Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant
1. Find ways to move more.
With gyms closed, people working from home, and the majority of the country under shelter-in-place orders for months at a time, getting enough exercise has become even more challenging than usual. That’s why prioritizing fitness is one of the best things you can do for your health this year! It may take some creativity, but there are ways you can get in the recommended amount of physical activity every week -- either 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity.
Consider joining an online class, doing online workout videos, or creating a circuit training routine in your home. You can also move more by taking a walk while you’re making phone calls, parking in the back of the parking lot if you need to go to the store, or playing with your kids outside instead of watching T.V.
If you are struggling to get started or feel overwhelmed, work on something small each day - such as 10 push-ups, 15 crunches, or a 30-second plank.
2. Practice vice-free self-care.
There’s no question that living through a pandemic is emotionally challenging. For many, it brings up difficult emotions like fear, anxiety, loneliness, and even despair. To combat these, many people look for activities that make them feel better or distract them from a difficult and uncertain reality.
Unfortunately, under the guise of “self-care,” many people engage in activities that can be destructive rather than constructive. While activities like online shopping, drinking alcohol, taking recreational drugs, or gambling online can offer temporary relief, in the long run, they often do more harm than good.
Self-care is more important than ever as we navigate this once-in-a-lifetime global health crisis. A great resolution is to prioritize self-care this year and make sure that your self-care activities are vice-free. Constructive self-care options include exercise, art, healthy cooking, meditation, reading, connecting with friends, journaling, organizing cabinets and closets, or learning a new skill.
3. Eat a plant-based diet.
New Year is a great time to evaluate your eating habits and resolve to make positive changes. Since 2014, “Veganuary” has become increasingly popular, with hundreds of thousands of people around the world going vegan for the month of January. Others have participated in “Meatless Mondays”, or “Vegan Until Six” (eating vegan until 6 p.m. every day).
Even if you don’t go completely vegan or vegetarian or engage in a structured plant-based eating plan, you can still improve your health by adding more plants to your diet. Plants are rich in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals that many animal products don’t contain. Plants also have a high water content, which means you can eat large portions with relatively few calories. Another advantage of a plant-based diet is that it can help you avoid foods that contain processed sugar, trans fats, preservatives, and other synthetic additives.
If you make vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds the star of the show and think about meat and dairy products as sides instead of the main meal attraction, you’ll make a healthy shift in your eating habits and a positive, sustainable change you can enjoy in the year to come.
4. Limit recreational screen time.
One of the unavoidable realities of the pandemic is that it has increased our exposure to screens. Many people have been working remotely, attending meetings online instead of in-person, and attending school online.
While the use of computers, smartphones, and other screens are necessary to keep up with work and school, too much screen time can have a detrimental effect - it can cause eye strain, headaches, and insomnia. In young children, too much screen time can also lead to slow language development, impaired social skills, stifled creativity, and childhood obesity.
One way to keep a healthy balance in your life is to avoid using screens for recreational activity. Instead of watching a movie or streaming a show, engage in activities that don’t involve screens, like reading, cooking, making art, doing puzzles, going for walks, or playing outdoors.
5. Invest in your mental health.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented global health crisis -- and an unprecedented mental health crisis as well. Since shelter-in-place orders took place in the early spring of 2020, rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts have skyrocketed.
While it’s important to be vigilant about your physical health, it’s equally important to be vigilant about your mental health. Take time to engage in activities that have been shown to lower depression and anxiety, and increase feelings of well-being, including exercise, sunshine, laughter, creative expression, and connecting with family and friends.
If you’re experiencing significant mental health difficulties, contact a mental health provider for help. Most mental health providers offer online sessions, and there are also many app-based mental health resources.
If you need help with a substance abuse issue, or if you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, you can call the Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
6. Schedule check-ups with your healthcare provider.
Many patients have been so concerned with the imminent threat of COVID-19 that they haven’t kept up with preventive health visits, including dental check-ups, PAP smears, colon cancer screenings, mammograms, and annual wellness visits with a primary care provider.
One of the best health resolutions you can make in 2021 is to schedule all of the preventive health visits you’re due for this year (or missed in 2020) since the virus isn’t the only thing that can derail your health goals if left undetected or untreated.
At GoHealth, we’re here to make your 2021 as healthy as possible! We offer same-day illness and injury care 365 days a year.