5 easy steps to be healthier in the new year

Sleep mask. Photo: Ela Dutt

What were your health wins this year? What areas of your health and well-being need some work?

As we make plans to ring in a new year, it’s a good time to look at your personal health scorecard for the year that was. Did you focus on self-care this year? Make and keep the necessary doctor’s appointments? Prioritize family and relationships?

Here’s a checklist of five key areas of health, and easy-to-follow advice for how to make them a priority in the new year.

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– Pick a month for medical maintenance

When is the last time you checked in with your doctor? If you don’t have a regular doctor, make 2023 the year you find one. Here’s a tip for sticking to a schedule for routine medical care: Schedule your annual physical and other exams during your birthday month. That will make it easier to build an annual habit and remember the last time you had an exam, mammogram, eye appointment, hearing test or dental cleaning. If your birthday falls near the end of the year, and it’s been a while since you’ve seen a doctor, pick another month that has meaning to you. It can be the month of your half-birthday, or you can celebrate Valentine’s Day with a visit to your doctor.

– Set a regular bedtime

Prioritizing sleep is a relatively simple health fix but one many people struggle with. The payoff is significant. A number of issues, including heart health, weight gain and even marital problems, can be helped by regularly getting a better night’s sleep. Start with the basics. Is your bedroom a haven for sleep? Is the room at the right temperature? Is it dark enough? Is it a peaceful haven or a cluttered mess? Are the mattress, pillows and bedding comfortable? If you’ve tried all these things and still aren’t sleeping well, talk to your doctor, who might recommend a sleep study.

And here’s a tip: Stop setting the alarm for a few days, and see how late you sleep. If you’re consistently waking up a few hours past your regular alarm time, your body is telling you that you need to go to bed a few hours earlier.

– Notice your sedentary behaviors (and get off the couch)

If you’ve been struggling to start an exercise habit, try a new strategy. Start noticing when you’ve been sitting for a while, and get up and move. You don’t have to go to the gym. Just do housework, take the dog for a walk or do 10 wall push-ups. Studies have shown prolonged sitting may raise risk for heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. And even if you do exercise every day, you still need to be aware of how much you’re not moving the rest of the day. Studies show that hours of sitting can erase the benefits of your morning workout.

Use your phone or a fitness tracking device to count steps and resolve to get out of your seat every hour for a brisk walk break. An exciting new study showed that if you just pick up the pace a few minutes each day – on your walk to the train, while you’re doing housework or taking the stairs – you’ll improve your health. Learn more from our Your Move columnist, Gretchen Reynolds, about the latest science of moving a little more.

– Give time to your relationships

Study after study shows that strong social connections keep us healthier as we age. Resolve this year to socialize. Plan a weekly lunch out of the office with a co-worker. Join a book club or other social group. Call a friend for a weekly walk around the park. Having fun with other people is an investment in your long-term health.

– Add more variety to your diet

A lot of people are thinking about a resolution to lose weight. Say no to diet culture, and try this attainable and fun resolution instead: Make your diet more interesting. Scientists have found that the more diverse your diet, the more diverse your gut microbiome, which is the name for the trillions of microbes that inhabit your intestinal tract and play a crucial role in your health.

Research shows that eating a variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables, is better for your microbiome. One fast way to do this is to use more herbs and spices. You can use a variety of leafy greens rather than one type of lettuce for your salads. Adding a variety of fruits to your breakfast, adding several different vegetables to your stir-fry and eating more nuts, seeds, beans and grains is good for your microbiome.

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