It’s a new year — and with the best intentions, you may have resolved to make your lifestyle healthier this year. But where do you start? And how do you stick with it? Mapped out below are some great New Year health tips. You’ll also learn more about how long it really takes to form a new habit and some of the most beneficial health habits you can adopt for 2020.
Just a quick note: many of these New Year health tips involve changes to your diet and exercise routine, so it’s advised that you consult your doctor before putting them into practice.
The Myth Behind “21 Days Makes A Habit”
You might’ve heard that it takes as little as three weeks, or 21 days, to make or break a habit. But where did this number actually come from?
Back in the 1950s, a plastic surgeon by the name Maxwell Maltz observed that it took his patients around that length of time to adjust to their new appearance and/or physicality after surgery. He went on to make observations about himself, noting it took him around this 21-day mark to change a behavior.
Maltz published his observations in 1960. His book sold millions of copies — leaving many well-intentioned individuals at the start of every new year believing if they can only hold out for the first few weeks of January, it would only become easier from there. As many people who have set the same New Year’s resolutions year after year can attest, it’s a little more complicated.1
Give Your Healthier Habits More Time To Form
In 2009, health psychology researcher Phillippa Lally published her definitive study on habit formation, with her results showing participants taking, on average, more than three times longer — or 66 days — for their new habits to stick.2
Now, while these findings may initially surprise you, it’s actually great news. It could mean all those failed attempts to get your neuropathways to automate a new behavior just weren’t given enough time. You can achieve your health goals for the New Year — you may just have to give yourself more time.
Six New Year Health Tips To Conquer Once And For All
A key element to reaching goals and/or maintaining new habits lies in the power of taking baby steps — allowing yourself to take it just one day at a time and build on your success over time.3
Now, knowing it can take roughly two months for a new habit to really stick, below are six health and wellness goals for 2020 that you can incorporate as quickly (or slowly) as you like throughout the year. And you’ll know that if you start only one every two months, by the end of the year, you’ll have incorporated six sustainable healthy practices into your life. That is surely no small feat.
Healthy Habit 1: Get Seven-Plus Hours Of Sleep A Night
The health benefits of quality sleep seem almost innumerable, affecting all areas of your life — from supporting mental health to helping maintain a healthy weight to aiding the immune system.
A quality sleep routine can help you get a sound start to each day and support your efforts in tackling loftier health and wellness goals.4
To set you up for sleep success, consider these tips:
- Exercise in the morning instead of at night. Exercising at night can stimulate your system too close to bedtime. Additionally, getting exposure to bright daylight at the start of your day can aid the natural circadian rhythm.
- Cue your mind and body to associate your bed with only one thing: sleep.
- The ideal sleep environment is three things: cool, quiet, and dark. With that in mind, decide if a TV in the bedroom is really a must and if maybe you need to invest in some blackout curtains.5
Healthy Habit 2: Adopt A Daily Mindful Meditation Practice
Incorporating a mindfulness routine into your day may with stress.6
Mindful meditation is not about blocking everything out (which in itself can be intimidating), but rather focusing your attention on being present.
Here’s mindful meditation in a nutshell:
- Sit erect but comfortably on a chair or cushion in a quiet space. Allow your shoulders to rest naturally and place your hands on top of your legs.
- Close your eyes and just breathe in and out deeply, without trying to control your breath. Take note of the natural flow of your breath — how your chest rises and falls, the contraction and expansion of your stomach — and just relax into the breath.
- Naturally, thoughts will come to mind and pull your attention from your breath. Acknowledge them, since they are in the moment with you, and then return to your breath. If you need a little more support with this, experiment with counting your breaths.
- Each day, aim for a 10-minute practice as you get started, with the long-term goal of 20 minutes per day, twice a day.7
Healthy Habit 3: Drink Eight 8-Ounce Glasses Of Water Every Day
Along with greatly lowering your risk of dehydration, drinking an adequate amount of water can support weight loss and digestive health, as well as help prevent headaches caused by dehydration.8
To help you reach your daily water goals, consider these tips:
- Make leaving the house with a reusable water bottle as important as your keys and wallet.
- Download an app on your smartphone to give you reminders throughout the day to stay hydrated.
- Flavor your water with herbs, fruits, and vegetables — mint, strawberries, cucumbers, etc. — to break up boredom.9
Healthy Habit 4: Get 20 Minutes Of Moderate-Intensity Aerobic Exercise A Day
Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy heart and weight, as well as support healthy stress levels. And the American Heart
Association’s newest guidelines state you can get all the health benefits with less exercise than you might think.
While all sorts of numbers have been thrown out to the public over the years, consider aiming for the AHA’s recommended guidelines of at least 150 minutes a week — or a little over 20 minutes a day — of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (power walk with friends, anyone?), and two days a week incorporating muscle-strengthening exercise.10
If there were only two words to describe this exercise recommendation, they would be “definitely doable.”
Healthy Habit 5: Meal Plan And Prep Once A Week
Meal planning and prepping can be the ultimate time and money saver for any busy household. It may also help you avoid empty calories, practice portion control, and have healthier options in your diet readily available.11
Meal planning involves reviewing your week ahead and determining what you will be eating. You make a shopping list with all your healthful staples — fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, etc. — as well as any additional ingredients for the recipes you have selected.
Meal prepping involves preparing multiple foods or meals at a time — for example, prepping a big pot of chili for Monday’s dinner and Tuesday’s lunch, as well as a chicken and cauliflower rice for Tuesday’s dinner and Wednesday lunch — and so on and so forth.
Yes, it may take you a couple or so hours of cooking, but it can save you the headaches of figuring out what’s for dinner after work and the calories from that quick burger you’d have otherwise picked up for lunch.
Healthy Habit 6: Focus On Good Gut Health
Good gut bacteria has been linked to aiding immune system function and weight maintenance and even supporting a positive mood.12
While the thought of completely overhauling your diet can be daunting, you can instead start by focusing on what you can add to make it healthier, rather than what you should take away.
Probiotic foods, found in particular fermented foods, are not only good for your gut but are great sources of vitamins and minerals. They may help with your overall health and well-being. These foods include:
- Fermented vegetables (kimchi and sauerkraut)
- Fermented soybean products (tempeh, natto, and miso)
- Fermented beverages (kombucha)
- Dairy products (yogurt and kefir)13
Happy New Year — And Here’s To A Happier, Healthier Year Ahead
You now know the research behind making a habit stick, and you have your list of healthy goals to reach for. The best of luck to you — and remember, whether you’re counting calories or training for a marathon, it’s all about baby steps.