in the New Year with a resolution.

But will they keep it?

According to statistics, almost half will give up on their goals within six months. Avoid being one of them. If you’ve vowed to look better, feel better and live healthier in 2019, these eight tips from the experts will help you achieve your goal.  Little things can make a big difference, and these small changes are no exception.

1. Stop dieting

A perennial resolution chart-topper, year after year many of us make the same old plans to slash our caloric intake. There’s evidence, however, that restrictive  dieting doesn’t  lead to weight loss, and instead typically leads to long-term weight gain.  If you have pounds to shed and need the structure of a formal “diet”, consider the DASH diet, a flexible and balanced lifetime eating plan proven to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, reduce the risk of depression and manage weight. This Mediterranean-inspired eating plan has been highly praised by researchers and ranked “Best Diet” 8 years in a row by US News and World Report.  The simplest approach of all, however, and one that all experts favor, is just eating “real food”—meaning reducing and/or eliminating prepared and processed foods from your everyday meals—and keeping track of your portions.

2. Eat your veggies

It’s probably not news that eating fruits and vegetables is a must for good health.  What you might not know is that the more researchers learn about the relationship between the gut and the brain, the more evidence there is that nutrition is a key factor in your mental health, too.  People who consume more fruits and vegetables don’t only have more beautiful bodies, but also lower levels of depression than those who eat less of the “good stuff”.  Low in calories, high in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber, 6 half-cup servings of vegetables and 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruit per day is the target, which means you should be enjoying at least a couple of servings at each and every meal.

3. Move your body

It doesn’t matter if you’re walking around your neighborhood or running a marathon—any sort of movement is going to help you.  And as if weight reduction wasn’t benefit enough, exercise is one of the most effective ways of improving your heart health, upping your sex drive, improving your sleep, boosting your mood and maintaining cognitive function.  Adhering to an exercise plan, however, can be hard.  This new year, aim to identify the exercise you find enjoyable, that gets you out socializing, and that allows you to build competence as these are the activities and routines you’re most likely to stick with.

To provide motivation to actually get out of bed and complete your daily workout, walk, run, or swim, experts suggest working towards a goal (like a race), training with a friend, or adding in an element of competition.  Adding new activities to your routine, like hiking and mountain biking, can elevate your fitness while getting you more connected with the outdoors.  And during these winter months, activities like sledding, cross country skiing and ice skating—even snowball fighting and building a snowman—can burn anywhere from 340 to 450 calories an hour.

It’s important to remember that the gym is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to exercise.  You can get in a workout virtually anywhere. Do push-ups and leg lifts at your kitchen counter while waiting for coffee to brew. Get in your cardio with a brisk lunch-hour walk or an afterschool dance party with your kids. Do sit-ups during TV commercials. If you make yourself active during all of your extra minutes, you’ll stay on track for a stronger, fitter you.  And injecting movement into packed calendars by exercising in short bursts can be just as beneficial for your health as one long session, says research from Arizona State University in Phoenix.  For example, the free 20-minute yoga or Pilates workouts on FitnessBlender.com are not only easy to squeeze into your schedule, but have the added benefit of being restorative exercises that help you decompress from a stressful day while keeping you moving.

4. Buy a reusable water bottle

Water is essential to good health, yet most of us fall short of the “8 glasses a day” rule. Drinking water encourages better digestion and blood flow, improves skin tone and texture, and keeps your body from hoarding fat by regulating body temperature.  Along with a push for increased physical activity in 2019, make sure you’re upping your water intake to cover the extra fluid loss.  And while you’re hydrating, help the planet by opting for a reusable water bottle, which can translate into personal savings (the average American wastes about $266 a year on bottled water, according to the Earth Day Network) as well as planetary savings since the average American uses 167 disposable water bottles yearly, but only recycles 38.  Who knows, you just might find yourself showing off that stylish reusable bottle at the gym a bit more often.

5. Breathe

It sounds counterintuitive to remember to breathe, but it really is so important. Proper breathing is essential during exercise. During aerobic activities, such as running or swimming, a good breathing pattern ensures that your working muscles will continue to receive the oxygen they need to keep contracting.   According to researchers at the University of New Mexico, proper breathing is also central to nonaerobic forms of exercise, including weightlifting, yoga, tai chi and Pilates.  Even taking a few meditative deep breaths throughout your day can help you relax and find more presence and peace, especially in tough situations.

6. Reduce screen time

For most of us, a large part of our day requires us to look at a screen of some description. Excessive screen time not only affects posture, mood, and sleep quality, but potentially can cause eye damage as well.  Unfortunately, many favorite leisure activities such as TV binging, movie viewing and gaming can also add to the amount of time spent passively watching a display. While it’s impossible to completely escape our devices, large or small, there are ways to reduce the time you place your eyes and brain under the screen strain. Reducing screen time is one answer.  This may be the year to put yourself on an occasional device “diet”. Use the time away to cook a meal, get in a workout, or do some reading.  In 2019, make sure your screen time is part of a happy life, not a substitute for it.

Note: When you do use your devices, put them to work helping you follow through on your resolutions in the form of apps and services that can help build, manage and motivate personal fitness, nutrition or meditation plans.

7. Catch some zzzzzzzs

Have you ever thought that sleep can help your exercise routine? The answer is YES! There is a proven correlation between sleep and exercise, with each one impacting the other. When you don’t get adequate sleep, it can result in poor exercise performance and even weight gain. Conversely, there’s evidence that sleeping well can result in more productive exercise, as well as exercise helping to improve sleep quality. The research is clear: you really can’t get by on just a few hours of sleep—the vast majority of us need an average of eight hours a night.   Make this the one to get right in 2019 because getting enough sleep makes it easier to avoid cravings for unhealthy foods, keep off excess weight, and maintain your best emotional health.

8. Take care of yourself

This year make a shift in your concept of “me time”.  This is the moment to stop resisting what your mind may tell you is just being “lazy” and finally do the things that are just for you and contribute to your wellbeing.  It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of work emails, after-school carpool schedules and life’s countless obligations. Spending at least 10 minutes daily on quality, mindful “me-time”—such as reading for pleasure, meditating or playing with a pet—allows you to focus not only on feeling good, but also reduces stress and improves your well being. Make self-care a priority in 2019.   

So this year, after the champagne is drunk and the confetti cleaned up, get ready to begin your “new you” adventure by staying committed, celebrating the small successes and going easy on yourself, for self-forgiveness in the face of failure (we’re only human, after all) re-ignites our motivation to try again.

Good luck and have a great year!

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