2 people holding 2021 balloons

Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions to Reset Your Health in 2021

I’m not the first to say what a year. I also am not the first to admit that self-care has taken a hit in 2020. Many people are looking to 2021 to be a reset. 

As a dietitian, I know first hand that diet and fitness resolutions are SUPER common. A quick Google search suggests that “lose weight” is the most popular resolution!

I also know from personal and professional experience that changing behaviors is HARD,  especially when the magic of the new year wears off. So how can you pick a resolution that will stick? And will it actually improve your health in 2021? 

Below I will outline some considerations for goal setting, followed by the top 10 resolutions that will reset your health in 2021.

How to Set SMART Goals

SMART goal setting is a technique used to help you change behaviors in a realistic and sustainable way. There are a few different interpretations of SMART, but generally it is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-based. 

Setting SMART goals helps you make a specific plan to achieve your desired outcomes. See below for an example:

I will make 1 new recipe per week for the next 4 weeks. 

By setting a SMART goal, you enable yourself to work backwards to come up with your step-by-step plan to achieve your goal. This goal requires weekly recipe selection, grocery shopping, and the selection of a day to prepare the recipe. 

Studies show that SMART goal setting is a powerful tool for creating lasting behavior change.

Looking for inspiration for a new year’s resolution? See some ideas below!

Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions to Reset Your Health in 2021

1. Self Care

Stress is critical to our survival – the rise in cortisol triggers an increase in heart rate, blood sugar, and insulin resistance. It shuts down non-essential functions to save energy. 

These events help us escape a stressful or harmful situation. However, too much can have negative impacts on our physical and emotional health.

Set goals around ways to improve your self care in 2021, especially if it started to falter during the pandemic. For example, focus on deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or reframing negative thoughts. 

2. Sleep

Short-sleep is defined as sleeping less than 7 hours in a 24-hour period. Short-sleep is associated with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, mental illness, and unintended weight gain. 

On average, about 35% of American adults suffer from short-sleep, and this number is increasing! 

If you struggle with sleep duration or quality, make that your focus on 2021. You will see improvements in physical health, emotional wellbeing, and cognitive function. 

3. Hydration

Good hydration practices allow muscles to work better. This is the case not just for muscles during exercise, but for all muscles in the body. Hydration is important for supporting your heart, blood vessels, digestive system, and mental health. 

Eight 8-oz glasses of water is the often-cited recommendation. It is a reasonable place to start, but everyone has individual needs. A better rule-of-thumb is to divide your weight in half and consume that much fluid in ounces. For example, a 180-pound individual should aim for 90 ounces of fluid per day. Keep in mind this is ALL (non-alcoholic) fluid, not just water. Even caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea contribute. 

4. Movement

We’ve been told for YEARS that regular exercise is good for our heart. This isn’t anything new. What IS new is shifting your mindset to focus on movement rather than exercise!

Gyms may be open now, but many remain hesitant about going. Instead, shift your approach and try to get more steps or movement during your day. This may offer a more sustainable approach for some, and comes with major benefits

If you are currently sedentary, start with a short walk in the morning or at lunch time, or some light stretching before bed. Something is always better than nothing. 

5. Eat regular, balanced meals

Food provides energy and nutrients. Our culture is often focused on eating as little as possible, but recognize that doing so will do nothing for your health. In order to thrive, we need to eat!

Instead of cutting out foods, try focusing on eating at least 3 balanced meals per day. A balanced meal is one that provides all three macronutrients, including carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Doing so will ensure that your meal is energizing, filling, satisfying, and nutrient-dense. Struggling with what this looks like? Check out my FREE “Good Enough Meal Planner!

6. Try a new recipe

Ok, so this may not directly improve your health, but it might get you excited about meal planning! Whenever I am in a funk with meal planning I like to look for new recipes to get motivated again. 

Setting a goal to try one new recipe per week, for example, can be a SMART goal to get you closer to your long-term health goals.

7. Reconsider “diet”

There is nothing inherently wrong with trying to work on your eating behaviors. I help people do this on a daily basis, and I love it! What is problematic is the focus on restrictive dieting behaviors that lead one to fall into the trap of the dieting cycle

Setting a plan to cut out foods in the new year can cause distress during the holiday season, and lead to all-or-nothing thinking in susceptible individuals. For example, have you ever thought to yourself: this is it, better enjoy all the cookies before my diet starts in January?

If so, you’re not alone! It is a typical reaction when anticipating restriction. Instead, think about specific, realistic steps you can take to improve your health. My suggestion: pick something from this list!

8. Cut back on alcohol

This one hurts me a little – I love a sunny afternoon at the brewery! However, alcohol is a proven carcinogen that increases your risk for a number of chronic diseases (not to mention it can disrupt your sleep!)  For some, it can be used as a coping mechanism for stress and other uncomfortable situations.

If you don’t currently drink alcohol, it is not recommended to start. If you do, take inventory of your use, identify potential triggers, and experiment with replacements. If you drink socially, try some flavored seltzer waters, kombucha, a fizzy mock-tail, or a soda. If it is used to cope with stress, experiment with deep breathing, a cup of herbal tea, a hot bath, or connecting with your support network.

9. Connect with your support network

Having a strong support network is associated with better health. Given the nature of 2020, many are feeling the effects of this shortage. 

Set an intention to reach out to your network in 2021. Set a weekly, monthly, or quarterly target. Call friends and family. If you’re “zoomed-out”, try sending a card or a letter. You might even get one back!

10. See your doctor

Visits to primary care doctors plummeted back in the spring. Seeing your doctor is one of the most important things you can do for your health. If you are someone who put off routine medical appointments in 2020, now is the best time to get back on track!

To protect yourself, ask if your doctor is offering telehealth appointments. If this is not an option, review what they are doing to keep patients and staff safe. Many are doing regular cleaning, wearing masks, and modifying waiting rooms to be socially distant. If this remains a concern, you can ask if you can wait in your car until it is your appointment time. 

Bottom Line

Health-focused New Year’s resolutions are common. After 2020, many people have found that their self-care took a hit. Consider focusing on areas of sleep and stress management, meal planning, connecting with your support network, or seeing your doctor. In order to increase the chances of sticking to your new year’s resolution, consider setting a SMART goal, which is an evidenced-based approach to creating lasting lifestyle change.

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