5 healthy habits to kick off the new year
The start of a new year is often filled with a fresh burst of resolve, but every January also brings another wave of research showing that resolutions tend to sputter by February. This time, consider a different approach by adopting new habits instead. Continue reading for a handful of tips to help you get lasting effects—maybe even for a lifetime, not just a year.
Get outdoor time every day
Whether you take a walk after dinner, enjoy your morning coffee sitting outside, or have lunch outdoors, research shows that getting even a little time in nature—and yes, city parks and plant-filled balconies count—can be a boon for your health. One study even found that seeing greenery from a window can be a mood booster.
If there's snow where you are, that can be just as powerful for your self-esteem, according to a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research, which found that body appreciation and self-compassion were elevated after a walk through a winter landscape. Physical activity and socializing can intensify the effect, the researchers added, so consider asking a friend to join you on a regular walking route.
To some degree, the amount of sleep needed every night is individualized—one person may thrive on seven hours while another requires nine to feel fully rested. But even with that flexibility, research in the journal Sleep indicates that getting too little sleep is problematic for cognitive function.
That means you simply don't think as well if you're not getting enough quality sleep. Researchers note that when you're in the deepest sleep cycle, your brain "takes out the trash" and consolidates new memories, so if you're opting for less shuteye, that process gets disrupted.
Keep up with your health screenings
The old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure still holds true, and it's particularly accurate when it comes to catching serious issues like heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
Find out from your health provider which preventive care screenings are appropriate for you, based on your age, medical history, and family history. For example, if a certain type of cancer runs in your family, you may be advised to start screenings earlier than the recommended age.
Another healthy habit: Stay on top of self-screenings. For instance, looking at moles every month, and doing a breast or testicular check, can help you see (and feel) any changes that might have come up since your last appointment.
Optimize gut health
There's a reason your digestive system is called your "second brain." That's because the majority of serotonin—the "feel-good hormone" that elevates your mood—is produced in the gut. The gut also plays a role in immune system regulation, cognitive function, and sleep quality, which means making sure your belly is happy can create a ripple effect across numerous aspects of health.
The enormous colony of bacteria and microbes in your digestive system—known as your gut microbiome—can thrive or sputter based largely on what foods you choose, according to a study published in Nature Medicine. Aiming for plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein is foundational, along with adding some fermented choices like yogurt and sauerkraut.
Other ways to keep your microbiome on track are: regular exercise, focus on de-stress strategies like mindfulness, and staying hydrated.
Build a support team
In general, whatever new habits you decide to adopt, make sure to take a positive approach—as opposed to focusing on what you don't want—and get some support. That might mean talking with your health provider about the best strategies, and getting referrals to professionals like physical therapists, dietitians, or mental health counselors.
For example, a study in the journal PLoS One found that participants who had at least some support were significantly more likely to maintain their health habits a year later. That means you really can see a healthy behavior shift and possibly even maintain resolutions if you set them—as long as you establish the right habits and ask for help along the way.
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