Simplify Your Health in Four Easy Steps

We are a month into the new year and many of us have been hard at work trying to stick to our resolutions, “Dry January”, cleanse, or whatever January has held for us. For me, January is a month to complete a round of “Whole30”, which allows me to reset my body with 30 days of a whole foods, grain/alcohol/dairy free diet. The challenge with resolutions or a 30-day cleanse (or anything designed to be short-term) is trying to figure out how to use it  to improve the quality of your life and your health long-term. The reason we make these changes is because we want to improve on what we were doing before, not because we want to slip back into our old habits.

Most of us are familiar with the idea that a new routine takes 30 days to become a habit, but I believe that it can take up to several months. One way to make these changes stick is to start small and make simpler changes. Big, long-lasting life changes often start with small steps that you build upon over a long period of time. Here are four small but impactful steps that you can take to improve and simplify your health long term:

  1. Drink More Water - An adequate amount of clean water should not be understated as an important aspect of health. Many Canadians are not meeting their minimum water requirement and some drink no water at all, drinking only pop, coffee, and juice. While juice does provide hydration, caffeinated beverages actually increase your need for water intake. Water is so important for maintaining healthy skin and hair, promoting optimal functioning of your internal organs, and improving energy. The average adult requires two to three litres of water daily, more if engaging in moderate exercise or drinking caffeinated beverages. Start by buying a water bottle and carrying it around with you so you can work on meeting your water goals throughout the day. As an added bonus, you will reduce the amount of plastic, single use water bottles being sold.
  2. Move Your Body - Almost all New Year’s resolutions revolve around some form of physical activity. We resolve to train for a marathon, sign up for a triathlon, or to suddenly start lifting weights when jumping straight into these activities (for most of us) will lead to injury and ultimately abandonment of the long term goal. Be aware of your current fitness level and simply resolve to move your body more. Train for a 5k, start going for a daily walk, or start lifting weights under the guidance of a trainer who will adjust based on where you are at. You are much more likely to ultimately run that half marathon if you start out at a pace that is easier to maintain.
  3. Make Simple Shifts to a Healthier Diet - It is very difficult to suddenly overhaul your diet completely and stick with it long term, especially if you are starting out with the typical Canadian diet. Start by eliminating pop or any artificially flavoured or sweetened beverage, buy most of your food on the perimeter of the grocery store and not in the centre aisles (reducing your intake of processed food), start cooking your own food rather than eating out, getting take out, or reheating frozen foods, and eat mindfully. This sounds simple but these changes go a long way towards shifting your diet to a healthier one. Commit yourself to cooking your own food and taking the time to eat, being mindful of every bite and not just inhaling your dinner in five minutes while watching television. Find some fun chefs who cook healthy, whole foods to follow on Instagram and be inspired to try new ingredients or techniques or share recipes with friends. Make it fun and plan social events around these healthy meals.
  4. Practice Mindfulness - Many of us are aware of the benefits of mindfulness-based activities like meditation and yoga, including (but not limited to) better sleep, reduced stress, improved  mood and increased longevity, but few of us are able to jump into a full practice. Start slowly by downloading a meditation app or start with five or ten minutes of breathing exercises daily. Resolve to simply focus on the present and be more aware of your surroundings as you go through your day. Be mindful.

We all have the best of intentions when we make our resolutions and are so hard on ourselves when we fail, and most of us ultimately fail. Set yourself up for success and this time next year, you will be building upon the changes you have made this year rather than resolving to start over again.