This article first appeared on Wellness Mama.
We are nearing the time of year when we make lists of all the things we have resolved to change (and which two-thirds of us will fizzle out on within the first month).
The problem with resolutions is that often we make multiple major and life-altering changes and expect them to happen overnight. Then, frustration hits and burnout results.
For the last several years, I’ve stepped away from the grand resolutions and focused instead of small, short-term goals or experiments. It’s a shift in mindset that helps me focus on small, simple changes that are actually doable here and now. The change has really helped and I find that bigger changes naturally follow.
Free or Low-Cost Healthy Habits for the New Year
My challenge to you: as you read through this list of healthy habits to adopt in the New Year, don’t even let yourself think, “I should do all of those.” Truly only pick one to start, and reward yourself for completing the first mini-challenge by setting a new goal!
I’m sure you’ll think of many others that could be added to this list, but I’ve started with those that seem the most essential to mom-life.
1. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is a non-negotiable for health. (Some sleep experts say it is even more important than diet and exercise combined!) Sleep helps the body restore and heal, is vital for hormone production, improves mood, aids weight loss, and more. In short, if you aren’t sleeping, you aren’t healthy.
Sleep is also free and this is a pretty simple change to make if you commit to it. Granted, some people do have trouble falling or staying asleep, but there are often simple remedies to help with this as well.
The Challenge: If this area is a struggle for you, start small. Think through your bedtime routine. What is the one thing you could change that would make the most impact right away? Some ideas (remember, only pick one to start):
- Buy some magnesium oil and put it next to the bed. Apply to feet every night before bed. Reward yourself for keeping this habit for 10 weeks (about the time it takes to form a new habit) by investing in something to improve your sleeping environment: new pajamas, a sleep mask, or a good book to read.
- Blue light from screens can interfere with sleep. After dinner, dim the lights in the house and wear blue-light blocking glasses until bedtime. This is a small change that doesn’t cost much but will protect your body’s natural sleep cycle.
2. Drink Water
Just like sleep, water is essential to digestion, mental health, removal of toxins, and more. Water is typically free and available to all of us, though purified water can cost a little up front if you invest in a quality water filter.
Though there are as many theories on how much water to drink as there are brands of bottled water, some good rules of thumb are:
- Don’t let yourself get really thirsty as thirst is a good sign that you need to drink water (obviously).
- Drink at least one cup of water for each cup of caffeinated beverage or alcohol that you drink (in addition to your regular water consumption).
- Consider drinking some salt water in the morning. Sound strange? Here are some reasons you might want to drink salt water daily.
The Challenge: A generic “I’ll drink more water” resolution will evaporate all too soon! Keep goals small, specific, and tied to some daily action already in the day:
- Every night when cleaning the kitchen after dinner, make a pitcher of fruit and herb flavored water to infuse overnight and drink the next day. The whole family will be more likely to drink it!
- Commit to having a mug of hot lemon water before coffee in the morning. It’s the perfect wake-up call with plenty of health benefits in addition to the extra H2O.
3. Reduce Stress
Stress can do more to hurt your health than any cheat day ever could. Of course, adding “reduce stress” to your to-do list isn’t going to help much.
The list of what stress can do to a body is long. Hair loss, weight gain, infertility, headaches, muscle pain, higher risk of disease… you name it… stress can cause it.
The Challenge: This is always a tough one to tackle because it feels like fighting an invisible enemy. Plus, as a mom it often feels like there’s no time to step away and refocus. There are small changes that take no time or spa days away (although I recommend those too if you can manage it!):
- Adopt an encouraging or calming saying to repeat to yourself throughout the day. One that really helps me is “Everything will work out perfectly.” Write it everywhere… on your fridge, on the mirror, and in a recurring reminder on your phone. Repeat, repeat, repeat!
- Pray or meditate for 5 minutes a day. Attach this to a daily ritual you never miss, like your morning cup of coffee. (If the idea of meditation makes you scoff, check out this podcast on meditation for fidgety skeptics.)
I don’t like the word “exercise” as it has a negative connotation of something people don’t enjoy doing (picture monotonous miles on a treadmill while watching a stress-inducing news channel). I also don’t like the idea of “exercise” as a hobby, as it isn’t something that one should just do for fun.
Instead, focus on just moving! Movement is (or definitely should be) a normal part of human life, yet many of us aren’t getting enough of it. Movement should also be functional. Endless reps on an exercise machine don’t mean anything if they aren’t helping improve your daily life.
Instead, focus on movements that are useful, such as:
- Lifting heavy objects – useful if you ever need to carry someone out of a dangerous situation (house fire, car accident, etc.) or move an object without help.
- Sprinting – useful if you need to escape a bad situation, rabid dog, or other threat. Running a consecutive 26 miles probably won’t be as helpful here but the ability to do a solid 100-meter sprint is vital.
- Walking – In the past, humans have moved a lot more than we do these days. Walking is good for posture, digestion, and bone health. Do it!
- Swimming – Great for overall health and lung capacity, but also useful if you ever fall into a body of water and need to be able to get out of it.
Mini-Challenge Ideas: Functional exercises like walking, sprinting, etc. are free! If you need to up your movement quota but find the idea overwhelming, start with a few simple goals and build on your success:
- Pick one move to master and do as soon as you get out of bed. Try legs-up-the wall, a squat, or this spider crawl exercise.
- We’re often in a rush to get somewhere, but not when we get home. The next time you park the car, take a 3-minute walk up the street and back before going into the house.
- Install a chin-up bar in a doorway you walk through often and do a dead hang (or chin-up if you can!) when you pass by.
Once you’ve mastered the habit, move on to the next one!
I know, who needs one more thing to do! Still, volunteering makes the list this year as a great habit to cultivate as a family. The hurricane that hit our area opened my eyes in a new way to the importance of contributing to a tight-knit and supportive local community.
While we may not think of this as a habit, volunteering takes a certain willingness to go out of our way and set our to-do lists aside to work on making someone else’s life better. It takes consistent effort, but it’s worth it!
Giving back outside the home teaches children (and adults) to think of others. Not only is it free, but it also benefits the community. Thinking of those less fortunate also increases our sense of gratitude, which has proven health benefits for mind and body.
The Challenge: Calculate the date 30 days from now and mark it on your calendar. Challenge yourself to complete one new volunteer activity by this time. Set reminders for every 5 days leading up to this date. These are your checkpoints to remind you to do your research, pick a cause, and add it to the calendar.
- Use a site like VolunteerMatch or CreatetheGood to align your talents and passions with an organization doing similar work. If time is an issue, start with a once-a-month commitment.
- Call a local hospital or soup kitchen and ask about opportunities and needs you can help fill. Other options are local home-building projects, food banks, community clean-up efforts, nursing homes, animal shelters, or other venues.
- Sometimes it’s easy to forget those closest to us. Who in your circle of family or friends could use a helping hand or an encouraging note? Put it a recurring task on your calendar to pick one family member or neighbor to help each month. If you do well at that, move to each week! The reward is built-in… more health and happiness for everyone.