Why thinking small works
selinofoto/ShutterstockInstead of declaring a sweeping resolution that—let's be honest, you'll probably forget about in February—making micro monthly goals can be more effective. "Attempting to improve your health is much easier when you take small steps towards wellness, one step at a time, one bite at a time," explains Patricia Greenberg, a health and nutrition expert and author. "Jumping in too quickly often results in disappointing progress or, worse, an injury because you are hoping for a quick fix or an unattainable goal."
To make a true commitment to your health and transform your lifestyle in a long-term, meaningful way, try manageable tweaks. "Starting today, set small, easy-to-complete goals for yourself, and you'll see over time how you can add a little more each day to get to where you want to be. Eventually these will become your habit," she explains.
Here, your month-by-month guide to better health in 2018.
January: Makeover your pantry
Miroslav Pesek/ShutterstockYou made it to the gym after a stressful planning meeting at work and you somehow managed to drink four full glasses of water throughout the day. You're on the right track, but then it's suddenly 10 p.m. and you're staring down that box of Girl Scout cookies in your cabinet, wondering if one bite will make that much of a difference. The solution: a top-to-bottom pantry makeover so you never get in that position in the first place. "The physical action of changing over a pantry is very satisfying, and it's step one when thinking of small achievable goals," says Maya Feller, RD. Swap out those processed salty and sugary foods (Bye-bye, potato chips!) for minimally processed whole foods (Hello, raw nuts, quinoa, and dried fruit!). If you do want to keep an indulgent treat or two, place it on a high shelf that you don't use regularly, so it's not the first thing you see when you open the cupboard in search of something to eat. "We know when smart food choices are accessible and convenient, people are more likely to make healthful balanced meals." Find out the 19 pantry staples healthy folks always have on hand.
February: Get your heart racing
Monkey Business Images/ShutterstockCelebrate Heart Health Month by focusing on cardio, suggests Joseph Young, MD, hypertension lead and researcher at Kaiser Permanente. Because this essential organ is paramount to your vitality and longevity, keeping it in tip-top shape will improve your energy levels and help build endurance. "It's as simple as walking outdoors or indoors at a shopping mall," he says. "Regular, moderate physical activity, or walking 30 minutes a day, five times a week, helps lower blood pressure because exercise helps the heart work more efficiently. Pick something you enjoy and make it a habit." Want to do more for your ticker? Here are the 15 best ways you can improve your heart health.
March: Focus on your eyesight
Dean Drobot/ShutterstockMost of us don't think much about our eyesight until there's a problem with it. "The thought of losing your eyesight is horrible, however, most don't even do the most basic things to protect it," shares Vivienne Hau, MD. Protecting your peepers is as simple wearing sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection or wearing a wide-brimmed hat. "The sun's harsh rays can damage your eyes causing inflammation, cataracts, tumors, and even cancer," she explains. For better eyesight, try these 13 trusted tips from professionals.
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April: Eat more fruits and veggies
Syda Productions/ShutterstockNow that you've had a full three months to settle into the year, it's time to have a reality check with yourself: are you still on the bandwagon? Hanging on by a pinky? Or are you waving, miles away, admitting defeat? It's OK if you had a slip up, but now it's time to re-center your attention on your diet. A simple way to jump start your springtime health goals is to increase your daily and weekly servings of non-starchy vegetables and fresh fruits, shares Feller. These types of fruits and vegetables provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, and when you consume five servings, you're doing a solid for your digestive system. Here's how you can eat more veggies without even trying.
May: Try Meatless Mondays
Eric Urquhart/ShutterstockLean animal proteins can be great for you, but only if your diet is balanced with the right amount of fruits and veggies that provide the additional nutrients and fibers your body craves and needs. To help you figure out if you're eating enough—or too much—protein on a regular basis, go meatless for the five Mondays in May. "Research has shown that the average American does not meet the recommended intake for fruit and vegetables consumption," Feller says. "Even one meatless day per week can help you get to the recommended intake and reap all the benefits that plants have to offer. And hey, it will be a boost for the environment," she says. Here are ten delicious meatless meal ideas to inspire you.
June: Eat more home-cooked meals
Rawpixel.com/ShutterstockBetween work, kids, and trying to squeeze in a few minutes for yourself, taking time to prep a healthy meal can feel like a chore. But it's so worth it to invest that elbow grease. People tend to eat healthier at home (and no, takeout doesn't count) since foods prepared at restaurants or fast food joints tend to have more calories, total fat, salt, and sugar, Feller says. To make it less hassle on those days you're already overworked, she suggests making a list of five to seven lunches and breakfasts that you can make without thought. These can be your go-to meals that save you inches on your waistline—and dollars in your wallet. Follow these 18 tips to make your food healthier without even trying.
July: Create a healthier relationship with food
Jacob Lund/ShutterstockMany people struggle with an inaccurate perception of what it means to eat smarter and clean, while in reality, mindfulness consumption isn't black and white, good or bad, Feller says. "This is less about having salad for lunch every day and more about creating a consistent pattern of eating that allows for life as well as supports health and reduced the risk of developing diet related chronic illness," she says. Use the lazy, hot days of summer to identify your feelings toward food and also address any lingering questions you have about what might be wrong with your diet or investigate certain food group you're sensitive to. When you're clearer about what works for you, the more success you'll have.
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August: Make your doctor appointments
David Tadevosian/Shutterstock"Many people take some time off in August so your boss probably won't mind if you're out of the office for a few hours," suggests Tania Dempsey, MD. Summer is a good time to schedule your physical and health maintenance screening exams including colonoscopies, pap smears, and mammograms. Here's how to get the most out of your doctor's appointments.
September: Reimagine grains
Julia Sudnitskaya/shutterstockSeptember is Whole Grains Month, so what better time to experiment? "Make it your goal to make at least half of the grains you consume whole grains," suggests Kaleigh McMordie, RD. "Whole grains are important sources of nutrients, can improve your digestion, help you feel full longer, and help you maintain a healthy weight." For starters, swap white rice for brown, eat more oatmeal instead of sugary cereal, and switch your white bread to wheat, she suggests. You'll be amazed at how your body functions smarter and easier when you're specific about whole grains. Here's how to get more fiber in your diet without even trying.
October: Get a flu shot
Davizro Photography/ShutterstockIt's not the most dynamic goal of the year, but it is one of the easiest ways to boost your immune system as we head into flu season. October is the best time to get your flu shot, shares Michael Jackson, PhD, infectious disease researcher at Kaiser Permanente. "It's good to get it early because the vaccine can take two weeks to be fully effective, and it lasts for about year so you are protected all season long," he says. Avoid these mistakes that make the flu shot less effective.
November: Spend a few minutes meditating
shurkin son/ShutterstockWhile mental health is an important reminder no matter the day, month, or year, Dr. Dempsey says working in just a few minutes of meditation time will maintain your mood and happiness levels in a meaningful way. "November marks the start of the holiday season, which is often very stressful for a lot of people," she shares. Even a five-minute break to calm your mind and body will reduce your stress and help you get through the day. Here are more benefits of meditation, according to science.
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December: Manage alcohol consumption
Africa Studio/Shutterstock'Tis the season to drink every last drop of eggnog...or not. As Dr. Dempsey says, the temptation to go overboard with booze is plenty as you party hop from one celebration to another. "One or two drinks at a party might be fine but more can increase your risk of other health problems, including liver issues and weight gain," she says. Here's how you can prevent a hangover.