New Year’s celebrations are nearly upon us. This means a lot of people will be making resolutions or goals for themselves. These goals often revolve around relationships, finances and health. But instead of setting our sights on hugely ambitious goals that encourage big changes on Jan. 1, it may be better to take a different approach this year. Plan to take baby steps to a healthier life for this New Year.
There’s a good argument for making goals bite-sized: most people’s lofty resolutions tend to fall by the wayside a few months into the year. And just the start of a new year can bring added stress, according to a poll shared by the American Psychiatric Association. It showed more than one in four people polled believed they’d be dealing with more stress in January than they did in December.
One way to take baby steps to improve overall health is to embrace the psychology behind the “Tiny Habits” movement. Based on a popular book featured on National Public Radio, the idea is to create new routines by starting very small – reading one paragraph, or walking around the block. When a small goal is accomplished, celebrate: do a dance or sing a favorite song. By keeping the bar incredibly low, it’s possible to accomplish personal goals by slowly developing a natural addition to daily routines, and form new positive behaviors.
Try the technique with some of these incremental ways to live healthier in 2024:
- Aim to sit less. Many of us spend a big chunk of our days sitting behind a desk or in front of a computer. But too much sitting can be as big of a health hazard as smoking. Research has shown that sitting too much can lead to a list of health problems, including high blood sugar levels, high blood pressure and extra pounds packed on around the waist. Stand-up desks can be helpful, but so can taking breaks every half hour to move around.
- Always keep water within reach. Staying hydrated is an easy way to improve health. Flavored sparkling water, tea and even coffee can help meet this daily goal, but skip the sugar-heavy fruit juices and sodas. Keep water within reach while working and then stock extra water in the car, gym bag or other spots where it will be easy to take a drink.
- Fit in walks during schedule gaps. Everyone has gaps in their schedule during the day. Some are just a few minutes, while others can be 20-minute breaks. Resolve to use these breaks to fit in extra steps each day. Walks can be solo or with a friend or co-worker. This also helps with the goal of sitting less.
- Set a goal for fruit and vegetable intake. Often, we start the day with the best intention of eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, only to reach the evening and realize we’ve had an apple and maybe a few forkfuls of salad. Take the baby step of working a fruit or vegetable into every meal. Then try adding fruits or vegetables into snacks.
- Develop a sleep hygiene routine. The body needs a regular sleep schedule to function at its best. This often depends on people developing good sleep hygiene habits. This means not only getting enough sleep each night – at least seven hours is best – but paying attention to when the body is tired and going to bed without screen time.
With small, intentional changes, it is possible for all of us to develop new habits for our physical and mental health. Every journey starts with a single step.
Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan based in Detroit. Passionate about the science of nutrition and behavior, Shanthi has experience working in clinical nutrition, public health and teaching in the university setting. In her free time, she enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, exploring the outdoors, working on art and spending time with family. For more recipes and health information, visit ahealthiermichigan.org.
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