The beginning of a new year brings with it reflections and motivation. Many people decide that the start of the year is symbolically the time to recommit to their health in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, many people become overzealous with their goals, and find that in a month or two, their good intentions have fallen by the wayside.
At BodaHealth, we believe that there are a few changes that you can make that don’t have to be overwhelming. They’re small steps to healthier living that you can sustain for the rest of your life. While they may not be as flashy as losing 20 pounds or going completely vegan, they’re the kinds of things that are more likely to make a difference in your health in the long run. Among them:
Make your own meals.
You don’t have to be a great chef, but making your own food with simple ingredients gives you control over what you eat. The result is that you’ll be eating fresh and wholesome meals that translate into better health, stable weight, and increased energy.
For those of you who don’t do well with intermittent fasting, this might be the most important meal of the day. When you eat protein for breakfast, you’re helping to balance your blood sugar, eliminate food cravings, and giving your body the energy it needs to propel you through your day.
Make sure you get a little protein at every meal
Like eating breakfast, protein helps to level out your blood sugar, reduces cravings, and provides the building blocks your body needs to function at its best.
Dial back on the processed sugar you’re eating
This doesn’t mean you have to cut it out completely, but know that sweeteners and refined carbohydrates are the bad actors behind a number of health conditions, such as heart disease, hypertension, inflammation, and diabetes. Eating too much sugar speeds up the aging process, slows down your immune function, robs the minerals from your bones, and causes obesity. Where to start? The easiest way to eliminate a bunch of sugar from your diet is to cut down on sweet drinks (including fruit juice), which are a source of amazingly high concentrations of sweeteners.
Commit to getting enough sleep each night
I know; boring. But sack time is when your body heals and rejuvenates from the physical and emotional stressors of your day. Not getting enough sleep raises your risk for a long list of health issues, including heart disease, hypertension, depression, diabetes, and even weight gain. To make things worse, a regular lack of shuteye increases your risk of having an accident, suppresses your sex drive, and ages your skin. How much sleep do you need? Everyone is different, but a good 7-9 hours a night is generally suggested.
Do something to manage your stress
Yes, life is stressful. But here’s the thing—stress affects almost every system in your body, and not in a good way. Over time, high levels of stress can increase your risk for a host of symptoms and illnesses. This means whatever you do to temper your stress an invaluable step toward improving your health. Whatever works for you is best, whether it’s taking a Yoga class, meditation, counseling, turning off the news, going for a bike or hike, time with friends, learning mindfulness, or just going fishing.
Move your body a little bit every day
You don’t have to join a gym or do the Ironman. Just pick one or more activities that work for you and do it regularly. It can be dancing to your favorite songs, walking, hiking, skiing, or putting on a cardio video. If you’re already very physically active, the other side of the coin is appropriate—make sure you’re giving your body enough rest and time for recovery.
Do the things that you love
Your life is busy, and it’s easy to work all week, run errands or participate in the kids’ activities on the weekend, and ultimately have very little time to do the things that you like to do. However, that balance between time for yourself and time for others is just as crucial as the balance between work and rest or eating a healthy diet. Spending time doing what you care about is important to your health and a key to happiness.
Cultivate your relationship with nature
This is one of the foundations of Chinese medicine, of good health, and even of connecting with spirituality. You can do this by spending time outdoors, growing a garden, eating local and seasonal foods, birdwatching, or hiking in the woods. There’s a great deal of research on both the physical and mental health benefits of simply walking in the woods. So just go outside and see what happens!
That’s it. We’ve deliberately kept our list simple and doable. Start wherever makes the most sense for you and pick something that you feel you can sustain in the long run. In the meantime, all of us at BodaHealth wish you only good things in the coming year.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.