It happens to us all, that feeling of wanting to make a change – be it physical, emotional, professional – and needing a fresh start. You know the basics: exercise more, eat better, drink water like it’s your job, etc. But to help you make this time different, we asked UnityPoint Health Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Michelle Swader, RDN, MS, CD, to weigh in. Read the seven easy, unexpected ways to boost your health this year.
- Get the Best Sleep You Can
You know eight hours is the goal, but maybe that’s not achievable in your current life stage (we see you, new parents). Swader emphasizes the importance of getting good sleep because it’s related to so many health conditions, like immune system support, stress management, weight loss and more. However, instead of an hour count, Swader recommends little ways to improve your zzzs.
“Many small changes can have a big impact on your sleep quality,” Swader says. “Things like getting a different pillow, changing the temperature in your room, ‘winding down’ before bed, choosing a new material or style of pajamas, keeping your room quiet or playing white noise can all improve your rest.”
- Flavor Your Foods
By making sure your food is tasty, you can walk away from your table satisfied and less tempted to snack later. Also, if you are trying to eat healthier, but the food is not seasoned well, you will want the foods you used to eat, which are often full of salt and sugar.
“Use herbs and spices, vinegars, mustards, salsas and spice blends like curry or chili powders to help make your foods satisfying to both your ‘stomach hunger’ and ‘brain hunger,’” Swader says.
- Meditate – In Your Own Way
There are proven benefits to meditation, such as reduced stress and anxiety, decreased blood pressure, increased attention span and even improvement in age-related memory loss. Swader says though that mediating can look different person-to-person.
“Find something you can do mindfully each day, meaning you focus only on that task. It might be sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing. It could also be taking a slow, focused walk, slowly drinking your morning coffee or tea, doing a craft, stretching or practicing yoga, eating your meal mindfully or journaling. The key is to practice taking a step back and prioritize some ‘you time,’” Swader says.
- Embrace Spending Time with Mother Nature
It seems too simple, but there are tons of advantages of spending time outdoors. Not only can you use nature as your exercise playground, but Swader says the light and quiet can boost your mood.
“Vitamin D is made by our bodies when sunlight hits our skin, and it’s estimated that over 40 percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin D. Additionally, using the outdoors for de-stressing and relaxation has been shown to be effective, sometimes more so than doing the same activity indoors. ‘Nature therapy’ or ‘forest bathing’ can go a long way toward helping you feel refreshed,” Swader says.
- Wash Your Hands & Stop Putting Them by Your Face
It goes without saying that hand hygiene can prevent a multitude of illnesses for you and your family. But Swader takes it one step further.
“Everyone knows to wash your hands often, especially in the winter. But try and keep your hands away from your face (it’s harder than you think). That will help prevent bacteria and viruses from getting to your mouth, nose and eyes,” Swader says.
- Write Stuff Down
Whether it’s scheduling workouts or even committing to a fun run, writing it down helps you follow through. Then stick it on your fridge as a visible reminder. Swader says if you struggle planning that far ahead, your weekly meal plan is an easy list to make.
“Having a list of groceries, and especially a schedule for meals, can help ensure that your wishes and plans become reality. Plus, you’ll have all the ingredients you need for meals and snacks, so you don’t end up making a last-minute trip to the drive-through. Also, when you have the correct number of meals at home, you’re less likely to get take-out on a whim,” Swader says.
- Laugh Every Day (It’s the Best Medicine)
When was the last time you had a good, long laugh? The type where your sides hurt, and tears come to your eyes? Laughter can increase your oxygen intake, release endorphins, reduce stress, help relieve pain, boost your immune system and, of course, improve your mood.
“Try a joke- or comic-a-day desk calendar and joke books. Go to a comedy club with friends or watch comedy shows on TV or online. No one ever regrets a good laugh,” Swader says.