Whether it’s a few or even a mountain of health changes you need to make this year, it’s never too late to start – though sooner is definitely better. But maybe life’s got you down, you’re overwhelmed at work, it’s too darn cold to step outside or you’ve just plain lost that new-year-new-you momentum you were brimming with when the ball in Times Square dropped a few weeks back. Fair enough – and you’re certainly not alone according to U.S. News & World Report which puts the failure rate for New Year’s resolutions at about 80 percent, with most people losing their mojo long before Valentine’s Day.
Statistics notwithstanding, that doesn’t mean you should forget about upgrading your habits. It does suggest that a different approach would increase your odds of success. How to change a path of well-intentioned fails into a road paved with wellness and vitality? Keep it simple, start small, master one or two habits at a time, and move on to tackle the next upgrade on your list. Also, try starting with the easy stuff first! Keep at it and in time, you’ll evolve into a creature of far more good habits than bad, culminating in major wins for your long-term health and wellness, with positive ripple effects across multiple aspects of your life.
To start – or restart – this new(ish) year off on the right foot and finish strong 10 or so months from now, here’s my list of no-brainer dietary and lifestyle habits which, over time, will enable you to build and maintain your healthiest and most resilient self – no resolutions required:
11 Quick food pointers.
One of the absolute best ways to support health is with a diet of healthy, preferably organic (or farmers’ market), whole, unprocessed foods. The less altered, manipulated or processed the better. Think as ‘close to the vine’ as possible to take advantage of your food’s great taste and medicinal benefits — and redline genetically modified produce and conventionally-farmed feedlot animals.
A fridge full of fresh (non-starchy) veggies, low-sugar fruits and animal products from healthy sources is an immediate upgrade that will reward your gut, brain and beyond with loads of nutrients, plus fiber to feed the billions of beneficial bacteria that live in your gut — where roughly 70% of your immune system lives. Work these smart swaps and tweaks in over the next few months, and within weeks (or even days), your body will be headed in a very healthy direction:
- Recalibrate your plate – as in, make veggies the main event rather than a side dish – on a ‘perfect plate’ with roughly 50-70% non-starchy veggies, 10 -15% best-quality protein and 20 -30% healthy fat.
- Spread the veggie love – by slipping as many veggies as possible into every meal and snack, instead of saving veggies just for lunchtime or dinner. Once a day just isn’t enough, and breakfast without a big serving of veggies is a missed nutritional opportunity.
- Go big on greens – Greens, raw, steamed or sprouted, go with just about everything. To effortlessly up your intake, always keep organic boxed greens on hand – think spinach, kale, arugula, mixed greens, etc. – so you can toss a fistful or two into just about everything you eat. If you don’t plow through a box quickly enough, steam and freeze some for later, or supplement your stash with frozen organic greens.
- Eat the rainbow – while greens are an excellent go-to, the more colorful veggies and low sugar fruits (like blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.) on your plate, the wider the variety of nutrients, antioxidants and polyphenols you’ll get, so bring on the reds, yellows and purples to help round out your nutritional color palette. If you’re not a huge veggie fan, then camouflage them by shredding, sautéing or finely chopping veggies into a pesto so they’ll mix seamlessly with other items on your plate.
- Dive into omega-3s – the two most convenient, minimal prep sources being ‘oily’ fish like sardines and anchovies or, for the fish averse, flax seeds, chia seeds, dried seaweed or sea vegetables as meal toppers to help cover the omega-3 bases.
- Eat and cook only with truly healthy oils – Cut out all crap oils like canola, corn, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower, rice bran and soy – they’re among the unhealthiest foods in your pantry – and switch completely over to tasty and good-for-you oils like avocado oil, beef tallow, goose and duck fat, grass fed butter, ghee and coconut oil.
- Pour on spices – to add an instant flavor upgrade to roasted veggies, dressings and sauces while also helping keep your gut and brain healthy, and inflammation at bay. Spices to sprinkle on liberally: turmeric, cinnamon, peppercorns, rosemary, tarragon, sesame.
- Don’t forget the herbs – think of herbs as the medicine you can grow in a window box. Clip off basil, cilantro, mint and/or parsley as needed to add a delicious, antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral kick to everything you eat.
- Join the fermentation nation –fermented foods are one of Mother Nature’s easiest gut health hacks, promoting a healthy microbiome, strengthening immunity, taming inflammation, supporting better digestion, elimination and even brain health. Just a scoop or two a few times a week of raw sauerkraut and kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, or lacto-fermented pickles is all you need to give your gut a major probiotic boost.
- Indulge a little – but start by phasing out the crap – think, cookies, pies, ice cream, etc. – and phasing in treats with benefits, like dark chocolate and low sugar berries. Or, you can drink your dessert instead – in a warm mug of decaf cappuccino dusted with cinnamon, or hot drinks made with high-quality, nutritious cacao powder sweetened with monkfruit or raw stevia.
- Put away the take-out menu – if you’ve spent much of the pandemic waiting for the DoorDash guy to arrive with a load of ‘comfort food,’ it’s time turn your attention back to cooking for yourself. You’ll save money, control the quality of your ingredients and, if you invest in a simple, classic, large slow cooker, you’ll save time too. In the morning, chop a few veggies, toss ‘em into the cooker, add some herbs, spices and protein, turn the heat on low, and a few hours later, dinner is ready. Easy peasy.
11 Quick Lifestyle pointers.
The second, equally important half of the good health puzzle is all about lifestyle tweaks, many of them no-brainers to boot. Start folding in any or all of the following upgrades at your own pace, and over time, you’ll get your health onto a positive, sustainable and healthy path, paved with benefits you’ll enjoy for years to come:
- ‘Get up, stand up’ for your health – whether you’re in working-from-home mode, either part-time or full-time, a convertible sit-to-stand desk-topper must be part of that plan. Not only do they encourage more micromovement more during the day but switching back and forth between seated and standing facilitates better circulation and helps boost mental energy and focus.
- Take a shake break – and by that we mean getting out of your chair between Zoom calls and shake one limb at a time, or doing some light body tapping to wake-up circulation and increase blood flow to your muscles and beyond. Doing so will also help release tension and anxiety so it’s a head-to-toe win for body and mind.
- Make your moves multiple – set an alarm to go off every 45 minutes or so to help prevent all that desk time from shortening your life. If you’re at home, counteract sedentary days with quick movement breaks. Do a few flights of stairs, a few planks or burpees. At the office, take a quick walk from one end to the other or to the water cooler and back. Even toe-tapping, foot-wagging and fidgeting are beneficial to your vasculature, and blood sugar levels. Got a little more time, just not much all at once? Any kind of movement for ten minutes, at least two or three times a day, will add up – so don’t just sit there. Got time for a more ambitious regular routine? Even better!
- Curb your chemicals – purging every toxin from your life might be tough, but removing as many as you can is key. You can cut exposure almost instantly – and significantly – simply by converting your cleaning, cosmetics and personal care products over to cleaner, greener versions. For ones that are kinder to your body and the earth, check out the Environmental Working Groups highly-respected Consumer Guides.
- Drink the clean stuff – tap water, no matter how good yours is, tends to come with loads of contaminants, some of which can damage your liver, kidneys, reproductive organs and mess with your hormones. Adding a carbon filtration system to your water will significantly cut toxins in seconds.
- Soak in some sunlight – to help naturally optimize your vitamin D levels as you synch your body’s master clock and natural sleep and wake rhythms. Add a pleasant, daily round of mood-boosting sun exposure on unprotected skin to take advantage. No pinking, no burning – just a few minutes will do the trick.
- Meditate for a few minutes – find two minutes in the morning or at the end of the day to quickly calm and soothe with meditation. Though the more time you can find to meditate the better, even a short daily practice will help improve memory, processing speed, focus and creativity. You’ll also lower blood pressure, stress and anxiety. Add another few minutes before bed to help you rest easier and faster.
- Scroll less, a lot less – tune out social media as much as possible — it’s a major stress-booster that also syphons off much of the precious minutes in the day that would be better spent moving, meditating, grabbing some time in the sun, or connecting in person with real live breathing people! If you must generate content ‘on social’ for professional reasons, automate or outsource as much as possible, and restrict your activity to just a few minutes in the morning or at midday. Engage as little as possible in the evenings to minimize sleep disruption.
- Do dinner lighter and earlier – to ensure that you’re wrapping up digestion long before you hit the hay. Finish dinner at least two to three hours before bedtime, so you’re gut’s not working overtime when the rest of you needs to be sleeping. Avoiding sugar and alcohol close to bedtime as both have a negative impact on your ability to fall and stay asleep.
- Make every night an early one – even if it means turning in earlier to make the numbers work. You need 7 – 8 hours a night to give your body and brain the time needed to rest, repair and refresh, so no cutting corners and trying to ‘get by’ on 5 or 6. Whether you’re a lark or a night owl, start downshifting your day after dinner, turning down lights, shutting down devices, taking a hot bath and doing a little restorative yoga – all of which will help sleep come more easily.
- Add supportive supplements to your daily mix – in addition to eating whole, healthy foods. Among the basic, daily must-haves most people need are a quality multivitamin, 1 -2 grams of a high-quality fish oil with EPA and DHA, 300-500mg of magnesium and vitamin D3 (dosage determined by your blood levels).
Here’s to your upgraded health!