Four Ways to Improve Your Health in 2019

How small changes can have a lasting impact

By Julissa McClean

New year, new you, right? Well, maybe. A New Year’s resolution is no different from a crash diet. Sure, it can be a jump start, but if you don’t put in the work, you’ll likely crash and burn before you begin to see lasting results. Let’s start 2019 without a resolution, and instead vow to make small, but significant changes slowly and steadily.

A woman of African descent is swimming in a pool as part of a fitness class. She is smiling at the camera while holding onto a water weight.

No. 1: Exercise in a way that works for you
Like a haircut or a diet, workouts have trends that come and go. From HIIT to SoulCycle, we’ve seen it all in the last few years. Some of us get our motivation from the sense of community that such group workouts provide. But others of us find that type of interaction intimidating and therefore off-putting. Don’t let that be the reason you don’t exercise—not when you have so many options. Yes, gym classes provide accountability. People see them as a daily appointment or meeting they’ve committed to, providing a feeling of “I have to be at this place, at this particular time.” But you can craft a customized workout regime at a gym on your own, or with a personal trainer getting you started. Or you can begin by working out in your living room along to an exercise or dance video on YouTube. Go for a leisurely walk in your neighborhood. Do arm exercises while holding your child. Embrace who you are and customize your workout routine according to what you’ll enjoy and want to achieve.

Further, you may want to rethink your aversion to classes, as they may not be as hard-core as you imagine.

“Now, more than ever, we’re seeing the emergence of more inclusive workout environments,” says Laura Leigh Abby, co-owner of The Studio @ Beacon, a gym in Beacon, New York, that encourages its members to seek balance while fostering a body-positive environment. “Something you can do to improve your health and achieve your fitness goals is to embrace the ‘come as you are’ mentality,” says Abby. “Find an environment and a workout that don’t simply get you physical results but help you feel great about yourself on the whole.”

Harvard Health recommends the following workouts:
Swimming – The buoyancy of water allows your body to move fluidly while taking the strain off painful joints.
Tai chi—Known as “meditation in motion,” this martial art combines movement and relaxation.
Strength training—Lifting light weights keeps muscles strong without bulking them up. You should be able to start by lifting one or two pounds, 10 times, with ease, before increasing after a few weeks.
Walking—Adults should start by walking 10 to 15 minutes, then over time, walk farther and faster, up to 30 to 60 minutes on most days of the week. Walking is simple and has many benefits.
Kegel exercises—These will help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder. 

No. 2: Strengthen your immune system
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on average, adults have two or three colds per year. Millions of Americans suffer annually from the common cold—the main reason adults miss work. While there is no way to avoid catching a cold, you can lessen your susceptibility to it. There is also no way to cure a cold once you have one—over-the-counter medicines temporarily suppress symptoms. But you can ward off a cold before it develops into something worse and avoid getting sick as often.

Harvard Health recommends the following for strengthening your immune system:
Don’t Smoke
• Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
• Exercise regularly.
• Maintain a healthy weight.
• If you consume alcohol, drink only in moderation.
• Get adequate sleep.
• Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.
• Try to minimize stress.

The medical establishment’s assessment on vitamins and minerals has been inconclusive. As a result, many medical professionals recommend that you get your vitamins and minerals from food. Citrus fruits and dark leafy greens are high in vitamin C, while vitamin D can be found in salmon and egg yolks from chickens raised outside or labeled as high in vitamin D.

No. 3: Live your best life
Our everyday habits have a big impact on our mental and, in turn, physical health. Rewiring our brains can help us become positive and healthy. Kate Hanley, a personal development coach and author of How to Be a Better Person, recommends the following:

• Start your day right. How you begin anything sets the tone for everything that comes after. Develop a healthy morning routine to set the right tone for your day. (That means don’t roll over and immediately check your email on your phone.) Your routine doesn’t have to be elaborate. Do a couple of stretches, jot down five things you’re grateful for, or visualize the day. Start the day with a clear head and you’ll make better decisions all day.

• Embrace boredom. 
Boredom might seem like a bad thing, but it’s a much-needed counterpoint to information overload and is vital to your long-term health, happiness, and productivity. To get more comfortable with boredom, build your ability to resist meaningless distraction.

Whenever you think you’re bored, stay with that feeling instead of instinctively reaching for the nearest gadget. Look around you. Find someone else with a free moment and talk. Wonder about something in your immediate environment, then return to the next item on your to-do list with more focus.

• Change your default reaction to stress. We all have an automatic reaction to stress. You may respond with anger, or dive into self-criticism, or feel overwhelmed and anxious. Or maybe you reach for cookies or start skimping on sleep. What does your stress pattern look like? Figure it out, then write it down and make a list of things you could do instead of those old standbys. Whatever it may be, you’ll have interrupted your knee-jerk response.

No. 4: Listen to your body
There is really only one, simple way to improve your health in 2019—or in any year for that matter—and that is to listen to your body. Our body speaks to us, and it is up to us to listen to what it is saying or to put it in the back of our mind. If we eat too much junk food, our body craves a healthy detox. If we don’t eat enough food, our body becomes weak and tired. If we work out too hard, our body asks for a rest day. If we are experiencing stress, our shoulders tense up and our bodies yearn for a massage. If you’re tired, sleep. If you’re thirsty, drink water. We instinctively know how to improve our health. Let’s take the time to listen and treat ourselves well. DW

Julissa McClean’s health-focused stories have been featured in Women’s Health, Prevention, and Vice. She has also written for Cosmopolitan and Latina, as well as Diversity Woman.

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