You can’t walk past a magazine rack without seeing at least 17 different headlines about losing weight, burning fat, or flattening your tummy. These messages peak twice a year: In the beginning of the new year and right before “bikini season.”
The truth is, your health involves so much more than your weight, and your body size and shape aren’t an exact representation of your health status. It’s great to pursue your healthiest self, but chasing weight loss isn’t always the best way to go.
Instead, we asked various professionals in the health and medical community to share ideas for other wellness goals you can pursue instead. As with all goals, the key is to make sure they are specific, realistic, and sustainable. “Any resolution should be attainable and lead to a healthier you,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com.
1. Add an extra 30 minutes of sleep to your nightly routine.
Getting enough sleep is a struggle for everyone, and sleep deprivation has numerous consequences on your everyday life. Vowing to “sleep more” is too vague, so Harris-Pincus suggests setting your goal on getting just an extra half hour of sleep. It’s a reasonable amount, and it can help you make long-term changes.
2. Pack your lunches and snacks on work days.
Brown-bagging your meals Monday through Friday has major benefits. “Getting take-out [and] vending machine snacks on a regular basis can add up financially and potentially worsen conditions like prediabetes, diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol if you aren’t making healthy choices,” says Michelle Hyman, MS, RD, CDN.
Hyman also points an added perk of packing a lunch: You’ll avoid the long lines and free up some of your lunch hour. This might “allow you to eat and enjoy your packed lunch slowly and mindfully, or even take a walk,” says Hyman. Here are all the benefits of eating more slowly.
3. Floss daily and brush teeth twice a day.
Be honest: How much are you flossing every day? If you’re like 84 percent of Americans, you don’t floss every day, according to a survey by the American Dental Association. Find out how bad it is to never floss here.
Flossing daily (and brushing teeth for two minutes twice a day) helps cut down on plaque buildup on the teeth and along the gum line. “Plaque irritates the gums, causes cavities, and leads to a host of dental issues from gum disease to receding gum lines,” says Jennifer Silver, DDS, dentist at Macleod Trail Dental.
To make flossing and brushing daily an easier task to sustain, Dr. Silver suggests setting a reminder on your phone, watching video clips while you clean your teeth, or finding a buddy in the household to hold each other accountable.
4. Train for a 5k (or marathon) with a buddy.
Many people set goals to “start exercising,” but that’s just too vague to yield results. Plus, many make the mistake of exercising just for weight loss. If the weight loss doesn’t happen, or if you plateau, this can quickly result in frustration and lead to quitting your fitness regimen.
A better way to approach a new exercise routine is to train for something, suggests Chris Cucchiara, NASM-certified personal trainer. This could be anything from a basic 5K to a natural bodybuilding competition. Training for a race or competition “sets you up for more sustainable success [so] it isn’t about weight loss anymore,” says Cucchiara. “It is more about the end goal.”
Another way to kick up the motivation is to run a race on behalf of your favorite cause or charity. “Linking weight loss to something emotional will provide you with a big enough reason why you will keep going when you want to quit,” says Cucchiara.
And, as you already know, having a buddy to do it with you increases your likelihood of sticking with it. Not only will it make the activity more fun and social, but a buddy can hold you accountable on those days you just don’t want to train. Here are more tips to train for your first 5K.
5. Practice positive self-talk.
It sounds “fluffy,” but tweaking the way you talk to and about yourself has real effects. Negative thoughts can hold you back “in the gym, at work, and in relationships,” says Maggie Winzeler, exercise physiologist. She adds that “many people experience better overall health (internal, mental, and aesthetic) when they stop beating up on themselves and expressing disappointment in their progress and achievements.”
To make this more concrete, Winzeler suggests, “For every negative thought or verbalization, follow it up with one positive affirmation." Another idea is to write down at the end of each day three things that made you happy or proud that day.
6. Organize your life with a planner.
Your elementary school teachers tried to instill this habit in you every time they made you pull out your planner and write down your homework, and they were onto something. In addition to helping you remember to practice your spelling and get the best grade possible, having a planner simply cuts down on some of the chaos in life, whether you’re 8 or 80.
“The more organized you are, the less stress you will encounter,” says Lisa N. Folden, DPT, physical therapist, naturopathic lifestyle coach, and owner of Healthy Phit Physical Therapy & Wellness Consultants in North Carolina. “Stress has more negative effects on the body than many other factors. Decrease stress at all costs.” Here are strategies to relieve stress.
Dr. Folden suggests using your planner to keep track of work, family, and fun, and to write down “goals, grocery lists, menus, and appointments so that you are aware, on time, and prepared for your daily life.”