You don’t need to make big changes to strengthen your body and mind. These little steps will quickly add up.
Here’s a revolutionary idea: Instead of thinking about taking better care of yourself, what if you actually just started putting your needs front and center?
It’s common to put off making healthy changes until the “right time” rolls around. For most of us, that typically means January 1. At some level, it seems like we’re wired to desire change when the calendar flips.
But there’s nothing magical about New Year’s Day that helps people clean up their acts. In fact, just 8 percent of people actually end up following through with those New Year’s resolutions, according to research from the University of Scranton.
Faced with that fact, we’ve rounded up nine simple healthy habits you can start at any time of the year. Pick just one at first, try others over time, and know that you’re doing something good for yourself with every small change.
Healthy Habit #1: Make a Date with a Friend
When your smartphone is continuously buzzing, it’s easy to feel connected. But don’t let your phone trick you. Overreliance on online interaction can lead to loneliness.
If you feel disconnected or like you’ve been neglecting important people, making time for face-to-face interaction is important, says Mark Rabo, founder of Revere, an app that helps you build friendships.
“A relationship is built on shared experiences,” he says. Your meetup doesn’t have to be fancy, he adds. Talking over coffee or on a walk after dinner is perfect.
Need fun, affordable ideas? Check out this list of 11 best ways to spend an hour with a friend.
Healthy Habit #2: Give More Than a “Like”
While social media is no replacement for in-real-life time, you can use it more effectively to strengthen your relationships.
“When you do spend time on social media, make a rule that ‘if you like, you gotta write,’ as in, write a comment,” Rabo says. “Writing a comment forces us to be thoughtful, and that’s what good friends are.”
An even better online socializing solution? Chat with your friend face-to-face via Skype or FaceTime.
Healthy Habit #3: Pour a Glass of H2O
This is a pretty easy goal, and it comes with myriad benefits. After all, every single part of your body needs water to function well.
On top of helping you lose weight and keep it off, drinking water also aids the digestive process and prevents constipation. And if you’re feeling lethargic, filling up on H2O can energize you and boost your concentration.
But here’s the thing: As you get older, your body’s ability to conserve water goes down and your sense of thirst weakens. That means it’s essential to drink water even if you aren’t thirsty and to recognize these sneaky signs of dehydration.
Not a fan of plain water? Add berries, citrus, cucumber, or mint. Or if you’re stuck on regular or diet soda, swap in seltzer water to start.
Healthy Habit #4: Kick Your Smartphone Out of Bed
If your slumber has lacked luster, your blue light–emitting gadget might be to blame.
While any light can disrupt sleep, blue light from devices like laptops, phones, and tablets is the type most likely to keep you awake, says Michael Breus, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and sleep expert.
He recommends stowing away electronic devices at least an hour before bed. If you can, charge your gadgets in another room, not on your bedside table.
Healthy Habit #5: Hit the Books
Diving into a novel isn’t just a form of escapism. It also provides a big boost for your brain. A study in Neurology found that being a bookworm helps you stay sharper and slows down cognitive decline as you age.
Reading doesn’t have to be a burden on your wallet. Check out your local library for free options. You can go the traditional route and browse the shelves or talk to the librarian for suggestions. Or ask if they have a digital library that allows you to check out a new book right from your device—easy!
Healthy Habit #6: Lend a Hand
As far as health boosters go, volunteering is a win-win. Obviously, the community benefits. But you as a volunteer get health benefits too.
“Volunteers have lower mortality rates, lower rates of depression, increased strength and energy, and fewer physical limitations than those who do not volunteer,” says Samantha Jo Warfield, spokesperson for the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Before you start, it helps to pinpoint exactly how you want to help. Is there a social cause you’re particularly passionate about? Any giving is better than none, but like all lines of work, it helps to have a plan of action before jumping in.
Think about what you’re good at. Do you have a certain talent—say, working with kids or impressive organizational skills—that you can bring to the table? Pursuing those opportunities will allow you to make a unique and valuable contribution to your community.
Get inspired with these 10 amazing volunteer opportunities that are perfect for older adults.
Healthy Habit #7: Let Go of the Past
“If you are holding on to something negative, it can get in the way of taking the necessary steps to move forward, and even start affecting your daily life,” says Lindsay Trent, Ph.D., a psychologist in Redwood City, California.
If you’re dealing with guilt, one of the first steps toward forgiving yourself is acknowledging you did something wrong or made a mistake, Trent says.
Recognize there is nothing you can do to change the past. Instead, ask what can you learn from the experience. “You can use those insights to be a better person in the future,” she says.
Had a fallout with a friend? Here’s how to deal with a friendship that is fizzling.
Healthy Habit #8: Find the Bright Side
Ever had one bad thing happen and then obsess about it the rest of the day?
“Humans tend to focus on the negative aspects of life, and that’s where a gratitude journal comes in,” says Kristin Oja, D.N.P., a nurse, fitness instructor, and founder of STAT Wellness.
The practice of writing down the positive aspects of your day, she says, can help you remember all of the good things you have going on right now.
Make your journal pocket-sized, and bring it with you everywhere. When something makes you feel good, pause when you can and make a note of it.
Read through your journal at the end of the day or week. You may be surprised at how good life can be.
Healthy Habit #9: Walk Like Your Life Depends on It
If you can, stroll outdoors for huge health benefits. It burns calories and gives you a cardio burst, and science shows that walking in a natural environment can improve your mood and reduce negative thoughts.
Plus, more time spent in nature is associated with a greater feeling of purpose and meaning in life, according to a study in the Journal of Health Psychology. And who doesn’t want more of that?
Aim to walk for at least 20 minutes every day, preferably outside in a natural setting. Already doing this? Check out these nine ways to kick up your walking workout.
When that’s not possible, try to take as many steps as you can. Stand and pace anytime you’re on the phone, for example. Your steps, and the health benefits that result from them, will add up.
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