Thinking about making resolutions for a healthy new year? You’re not alone. Based on a study that conducted polls for three consecutive years, 44% of U.S. adults said they were likely to make New Year’s resolutions. And while New Year’s resolutions are sometimes viewed as unsustainable, they can lead to lasting positive changes a year later.
So, what makes a good resolution, and how many should you make?
Making resolutions that stick
Think quality over quantity when making New Year’s resolutions. According to the American Psychological Association, you’re more likely to stick with one small, realistic change than a slew of unattainable goals or even one unrealistic expectation. Think about your health and take incremental steps toward living your best life. Once you’ve taken one step, the next one becomes easier.
Rather than deciding to cut something out of your life, consider what you can do differently. As the previously mentioned research team put it, it’s better to approach a goal rather than to avoid something. For example, instead of cutting out sugar from your diet, you might have better luck trying a new, healthy recipe each week.
While many people choose goals aimed at improving their physical health, more Americans — about 45% — chose to focus on their mental health in 2022. That’s a good thing. Mental health and physical health are intertwined. When you develop healthy ways to handle stress, you’re more likely to make other choices that benefit your health.
5 New Year’s resolution ideas
What goals do you want to focus on? Here are some suggested resolutions for a healthy new year that may pique your interest and motivate you to make positive changes for your health.
1. Breathe through your nose
One of the best things you can do for your health happens without you even noticing: breathing. Subtle changes in the way you breathe can help improve your health. For example, breathing through your nose releases nitric oxide, which boosts blood flow to your heart. It also filters, warms and adds moisture to the air you take in, which can help prevent colds and other respiratory infections.
Long, slow, deep breaths (called belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing) can also slow your heart rate and help you relax. Studies show belly breathing can lower blood pressure, reduce hot flashes and increase exercise stamina.
2. Put on a happy face
When you’re happy, you smile, right? Well, it turns out it works both ways: When you smile, you feel happier. Study findings consistently suggest that both naturally occurring smiles and put-on smiles may reduce stress and illness over time. The simple act of bringing the corners of your mouth up and out can increase your overall feeling of well-being.
For an extra dose of health and happiness, add a little laughter to your day with silly pet videos or a funny movie. Laughing improves mood, reduces stress and gives your heart and lungs a mini workout.
3. Find two minutes to exercise
The standard recommendation is to get 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. But even two minutes of vigorous activity a day can add up to better health. A study found that a total of 15 to 20 minutes of intense exercise through short bursts per week was linked to a 16% to 40% lower risk of all-cause mortality and decreased heart disease and cancer risk. Jumping rope, walking up a hill, doing push-ups, shoveling snow, carrying in the groceries and dancing while holding a small child all qualify as vigorous exercise. Can you find two minutes a day to improve your health?
4. Watch the clock, not the calories
If your goal is to get to a healthy weight or lower your blood sugar levels, try being thoughtful about when you eat rather than carefully counting calories. Calorie-restricted diets are a time-honored way to lose weight and help control risk factors for chronic diseases. But counting calories can be stressful and difficult to maintain long-term. A growing body of research shows that concentrating on eating during the most active part of your day (12 p.m. to 8 p.m. for most people) can help lead to weight loss, improved blood sugar levels, reduced blood pressure and even decreased risk of some diseases. This way of eating may be especially helpful for people with Type 2 diabetes, but check with your doctor before drastically changing the way you eat.
5. Make an appointment with your doctor
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people put off seeing the doctor — as many as 40%, according to one study. But even now that things are getting back to normal (or at least a new normal), many people still haven’t returned to seeing their doctors regularly. In one study, since 2020 or earlier, 38% of respondents hadn’t been to an eye doctor, and around 25% of respondents hadn’t seen their primary care doctor or dentist. And only 13% of Americans say they see a dermatologist for skin exams, even though skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S.
Cost is the primary reason for skipping appointments. The second most common reason is “I haven’t gotten around to it.” Preventive care and keeping up with vaccinations improve health outcomes. So, this month, consider calling your doctor to set up an appointment.
Setting yourself up for a healthy new year
Milestones like a new year can give you a reason to make positive changes, but they’re not the only time for setting goals. If you miss the Jan. 1 “deadline,” remember that any day is a good day to resolve to improve your health and well-being.