A new decade has dawned. Make the most of it by resolving to be the best “you” that you can be. Here are 10 practical — and actionable — steps to a healthier, happier 2020 and beyond.
1. Start small
“If you want to shed bad habits and develop healthy ones, make your move. Start with one healthy choice and keep going. Good habits can improve your health, boost your mood, increase your productivity and help you live longer,” says Sarah Emanuel, manager of wellness services for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE).
Emanuel suggests making small changes over time — for the rest of time. “When you focus on one small part of your life that you can improve, the goal for better health becomes achievable in the long run.”
2. Schedule the appointment
Set aside time this (and every) year for a checkup. Yearly wellness visits are important preventive care that’s generally included in health care coverage. It’s a chance to huddle with your doctor and review family history, chronic medical and surgical conditions and current medications.
“The time you invest in yourself and your personalized prevention plan is never wasteful; it is immeasurably valuable,” says Dr. Elsie Verbik, medical director for BCBSNE.
3. Download the app
When it comes to health and fitness, the most important piece of equipment is the human body — but we can still supplement it with cool gadgetry.
Studies show people who use fitness trackers and exercise apps are more likely to exercise during their leisure time compared to those who don’t. Fitbit, Apple and Garmin make popular fitness trackers. App favorites include Couch to 5K, Sleep Cycle and MyFitnessPal, a free diet and exercise tracking app endorsed by Omaha naturopathic doctor Nikki Kendall.
“It’s an easy way for me to review my clients’ nutrition, hold them accountable to healthy choices and adjust their recommendations as needed,” she says. “It also allows me to track their progress and overcome plateaus if they arise.”
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4. Live in the now
A growing body of evidence suggests that mindfulness — recognizing exactly what is happening in our moment-to-moment experience — can lead to lower stress levels, greater resilience and an overall healthier future.
Mindfulness is more approachable than ever thanks to a virtual explosion of apps, podcasts, websites, online courses, audio books and teachers, says Laura Crosby, a meditation instructor with the Center for Mindful Living.
5. Exercise your creativity
As we look for new ways to fortify our physical and mental health, study after study verifies that it pays to get creative.
“I believe everyone has the capacity for creative expression in some form and that being creative is innate to human nature,” says Betsy Funk, a registered expressive arts therapist and co-founder of Omaha Therapy and Arts Collaborative.
She says making art (painting, drawing, sculpting and more) can have a calming, almost meditative effect on the artist, which can potentially decrease stress, anxiety, depression and blood pressure.
6. Shut it down
Getting a good night’s sleep is a dream addition to any wellness plan: minimal effort, huge returns. Adequate sleep has shown to help ward off illness, reduce stress, improve mood and potentially decrease the risks of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
“Sleep is a very restorative time for the brain,” says Dr. Daniel L. Murman, director of the Behavioral and Geriatric Neurology Program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
7. Vanquish visceral fat
Getting adequate sleep also is a proven way to fight dangerous visceral belly fat. Cutting down on carbohydrate intake, increasing protein intake, avoiding trans fats and getting regular aerobic exercise are critical, as well. Certified personal trainer Chris Haberling says each of those habits will help reduce your waistline, but ultimately, “combining all of them is going to be the most effective and quickest way.”
8. Stress less
The potential consequences of not managing high stress levels include digestive and cardiovascular problems, stroke, cancer, a weakened immune system and mental illness such as depression and anxiety.
To help keep stress levels in check, embrace relaxation strategies such as deep breathing, yoga or tai chi; practice radical acceptance; and embrace the tenets of good self-care: getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, limiting or avoiding alcohol and tobacco use, seeing your physician regularly, and “exercising, exercising, exercising,” says Jennifer Baker, a social worker and mental health therapist with CHI Health Clinic Psychiatric Associates.
9. Oil your joints
Think of exercising as “oiling your joints.” OrthoNebraska physical therapist Elisa Bowcott says several highly effective, low-impact activities can promote better joint health while helping to improve cardio-fitness, overall strength and range of motion. The list includes brisk walking, biking, swimming, water walking and time on the elliptical machine. (When starting any exercise program — and especially if you have joint or other concerns — it’s always sound strategy to consult and work with a medical professional.)
10. Unplug — and recharge
Interacting with social media has its upsides — maybe you engage with inspirational content or use it to stay in touch with friends. But there also are potential pitfalls of overuse, including feelings of social isolation, a lack of productivity and sleep disruption.
Michael Vance, director of Behavioral Health Services at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, recommends channeling “empty time” on social media into more productive endeavors such as “self-reflection, getting some fresh air, volunteering, checking in on a loved one or sending a message of gratitude to someone who has made a difference in your life.”
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