Why is it that the changes we promise to make on New Year’s Day are so easily broken just a few days later? Why is it that sticking with new, healthy habits can seem like such a challenge?
One reason might be that we’re not actually enjoying the process of making those changes. But what if they were fun? What if these healthy changes were more like treats that filled us with good feelings instead of resentment or cravings for old, not-so-healthy habits?
With this in mind — the idea that changes that feel fun are the ones that’ll stick — I’ve put together a "pleasurable plan" for 2016. No resolutions to fail at or promises to break, just a short list of feel-good and good-for-you behavioral to-do's with positive effects on your health.
Simply add one of these new habits every week, and by Valentine’s Day you’ll have made big strides toward better health. Here’s where to start:
1. Send yourself to sleep school.
Not feeling rested in the morning? Then use the long month of January to help you relearn the art of sleep. To brush up on your skills, try my favorite tips for better sleep, like not eating at least three hours before bed and using melatonin strategically.
But if restorative sleep remains elusive despite your best efforts, try kicking it up a notch with a new mattress. Your mission: to find a healthy, comfortable, budget- and eco-friendly mattress that will encourage restorative sleep. Some of my favorites are from makers like Lifekind.com, Daxstores.com, and HealthyChoiceMattress.com.
2. Greet the day gently.
The sound of a screeching alarm clock piercing the dawn can be a shock to the system and a rather abrupt way to start the day. But how to ensure you’ll get out of bed on time, especially on dark winter mornings?
One gentler way is with a "dawn simulator" clock to help wake you more naturally with simulated sunlight rather than noise. If the dawn simulation method isn’t quite enough for you, then consider a progressive alarm, which gradually increases in volume, or try one of the not-so-jarring alarm options on the iPhone, like the "strum" tone.
3. Quiet your mind.
Everyone knows that meditation offers amazing benefits for the body, mind, and spirit — and yet many people still think they "just can’t find the time."
I beg to differ. You don’t need to meditate for hours to reap the rewards (although that’s good too). Even just a few minutes each day will help quiet your mind before the chaos of the day takes hold and can reduce blood pressure, anxiety, and even stroke risk.
Though meditation will confer health benefits no matter when you do it, if you’re new to the practice, you may find that a brief session first thing in the morning is the easiest time to fit it in. If winding down in the evenings makes more sense for you, meditate for a few minutes before bed.
We recommend these meditation apps to patients in my medical practice. For those seeking a more communal experience, signing up for a beginner’s course with a weekly meditation group is a great way to get started.
4. Bathe your breakfast in nutrients.
The easiest meal of the day to give a makeover is breakfast. Trade your cereal bowl for a tall glass and switch over to a daily morning smoothie. It's probably the quickest and easiest change you can make to do something nutritionally fantastic for your body. A simple smoothie front-loads your day with a solid dose of energy-boosting nutrients, satisfying good fats, fiber, and protein while helping keep blood sugar and energy levels on an even keel.
With this excellent daily foundation, every smart nutritional choice that follows helps boost well-being and energy even further, enabling you to eat your way healthy. Need some inspiration before you hit the blend button? Check out these 24 delicious smoothie recipes.
5. Stand up for yourself. Literally.
Prolonged bouts of sitting are considered by some to be almost as dangerous as smoking — and a lot of us are sitting way too much. With numerous studies indicating that prolonged sitting boosts risk for heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and premature death, it’s essential that we start standing far more than we sit. Granted it’s a challenge for those with office jobs, but any standing you can do during the day will help.
Two of the easiest ways to make sure you get out of the chair more frequently? Drink plenty of water (to encourage trips to the bathroom) and set an alarm on your desktop or phone to go off every 45 minutes to remind you to stand up and do a lap around the office. Fitness trackers like Fitbit and Jawbone will also remind you to stand up for your health.
6. Hit the sauna.
There’s something about saunas. Not only do they feel great but they aid your body in a number of restorative processes, helping to flush out toxins, lower blood pressure, relax muscles, improve blood flow, and speed muscle recovery.
Before diving into a regular sauna routine, check with your doctor. Once you get the all-clear, two or three sessions a week in a traditional steam sauna or a more modern (and easier on those with medical issues) infrared sauna will help support and sustain health in a wonderfully relaxing way.
7. Cook at home more often.
If you’re looking for a lasting sustainable health fix, your kitchen is an excellent place to start. When you cook at home and make your own meals with fresh, local, and organic ingredients, each bite delivers loads of bio-available, health-supporting nutrients.
At home, you’re in control and in charge of what goes onto your plate. And cooking at home is a great lesson for the kids, an opportunity to teach them an important life skill — one that will stand them in good stead forever.
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