23 Healthy New Year’s Resolutions You Can Actually Keep
By Jillian Kubala
A new year often signifies a fresh start for many people. For some, this means setting health goals, such as losing weight, following a healthier diet, and starting an exercise routine.
However, more often than not, the health and wellness resolutions chosen are highly restrictive and unsustainable, leading most people to break their resolutions within a few weeks. This is why many people make the same resolutions year after year.
To break that cycle, it's important to make resolutions that can not only improve health but also be followed for life.
Here are 23 New Year's resolutions you can actually keep.
1. Eat More Whole Foods
One of the easiest and most sustainable ways to improve overall health is to eat more whole foods.
Whole foods, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fish, contain a plethora of nutrients that your body needs to function at an optimal level.
Research shows that following a whole-foods-based diet may significantly reduce heart disease risk factors, body weight, and blood sugar levels, as well as decrease your risk of certain diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.
What's more, adding more whole foods to your diet can be done slowly and consistently. For example, if you're not used to eating vegetables, start by adding one serving of your favorite veggie to your diet every day.
2. Sit Less and Move More
Whether it's due to having a sedentary job or simply being inactive, many people sit more than they should. Sitting too much can have negative effects on health. In fact, it may be linked to an increased risk of overall mortality.
Making a resolution to sit less is an easy and attainable resolution that can be tailored to fit your lifestyle.
For example, if you have a desk job that requires long periods of sitting, make a resolution to go for a 15-minute walk at lunch or to get up and walk for 5 minutes every hour.
3. Cut Back on Sweetened Beverages
Cutting back on sweetened beverages is a smart idea considering that sugary drinks are linked to an increased risk of obesity, fatty liver, heart disease, insulin resistance, and cavities in both children and adults.
Though quitting sweetened beverages cold turkey is always an option, gradually minimizing your intake may help you kick your sugary drink habit for good.
4. Get More Quality Sleep
Sleep is an essential part of overall health, and sleep deprivation can lead to serious consequences. For instance, lack of sleep may increase your risk of weight gain, heart disease, and depression.
There are many reasons why people don't get enough sleep, so it's important to focus on your schedule and lifestyle to determine the best ways to improve sleep quantity and quality.
Decreasing screen time before bed, reducing light pollution in your bedroom, cutting back on caffeine, and getting to bed at a reasonable hour are some simple ways to improve sleep hygiene.
5. Find a Physical Activity That You Enjoy
Every New Year, people purchase expensive memberships to gyms, workout studios, and online fitness programs in hopes of shedding excess body fat in the year to come. Though most people start strong, the majority don't make their new routine into a lasting habit.
Still, you can increase the chances of making your fitness resolutions stick. To get started, choose an activity based on enjoyment and whether it fits into your schedule.
For example, taking a half-hour walk, jog, or bike ride before work, or swimming at a gym that's on your way home, are simple and sustainable exercise resolutions.
Then, set an attainable goal, such as planning to walk a few specific days per week instead of aiming for every day.
Making a more realistic goal can enhance the chances of making your new routine last, especially if you're new to working out.
6. Take More 'Me Time' and Practice Self-Care
Taking time for yourself is not selfish. In fact, it's imperative for optimal health and wellbeing. This is especially true for those in caretaker roles, such as parents and healthcare workers.
For people with busy schedules and limited time, making a resolution to engage in self-care may take some planning. However, it's well worth the time investment.
Self-care doesn't have to be elaborate or time consuming. It can simply mean taking a bath every week, attending your favorite weekly yoga class, preparing a healthy meal for yourself, going for a walk in nature, or getting an extra hour of sleep.
7. Cook More Meals at Home
Research shows that people who cook more meals at home have better diet quality and less body fat than people who eat more meals on the go.
In fact, a study in 11,396 adults found that those who ate 5 or more home-cooked meals per week were 28% less likely to be overweight, compared with those who ate fewer than 3 home-cooked meals per week.
Start by making one meal a day, then increase the frequency over time until you're making the majority of your meals and snacks at home.
8. Spend More Time Outside
Spending more time outdoors can improve health by relieving stress, elevating mood, and even lowering blood pressure.
Making a New Year's resolution to spend more time outside every day is a sustainable and healthy goal that can benefit most everyone, no matter where you live.
Taking a walk outside during your lunch break, hiking on weekends, going camping with friends, or simply soaking in the beauty of your backyard or local park are all ways to incorporate nature into your daily routine.
9. Limit Screen Time
Many people depend on their phones and computers for work and entertainment. However, spending too much time on electronic devices — particularly on social media — has been linked to depression, anxiety, and loneliness in some studies.
Setting a resolution to cut back on the time you spend scrolling through social media, watching TV, or playing computer games may help boost your mood and enhance productivity.
10. Try Meditation
Meditation is an evidence-based way to promote mental well-being. It may be particularly helpful for people who have anxiety or depression.
Trying out this practice is a perfect New Year's resolution because there are many ways to meditate, and it's easy to find books, podcasts, and apps that teach you how to start a meditation practice.
11. Rely Less on Convenience Foods
Many people rely on convenience foods, such as packaged chips, cookies, frozen dinners, and fast food, for a quick meal or snack. Though these items may be tasty and readily available, they can have detrimental effects on your health if eaten too often.
For example, frequent fast food intake is associated with poor overall diet quality, obesity, and an increased risk of numerous conditions, including heart disease and diabetes.
To cut back on your consumption of convenience foods, make a resolution to prepare more meals at home using healthy ingredients.
12. Stop Dieting
Chronic dieting is harmful to both physical and mental health. Plus, most people who lose weight through restrictive dieting regain up to two-thirds of the weight lost within 1 year.
Dieting can also make it harder to lose weight in the future.
Rather than setting a New Year's resolution to lose weight by using restrictive measures, such as a fad diet, try a healthier, more sustainable method of weight loss by focusing on increasing physical activity and eating healthier foods.
13. Go Grocery Shopping Regularly
Having a well-stocked pantry and fridge is necessary to prepare healthy, home-cooked meals.
If you're not used to going grocery shopping, make a New Year's resolution to go to the supermarket or farmer's market more regularly to stock up on nutritious ingredients.
Depending on your schedule, it may be helpful to designate one day each week as your day to shop. Ensuring that you have time to buy the groceries you need to make tasty, nourishing meals is a savvy way to improve your diet quality.
14. Use Healthier Household Products
It's obvious that what you put into your body can significantly impact your health. However, what you choose to put onto your body and what products you use in your home matter, too.
Make a New Year's resolution to purchase more natural beauty products, household cleaners, laundry detergents, and personal care products to create a healthier environment for yourself and your family.
15. Add More Produce to Your Diet
Adding more cooked and raw vegetables and fruits to your diet can go a long way towards improving your health in the new year.
Numerous studies have shown that eating a diet rich in produce helps protect against various illnesses, such as diabetes, heart diseases, certain cancers, and obesity, as well as overall mortality.
16. Cut Back on Alcohol
Though alcohol can certainly fit into a healthy diet, imbibing too often can negatively affect your health. What's more, drinking alcohol frequently may keep you from reaching your health and wellness goals.
If you think cutting back on alcohol may be helpful for you, set a reasonable goal to keep yourself on track, such as limiting drinking to weekend nights only or setting a drink limit for the week.
If you need a non-alcoholic beverage idea to replace your usual cocktail of choice, try fruit-infused sparkling water, kombucha, or one of these fun mocktails.
17. Be More Present
Research shows that being more present may improve life satisfaction by decreasing negative thoughts, which may thereby improve psychological health.
Making a New Year's resolution to be more mindful and present may help you feel more content in your everyday life.
Spending less time on your phone, stopping to notice your environment, and listening intently to others are simple ways to be more present.
18. Take a Vacation
Taking a vacation — even a short one — may have significant and immediate positive effects on stress levels and may enhance well-being.
In the new year, make a resolution to take a vacation with friends or family members, or on your own. Whether you travel to an area you've always wanted to visit or simply plan a staycation at home, taking some time for rest and relaxation is important for health.
19. Try a New Hobby
It's common for adults to let once-loved hobbies fall by the wayside as they get older due to busy schedules or lack of motivation.
However, research shows that partaking in a hobby that you love can help you live a longer, healthier life.
Make a resolution to try out a hobby that you've always been interested in — or pick back up a hobby that used to bring you joy.
20. Stop Negative Body Talk
Talking negatively about your body can lead to feelings of body shame. In fact, research shows that engaging in and hearing negative body talk is associated with higher levels of body dissatisfaction and decreased self-esteem in both women and men.
Make a healthy New Year's resolution to engage in positive self-talk regularly and reduce negative body talk. This may not only help improve your relationship with your own body but also encourage others to stop talking negatively about themselves.
21. Visit Your Doctor
Getting examined regularly by your healthcare practitioner is important for many reasons. Having regular blood work and necessary screenings can help spot potential problems before they turn into something more serious.
Though your pace of doctor's visits depends on many things, including the type of medical care, your age, and your medical history, most experts recommend seeing your primary care physician at least once a year for a checkup.
22. Take Care of Your Teeth
Maintaining your oral health is a New Year's resolution idea that can and should be sustained for life.
Brushing and flossing your teeth regularly can help prevent oral conditions like gum disease and bad breath.
What's more, some research suggests that gum disease may be associated with serious health conditions, such as Alzheimer's and heart disease, making oral care all the more important.
In addition to regular brushing and flossing, most dentists recommend a checkup and cleaning at least once a year.
23. Create a Sustainable, Nourishing Diet
You may be making a resolution to eat healthier or lose weight year after year because you're prioritizing short-term changes over long-term health benefits.
Instead of making a plan to follow yet another restrictive fad diet, this New Year, make a resolution to break the dieting cycle and create a sustainable, nourishing eating pattern that works for you.
The healthiest diet is one that's rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods and low in heavily processed, sugary products. A healthy, long-term diet should not only be nutritious but also adaptable, meaning you can follow it for life — no matter the circumstances.
A sustainable eating pattern can be maintained on vacation, during holidays, and at parties because it's unrestrictive and suited to your lifestyle. Check out this beginners' guide to healthy eating to get started.
The Bottom Line
Though most New Year's resolutions are only kept for a short period, the healthy resolutions listed above are sustainable ways to improve your physical and emotional health that can be followed for life.
Creating a healthier relationship with food and taking better care of your body and mind can drastically improve your health in various ways.
This New Year, try out a few of the resolutions in this article to help make this year — and the years that follow — the healthiest and happiest possible.
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By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach
The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.
When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.
We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.
Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.
What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?
Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.
Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.
To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.
Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.
The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.
Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics
As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.
Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.
Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?
The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.
Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome
While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.
It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.
Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.
Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.
Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.
Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.
Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.