Losing weight, eating better or exercising more are just a few goals many of us set for ourselves each January.
According to Dr. Rajesh “Robby” Gulati, goals should not be something you think about once a year. Lifestyle modifications should progress from months to years and ultimately your lifetime, says the medical director of the UCI Health Weight Management Program.
As the new year approaches, set goals for healthy habits that will carry over for years to come. Follow these tips to help get you started.
Regular, low-impact exercise is one of the best things you can do for several reasons, says UCI Health orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Ran Schwarzkopf. Regular exercise is good for your heart and lungs and alleviates stiffness and pain of daily tasks.
To get started on a consistent routine, determine how much exercise you will do each day and each week. While at work, walk around as much as possible. Use stairs instead of elevators and consider buying a pedometer. Set a goal of 10,000 steps each day.
If you skip a day, don’t fret. Doubling up to make up for that lost day may put you at risk for injury and fatigue. Simply jump back into your routine when ready.
Set attainable goals
Achieving health goals can be easier if you are specific — especially when your goal includes weight loss.
If your goal is to lose 25 pounds, give yourself a timeframe of three months. Remember, a realistic goal would be to lose two pounds a week.
Need to feel more energized during the day? “Aim for at least eight hours of sleep, and if you get seven, that's great,” says Gulati. Fewer than six hours of sleep a night affects memory and learning, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and the immune system.
Whatever your goals are, write them down and establish a time frame.
Lighten up your meals
Eating a healthy diet is simple: Swap fast and processed foods with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and dairy products.
Sometimes the smallest changes can make a big impact. Replacing high-fat ingredients in your treasured family recipes (for example, use reduced-fat milk in place of cream) can help lower overall calorie intake and, in turn, reduce weight.
To ease into a new meal plan, eliminate foods gradually. Exclude fried foods the first week; the next week you can tell yourself to drink 10 glasses of water per day. The following week can include eating one vegetarian meal, and so on.
Evaluate alcohol intake
Overindulging in alcohol can lower inhibitions, lead to unhealthy habits and put you at risk for injury.
“We live in a ‘super-size’ society where multiple servings are offered and people don’t realize how much they are consuming. This also applies to alcohol,” says Christy Carroll, RN, UCI Health trauma injury prevention coordinator.
In many cases, a couple of beers or a generous glassful of wine amounts to multiple servings of alcohol, Carroll explains. People may be at risk for health problems or for injuries related to their drinking, and not be aware of it, she adds.
According to U.S. Department of Transportation statistics, every day nearly 30 people in the United States die in a motor vehicle crash that involves an alcohol-impaired driver, says Dr. Kristi L. Koenig, UCI Health director of public health preparedness. That is about one death every 51 minutes. “Don’t become a statistic,” Koenig advises.
Enjoy the outdoors
Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days, but that doesn't mean you need to go to a gym. Lace up your sneakers and go for a walk around town or practice yoga outdoors.
One increasing problem with modern life is that we don’t get enough time outside, says Dr. Jody M. Rawles, associate professor and interim chair of the UC Irvine Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior. Sunshine helps the body create Vitamin D as well as regulate vital hormones, which in turn influence mood and energy levels.
“Sunshine in the morning, between sunrise and 10 a.m., is particularly important for people with depression and sleep problems,” says Rawles. “If one suffers from winter blues, or you’re having trouble sleeping, try getting more sun exposure as a natural remedy.”
What goals are you setting for yourself this new year?