The new year is approaching, which for many signifies a fresh start with a set of resolutions ― including ones that aim to improve well-being.
But people often default to “losing weight,” believing that shedding pounds is the only way to achieve optimal health. Not only is this a vague goal; it frequently comes with unhealthy habits ― think restrictive diets and overexercising ― rather than those that promote wellness.
If you’re considering New Year’s resolutions for living more healthfully, keep in mind that they should be specific, realistic and sustainable, said Rebecca Leslie, a psychologist who owns of the practice Best Within You Therapy & Wellness. This will ensure that you stick to the new habits incorporated into your life.
Here are 11 steps you can take to genuinely boost your health in the year ahead ― all without weight as the underlying motive:
1. Start A Mindfulness Routine
Mindfulness, the practice of focusing on the present moment, can be profoundly calming and uplifting. A mindfulness routine can help decrease stress and anxiety levels, Leslie said, which is a huge benefit to your overall health.
“Find a mindfulness activity, like meditation or journaling, that helps you relax before you jump ahead into your day,” she said. You can start practicing it once daily and increase the frequency as needed.
2. Focus On Your Energy Levels
Imagine your energy level as a rechargeable battery. “Pay attention to the things that drain your energy, so you can limit the amount of time you spend doing those things,” said Israa Nasir, a psychotherapist who founded the brand Well.Guide. Feeling like you’ve drained your battery can lead to burnout, exhaustion and stress, she added.
When you feel depleted, try to recharge with rejuvenating activities that give you quick bursts of energy, recommended Amy Young, an organizational psychologist and faculty member at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
These could include listening to an upbeat song, talking with a friend, going on a walk or taking a 15-minute nap.
3. Increase Your Daily Movement
Don’t feel the need to join a gym if you’ll just loathe going every day. Instead, invest more time in movement that you enjoy, like walking, running or yoga, said Nekeshia Hammond, a psychologist, author and speaker.
This will improve your physical health and your mental health as well. Staying active increases serotonin, the “feel-good hormone” in your brain, said Alyssa Mancao, a therapist who founded the practice Alyssa Marie Wellness.
4. Spend More Time Outdoors
Nature and greenery often evokes a sense of relaxation and peacefulness. Spending time outdoors, especially in sunlight, can have positive impacts on your mood, Nasir said.
Take a short walk or have a meal outdoors to get some “green therapy” during your day. Even in the winter, this can help your mental health.
5. Prioritize Quality Rest
Getting sufficient sleep every night is important for brain function and mood throughout the day. “I recommend developing a sleep care routine to reduce and limit distractions before bedtime, which will lead to quality rest,” Mancao said.
Using electronics at night can interfere with your sleep. If you often scroll on social media, Mancao suggested setting an alarm on your phone that signals when it is time to close the app ― ideally at least 30 minutes before bed.
6. Drink More Water
Staying hydrated not only helps with appetite regulation but also supports healthy skin, immunity, digestion and other bodily functions, said Supriya Lal, a dietitian based in New York City.
“Most people don’t drink enough water daily. To increase your hydration intake, consider getting a new water bottle or keeping a time log of your drinks,” she said.
Each person’s water needs are different, but a general rule of thumb is to aim for at least 2 liters of fluid a day. Make sure you’re hydrated enough by looking at your urine’s color; it should be pale yellow.
7. Set Boundaries Around Social Media
Setting healthy limits on your social media usage can improve your mental health. This includes taking inventory of what you’re seeing on a daily basis.
“At the beginning of the year, start a social media ‘cleanse’ to look at the accounts you follow, and make sure to unfollow any that do not make you feel good,” Leslie said.
You can also try to find different accounts that inspire and boost your mood, Nasir added. For example, you could start following influencers who represent your body type or people who are doing good in the world, or you might look for accounts with recipes or funny memes. The goal is to make each platform an empowering place to visit ― not one that makes you feel inadequate.
8. Build A Skin Care Routine
“Healthy skin starts with a consistent yet simple cleansing routine,” said Dr. Zain Husain, a dermatologist and CeraVe partner. He recommended trying a hydrating cleanser, applying sunscreen year-round and using a moisturizer that fits your skin type.
Taking care of your skin is part of taking care of your health. “Keep checking your skin to identify any new moles, growths or rashes that look suspicious or have new symptoms,” Husain said. “If you notice something, don’t delay and have it evaluated by your dermatologist.”
9. Commit To A Gratitude Practice
Recognizing what makes you feel grateful can profoundly help with stress and anxiety levels, said Kristin Meekhof, a therapist and co-author of “A Widow’s Guide to Healing.”
Hammond recommended taking some time every day to think about what makes you grateful and then writing those things down in an app or journal. You can read the list whenever you need to boost your mood.
10. Cook More At Home
Eating doesn’t necessarily need to be tied to weight loss. Instead of counting calories, shift your focus to cooking delicious, nutritious foods at home more often. Experiment with different ingredients and recipes. In addition to saving you money in the long run, it’ll help fuel your body in creative and fun ways ― no dieting required.
11. Spread Joy To Others
“I strongly recommend doing something each day or week to bring someone else joy,” said Dr. Neha Chaudhary, the chief medical officer with mental health platform BeMe Health. “Science says that bringing other people joy and happiness brings us joy and happiness. And joy and happiness are good for our health.”
One habit you might adopt is to hug a loved one for at least 20 seconds, repeating this as often as you can. There’s evidence that hugging for this long not only releases feel-good chemicals in your brain, but it reduces the stress hormones in your body, which is good for your long-term health, Chaudhary said.