For many, January marks a significant time for what I like to call “extreme life makeover.” Whether it’s starting a new intense workout regimen or a radical and nearly impossible diet, many find themselves diving into unrealistic expectations of what a new year’s resolution should be. Many who jump on this radical new year bandwagon are left discouraged after the initial short-term success ends, and, unfortunately, sometimes with a step in the wrong direction.
Let’s consider how we can make improvements to our lives through moderation to success rather than from neurosis to rebellion.
The most likely way to achieve long-term success is with moderation. When we look at making lifestyle changes, I always encourage taking baby steps and starting first with careful observation. First observe and notice your lifestyle habits. What is helpful, what is harmful, and what do you notice? When we begin this practice of careful observation, we need to look across the board at not only diet and exercise, but proper hydration, sleep hygiene, substance use, stress, sexuality, work/life/play balance, interpersonal relationships and other significant life factors.
When you consider that the majority of diagnoses that result in hospitalization have a direct link to stress, we need to consider the overall significance of moderate lifestyle change in general.
Another important consideration is to remember the long-term goal — that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Therefore, make room for permission to also take pleasure. While we take steps to improve our nutrition and diet, a moderate approach also allows space for enjoyment, too. Enjoying a special dessert or a rich meal once in a while will most likely still prove successful for you over the long term vs. the person who tries to completely cut out one food group or desserts.
Using the model of moderation, we can slowly change certain habits that will impact our quality of life and give ourselves a better shot at living longer. “Over 30 percent of what makes us ill is not linked to our genes, but to our lifestyles,” said Dominique Lanzmann-Petithory, a gerontologist, nutritionist and sports specialist. Personally, I am a big supporter of a simple life, which includes simple lifestyle changes as well.
If you begin small, consider making these changes first:
1. Stay properly hydrated. Water makes up two-thirds of the body and is responsible for many important functions, including acting as a body detoxifier and keeping our immune system strong. Proper hydration also makes us feel vital and energetic and can improve our mental alertness. Help yourself be more successful by keeping a bottle or glass of water near your desk at work. Some experts recommend that for every cup of coffee or tea, you need about 2 cups of water to balance the diuretic effect of those beverages.
2. Get moving. Moderate exercise, like low-impact aerobics or walking, is associated with a multitude of benefits to mind, body and spirit. We know that exercise naturally provides us with an anti-anxiety and mood-enhancing effect and also reduces our risk of chronic disease. Start small. Think of taking an extra flight of stairs or parking a little farther away from the door.
3. Pay attention to your sleep hygiene. Let’s not forget, sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. The cumulative impact of not getting enough rest has significant effects on our mental and physical health. Did you know that our Delta wave sleep is the most restorative form of sleep wave we experience and that we can only get it in the first half of our sleep cycle? Therefore, you won’t be able to make up for lost sleep by sleeping in. You can only get this type of sleep by going to bed a little earlier than normal. Back up your bedtime by 30 minutes for a week and see what you notice.
4. Back-to-basics eating habits. Consider eating more foods in their whole state and reducing the steps from the source of the food to your body. Think of reducing processing, preservatives and added chemicals. Shop the outer ring at the grocery store where you’ll find the bulk of what you need to eat healthier — produce, fish, lean meats, eggs, low fat dairy, nuts and grains.
5. Be mindful. My last suggestion isn’t normally on the list of ways to improve your health, but I think it’s perhaps the most important change. When we practice a sense of mindfulness and remain present in the moment, we feel a deep sense of peace and calm as the worries about yesterday or tomorrow fall away to the experience that’s right in front of us. Staying mindful also enhances our quality of life. It helps us feel and experience things in a way that is really pure and focused. Practice setting aside concerns about the past or anticipatory anxiety about the future and simply allow yourself to be fully in the moment.
Start small. Begin by observing and noticing what’s happening to you. Make simple changes in easy ways one at a time to promote long-term success and lifestyle change rather than radical, extreme or unrealistic goal setting. When you make small steps toward improvement in moderate ways, you’ll experience sustained benefits over the long term.
Make this the year to commit to one simple resolution: moderation.