By Elizabeth Kane
Another January has come and gone. If you find yourself looking back at the goals you set for yourself — ones that seemed so doable at the time — thinking, “Well, better luck next year,” you’re not alone: 45% of Americans charge into the year with good intentions, but less than 10% actually achieve their resolutions.
While the low success rate can be discouraging, it’s never too late to take a step back, revaluate your goals and commit to a new plan — one that you can actually achieve and will have a huge impact on your health.
Here are three realistic, specific and life-changing resolutions you can actually keep and the best way to go about them.
Stress is inevitable, but it can take a toll on your health. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, chronic stress can lower your immunity, impair your digestion, and over time, lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and anxiety disorder.
While you can’t magically cut out all the stress in your life, you can find a way to better cope with it, which can soften, and even nix, some of its damaging effects. A remedy that can help? Meditation. It’s been shown to decrease stress and anxiety, regulate emotions, and improve concentration.
In fact, regular meditation can even change the structure of your brain. A Harvard study published in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging revealed that people who meditated 27 minutes a day for 8 weeks experienced increased gray matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.
So how can you start folding meditation your own life? With any new habit, take baby steps. Start by closing your eyes and taking three slow, deep breaths. Pretty easy, right? Next, pick a specific time each day that you can commit to practicing this tiny habit, such as right after you get out of the shower or right before you crawl into bed. Just doing your three deep breaths daily this helps lower cortisol (“stress” hormone) levels. Once you’ve mastered this, build up to meditating a few minutes a day. Then, scale up gradually until you’re meditating 10 minutes a day, then 20, and eventually, 30 minutes daily.
Physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Not moving enough is a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, and is one of the 10 leading risk factors for early mortality worldwide. Exercise also increases your energy and cardiovascular fitness, improves mood and can help you reach your weight loss goals. Yet 25% of the world’s adults and 80% of adolescents are not active enough.
Your plan: hit 10,000 steps each day.
One study found that participants who took 10,000 steps per day (about 5 miles) for 36 weeks saw significant improvements in their health, including an average weight loss of about 5 pounds and a 2% drop in body fat, an increase in “good” HDL cholesterol levels and improved body composition.
The best part? Hitting 10,000 steps a day doesn’t have to be done in a single workout. Little bouts of activity, like taking the stairs, walking to a farther coffee shop or taking a walking break at lunch, really add up.
Fruits and vegetables are a body’s best friends — they’re nutrient-rich, low in calories, high in filling fiber and are one of your best defenses against developing a disease.
In one of the largest and longest studies to date, Harvard researchers followed the health and dietary habits of nearly 110,000 men and women for 14 years. They found that those who ate an average of eight servings of fruits and vegetables — especially dark leafy greens and citrus fruits — every day were 30% less likely to have a heart attack or stroke.
Make a goal to eat fruits or vegetables with every meal. In fact, start by adding them to foods you already eat. Slice a banana into your breakfast cereal or add spinach and mushrooms to your omelet. At lunch, lighten up your favorite soup with broccoli, carrots or kale. For dinner, add a cup of chopped vegetables (tomatoes, squash or leafy greens) to your pasta or as a side dish.
The beauty of this habit is that it doesn’t require restriction, so you’re more likely to stick with it.
Registered dietician and AFAA certified personal trainer Ashley Acornley explains that eating well is about being flexible, planning healthy meals ahead of time, and avoiding being overly restrictive. “Life is not always perfect, your diet is not always perfect ... but what does help is consistency.”
Published on February 8, 2016.
Elizabeth Kane is a health, business, and education writer living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Get more from her on Twitter @elizabkane.
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