There’s something special about the start of a new year. We are rejuvenated with a fresh rush of motivation and blessed with a squeaky clean blank slate, providing the perfect set of circumstances to make a lifestyle change. In fact, research has shown that the most successful behavior change occurs during times of novelty. Whether it’s a new house, new job, new school, or a new year, any new beginning is the prime time to create change. Yet, even with the power of novelty, change is challenging. It’s no secret that one of the most common resolutions is to “eat healthier, lose weight, and improve wellbeing”. But if the same resolution is resurrected and repeated year after year, this tells us one thing: our intentions are persistent, but we aren’t so great at executing.
Here’s to getting it right in 2017 and beyond! Follow this guide to cultivate a healthy lifestyle that lasts a lifetime.
The trouble with resolutions is that they are tied to a one-year deadline. But, if our true pursuit is lifelong well-being, it’s silly to think a one-year commitment will provide a lifetime of health.
This year, be bold and ditch the new year’s resolution. These timestamped, temporary pledges will only produce transient results at best. Instead, use the momentum of the New Year to cultivate healthy habits that you can repeat on a daily basis and maintain for a lifetime. The automatic, repetitive, and consistent nature of habits is the key to lifelong well-being. After all, what we do every day matters more than what we do once in awhile. Tell me your daily habits, and I will tell you your health.
Get Back to the Basics
In the past, we’ve overlooked the basic fundamentals to healthy living, and placed our faith in “sophisticated” and complex fads, jumping from one trendy program to the next. But how can we knock the essentials if we haven’t actually given them a chance to work their magic? This year, skip the trends and stick with the tried and true.
Real food. Real food is energizing, life-giving, disease-protecting, anti-aging, and mood-boosting - everything we need to live a long, healthy, and happy life. Colorful fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, high quality proteins, and healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, olives, and avocado, these nutrient-rich whole foods are perfectly packaged with the vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and energy we need to thrive. Yet, studies show an estimated 50% of our diet is comprised of ultra processed foods that are not only devoid of beneficial nutrients, but also contain toxic and artificial additives.
Water. The human body is comprised of about 65-70% water, an unmistakable indicator of its importance in human health. Water plays a critical role in supporting the function of every organ in the body, from nutrient transportation, temperature regulation, joint lubrication, energy metabolism, tissue repair, detoxification, to cognitive function. Water replenishment is a necessity when it comes to optimal health, yet research estimates a striking 75% of U.S population is functioning under a chronic state of dehydration.
Sleep: Sleep is our body’s only opportunity to repair, rebuild, and recharge, yet we tend to be more preoccupied about recharging our mobile device than we are about our most important device of all: our body! When it comes to well-being, sleep is all too often underrecognized. Studies show over one third of the U.S population is sleep deprived. Sleep is just as important as nutrition when it comes to optimizing health. In fact, sleep has an effect on appetite, food intake, energy expenditure, nutrient utilization, stress hormones, weight, energy level, mood, and cognitive function.
Movement. Our bodies were designed to move and groove, yet each year we are becoming increasingly more sedentary. Studies estimate American adults spend an average of 13 hours sitting each day, and only 20% meet the CDC’s physical activity guidelines. While it’s true you can’t outwork a poor diet, there’s plenty of compelling reasons to move your body. Regular exercise promotes sleep quality, strengthens cognitive function, improves metabolism, relieves stress, enhances physical performances, and supports healthier food choices.
Breath. It’s no secret that our population is living under chronic stress, but the truth is, the more we give to ourselves, the more we can ask of ourselves. In fact, “unplugging” on a regular basis has been shown to improve productivity, creativity, energy, performance, health and happiness. Whether it’s yoga, meditation, reading a book, taking a warm bath, sipping on tea, or doing a puzzle, taking time to relax and reset is critical to our health and happiness.
Personalize Your Approach
While the five basic elements to healthy living appear deceivingly simple, in practice, they are incredibly challenging to implement. Here’s the challenge: The basics alone are just a list of ingredients. What we need, is a recipe of how to actually put these fundamentals into action. And we don’t just need any recipe, we need a personalized recipe that takes into account our individual traits, tendencies, preferences, as well as our unique biology and health requirements. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all formula to healthy living. Healthy living is about finding the unique combination of habits and practices that work best for you. Here’s how to find your personal lifestyle:
Know Yourself Better
While the basics ring true for all humanity, how we implement them will vary from person to person. We are much more similar to one another than we are different, but those differences are very important. Your success will depend on how well you are able to identify strategies that align with who you are and what makes you, you. It’s much easier to adjust your strategies to work in congruence with your personality than it is to try and wedge yourself into rigid framework that directly competes against your human nature.
Reflect on times when you’ve succeeded, and times when you have struggled. What circumstances led you to be victorious, and what circumstances distracted you or prevented you from following through? Consider taking a personality test to help you get to know yourself better. (Try habit & happiness expert Gretchin Rubin’s Quiz). Here are a few questions to get you started:
- Do you need accountability, or do you rebel against obligations?
- Do you prefer solitude or social settings?
- Do you prefer familiarity or variability?
- Are you a night person or a morning person?
- What comes easier to you, moderating or abstaining?
- Are you a planner or do you prefer to live impulsively?
- Do you prefer to take big steps or baby steps?
How you answer these questions will help you identify the best strategies for bringing back the basics. For example, if you are someone that needs accountability, signing up for workout classes that charge a no-show fee, or finding a workout buddy may help you maintain a regular exercise routine. If you’re someone that prefers variability, a standard gym membership may be too monotonous, but perhaps a ClassPass membership offering a diverse collection of classes will keep you engaged and committed.
Employ Habit Hacks
Now that you’ve identified habits that support your human nature, the next step is to activate these habits. Forming new habits can be just as hard as breaking old ones, but the good news is there is a method to the madness. Here are a few trusty habit hacks to help get you started:
Downsizing: Focus on one habit at a time, and break it down into into the smallest, easiest action imaginable. Mentally, this will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and intimidated from trying to change too much all at once, and it will also reframe the habit into a task so simple it would be ridiculous not to follow through. For example, if your goal is to drink 10 glasses of water in a day, rephrase the habit: “drink half a glass of water per hour”.
Pairing: Piggyback on pre-existing routines that are already embedded into your daily routine, such as taking a shower, brushing your teeth, receiving a text message, eating a meal, or the sun setting. Use these routines as the cue to trigger your new desired behavior. For example, when you make a morning pot of coffee, let this be the cue to drink a glass of water.
Scheduling: When a task is on the schedule, suddenly it becomes a priority, encouraging us to manage our time around it. It also serves as a reminder and holds us accountable for following through. Try setting an hourly event on your calendar to remind you to take a brief walk and grab a drink of water, or adding your weekly workouts to your calendar.
Reconstructing: Make the healthy choice the most convenient choice by reconstructing your environment. Remove or relocate cues that trigger poor behavior and replace them with cues and tools that support your new habits. Give your pantry a makeover: place healthier choices at eye level, and store junk food on the top shelf out of arm’s reach. Pack your gym bag the night before a workout so come morning, there are no excuses. Make the right choice too easy to resist.
The final step to cultivating a personalized healthy lifestyle is to put your lab coat on and study yourself. Use an app or consider keeping a journal to track your habits and how they impact your mood, energy level, hunger level, performance, and weight. Not only will this serve as a source of accountability, but amongst the data you collect, patterns will begin to emerge. While we all thrive on real food, ample sleep, regular activity, proper hydration, and daily relaxation, our needs within each of these categories will vary. For example, one person may find they can thrive on 7 hours of sleep, while others may require 9 hours to be their personal best. Similarly, two people served the same exact meal may experience drastic differences in blood sugar, energy, mood, and weight due to differences in biology, digestion, metabolism, activity level, and so on. Logging this information will help you understand how to manipulate variables such as the meal size and composition, meal timing and eating frequency, bedtime, sleep duration, rise time, water requirements, exercise type, duration, and frequency in a way that works best for you. Trust that this is just a temporary science project and enjoy the process. After all, no population-based research study will ever be able to provide you with the type of personalized insight that you’ll uncover during this journey of self-discovery!
Give Your Lifestyle a Purpose
With today’s heightened focus on health and wellbeing, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture and forget the true purpose of living a healthy lifestyle. A lifestyle should be something that supports your life goals - it shouldn’t be your life goal. Take a step back and ask yourself: What do you want to achieve, experience, or create in your lifetime? How does your vitality empower you to pursue your passions, chase your dreams, and achieve your life ambitions? Whether it’s raising a family, traveling the world, or starting your own company, every ambition becomes more attainable with optimal health and well-being.