8 Health Goals You Can Actually Stick To in 2020
Big, sweeping New Year's resolutions can be tough to stick to. These smaller ones, however, are much easier—and they're good for you too.
This article was originally published on RealSimple.com.
“When we set the bar too high, we inevitably blow it, blame ourselves, and go back to the status quo," says nutrition therapist Dana Sturtevant, RD, a co-owner of Be Nourished in Portland, Oregon. Take fad diets like juice cleanses, for example. We’re drawn to them because they work—but only for a while. As soon as you go back to eating real food, you're right back where you started, not to mention feeling low on energy, stamina, and constantly starving. The same goes for working out: “People exercise every day for the first two weeks of the year, then the gyms are empty by February because that level of commitment just isn’t feasible in the long run,” says Sturtevant.
To set you up for success, we asked experts for goals that feel so doable, you may wonder whether they’re even worth aiming for. You may not drop two sizes or be a Zen master by tomorrow, but we promise you will make significant headway on the journey to a happier, healthier you.
Upgrade your dessert
“If you’re craving something sweet after dinner, you should have it! But if you want to cut back on sugar and still satisfy that craving, you can dilute the sweet stuff with something like nuts or seeds,” suggests Willow Jarosh, RD, a cofounder of C&J Nutrition in New York City. So instead of reaching for a chocolate bar, try chocolate-covered almonds, chocolate-dipped frozen-banana bites, or chocolate chips mixed with popcorn, pistachios, or both. Besides reducing your intake of added sugar—too much of which has been linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a larger waist size—you’ll also get some heart-healthy fiber.
It can be hard to sit less, especially if you have an office job. But sitting better is easy: pop your booty. “Most people sit in a C shape, which puts pressure on your spine and can cause lower-back, neck, and shoulder pain,” says Jenn Sherer, the founder of the Spinefulness studio in Palo Alto, Calif. “And when we try to sit up ‘properly,’ we tend to suck in our stomach and stick out our chest, contracting our muscles in a way that can make us even more misaligned or stressed.” Pretend you have a tail, and bend slightly at the hips so you aren’t sitting on it, suggests Sherer. “This can help untuck your pelvis and elongate your spine so your vertebrae can stack up straight.” Also adjust your chair so your feet rest flat on the floor (or a footrest) and your thighs are parallel to the ground.
Set a bedtime alarm
More than a third of us regularly don’t get the minimum seven hours of sleep we need. While you probably can’t sleep in later, you can go to bed earlier—and the best way to ensure you do so is by setting an alarm for 45 minutes to an hour before lights-out, advises Holly Phillips, MD, the author of The Exhaustion Breakthrough. Once it goes off, start your wind-down routine, whether that involves taking a shower, making your kids’ lunches for the next day, or prepping overnight oats. The alarm can also serve as a reminder to turn off the TV, close your laptop, and put down your phone, since the blue light that those devices emit can delay the release of the sleep hormone melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep. If you like to read before bed, dim the brightness on your reading devices. Activate blue-light-limiting features or install dimmer bulbs in your bedroom.
Walk to every destination within 1 mile
The more physical activity you can fit into your day, the better. “If something is within a 1-mile radius, I try to walk instead of drive,” says Michele Stanten, a walking coach and certified fitness instructor based in Coopersburg, Penn. “Even if your neighborhood isn’t walkable, you can still walk from store to store within a big shopping complex or park at the bank or the drugstore and walk from there to your other errands.” Walking instead of driving can help you live longer, lose weight, improve your mood, and reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. It also cuts down on greenhouse-gas emissions and saves you roughly 60 cents per mile. Another good micro-resolution: Move your feet every time your phone is in your hand. “If you’re tied to a landline or need to stay put, just march in place or step side to side,” says Stanten.
Check in with yourself mid-meal
“Dieting is unsustainable, especially when you make restrictive, unrealistic rules about what you can and can’t eat,” says Sturtevant. For lasting health, you want to learn to tune in to signs of hunger, not ignore them. Sipping water between bites can help you slow down and eat more mindfully, as can pausing for a gut check halfway through your meal. To do it, put down your fork, take a deep breath, and ask yourself how full you are and how much more food you think you need to be satisfied, suggests Sturtevant. “When we eat with awareness, we get more joy out of our food—and without that joy, it’s difficult to feel nourished.”
Designate a no-phone zone
Setting physical boundaries is easier than trying to limit how much time you spend scrolling through Instagram or checking your email (again). A new study from the University of British Columbia found that diners who had their phones out during dinner enjoyed their experience less than those who put their phones away, and a separate study suggested that if your phone is within reach, it impairs cognitive performance—even if it’s turned off. Try keeping your phone stashed in your bag at work or banning phones at the dinner table. If your family gives you pushback, start with a trial run. “When you suggest doing something for just three days or even a week, it’s easier to get buy-in,” says BJ Fogg, Ph.D., the director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University. “Hopefully you’ll have a really great discussion at dinner that gets everyone onboard with making this a more permanent policy.”
Eat Veggies at Breakfast
Breakfast is often overlooked as an opportunity to squeeze in vegetables, which 91 percent (!) of us don’t get enough of. Try topping your toast with mashed avocado or adding a handful of baby spinach or sautéed grated sweet potatoes to your scrambled eggs. Your morning meal doesn’t have to be savory to include veggies; you can also stir grated zucchini into pancake batter or shredded carrots into your oatmeal. “We have specific ideas of what breakfast foods are, when in fact breakfast is just a meal like any other,” says Sturtevant. “I love roasted vegetables with sunny-side eggs on top for breakfast, but you could even have leftover pizza with vegetables on it.”
Exercise for a few minutes
You’re supposed to get 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, or about 30 minutes five days a week. But don’t let those numbers intimidate you out of doing what you can. Experts say you can break down the time into 10-minute sessions without missing out on exercise’s physical and mental benefits. And research backs up the power of short workouts: One study found that 13 minutes of weight training three times a week is enough to build strength, while another showed that just five minutes a day of running is all it takes to reduce your risk of death from cardiovascular disease. “Some studies suggest that merely standing is good for metabolic health,” says Tamara Hew-Butler, PhD, an associate professor of exercise and sports science at Wayne State University in Detroit. “The bottom line is that any exercise is better than none at all.”