In the wake of such an uncertain year, creating a New Year’s resolution for 2021 might seem like a chance for a fresh start or a fool’s errand. After all, how are we supposed to make any plans for the future knowing that circumstances out of our control might threaten to interrupt them at any time?
There’s one thing that is certain, even though the calendar has turned to a new year, we are still very much in the midst of a pandemic. This fact gives us the chance to recalibrate our plans, goals and intentions around something that we know will be a reliable constant for much of the year ahead.
With this knowledge as a compass of sorts, we recommend focusing your 2021 New Year’s Resolution on things that are mostly within your own control. Choose something broad enough that you can still make progress with small goals and actions in your current routine, rather than a resolution that depends on uncertain variables (like travel) to be successful. The COVID-19 vaccine gives us reason to hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is near—and setting short-term, attainable goals around a broad resolution can help us set ourselves up for success until we get there.
So what is a broad, and actionable New Year’s resolution anyway? Well, it’s no secret that health has been a major focus for many of us this past year. The New Year presents a great opportunity to examine the healthy (and unhealthy) decisions we have been making and commit ourselves to become as healthy as we can in 2021. By maintaining healthy habits we strengthen our immune systems, making our bodies more resilient against infection. There are so many ways to make progress toward a more healthful year; let’s have a look at a few.
Comfort eating was undeniably a factor in 2020, and with that often came weight gain: one study of over 7,000 participants found that 27.5% of people overall and 33.4% of people with obesity reported gaining weight since the beginning of stay-at-home orders. With the holidays now over and a new calendar on the wall, many of us are hoping to shed some of this weight in the new year—and if you’re a part of that crowd, you may be wanting to set a resolution to get those pounds off.
Weight is just one part of overall wellness though, and so we encourage you to keep your focus (and perhaps your resolution) on the healthy habits that will cause the weight loss, rather than the weight loss itself.
“What steps are you going to take to feel well?” asks Dr. Elizabeth Hess of the United Hospital Center in Bridgeport. “Yes, losing weight may contribute to that but also regular activity, mindfulness practices, and good sleep.”
Dr. Hess’s recommendations inspire a wide variety of potential health-centered goals and resolutions.
Physical activity is one area that has been heavily impacted by COVID-19, and one that we could all use a reminder not to neglect in the year ahead.
Although your neighborhood gym might not be open just yet, don’t think that there aren’t abundant ways to stay active. For example, you can:
- Plan out an entire home exercise routine that you can complete without stepping foot in a gym, no equipment necessary.
- Try out yoga or pilates in your living room.
- Enjoy the outdoors more. Take a stroll or hike outdoors at a park, on a trail, or in some other outdoor space where it is easy to remain safe and socially distanced. As an added health bonus, spending more time outdoors also ensures we get our necessary boost of Vitamin D.
Committing to more physical activity in 2021 is a health-forward, actionable resolution that can withstand any uncertainties the coming year may bring.
Nutrition is an aspect of health that we can always strive to improve, whether we are resolving to lose some “quarantine pounds” or not.
- Focus on adding more good food into your diet rather than eliminating the bad—at least to start. This helps improve your diet right away without the pressure of imposing restriction on yourself
- Stay hydrated by setting a daily water intake goal. Your body needs water to function properly, and you feel healthier, more alert and in better spirits when you have adequate hydration.
- Eat cleaner. Taking multivitamins might be convenient, but the CDC writes that “the best way to obtain these nutrients is through foods: Vitamin C in fruits and vegetables, Vitamin D in low-fat milk, fortified milk alternatives, and seafood, and zinc in lean meat, seafood, legumes, nuts, and seeds.”
For anybody looking to take their health more seriously in the year to come, nutrition and diet is something that should not be ignored.
Getting better sleep is a resolution that your body and mind will thank you for.
At some times it feels like there’s just not enough hours in the day to get everything done, and at others it is so hard to resist the urge to binge just one more episode—but sleep is both one of the most important and most often neglected pillars of our overall health. Some ways to work on your sleep:
- Commit to a more regular sleep schedule by setting a bedtime and wake-up time.
- Watch your stress. Going to bed anxious or stressed can make it harder to fall asleep and lead to less restful sleep. Consider journaling about your day to decompress, or drinking a calming tea before bedtime.
- Limit screen time, especially before sleeping to allow your brain to relax.
Setting a New Year’s Resolution to get better sleep is a healthful decision that can reward you with the energy to make the most of your days.
Another often overlooked, but all too important, area of our wellbeing is our mental health.
This has been a draining year for all of us, and a resolution to be kind to our minds in 2021 could have a great impact on our outlook, mood, and overall health. Here are some ideas for what that might look like for you:
- Commit to a self-care routine. Take a bath. Make art. Journal. Get outside for a mood boost.
- Practice mindfulness. Give meditation or breathing exercises a try, if only for a few minutes a day. “We need to override the sympathetic overstimulation in our body, which is making us sick,” says Deepak Chopra.
- Stay connected to your family and friends. With limitations on travel and regular activities keeping us physically isolated, it is more important than ever to use the technology at our disposal to keep in touch with those we love. Keeping healthy relationships is great for mental health as it reduces anxiety, gives a sense of meaning, and is plain fun, among many other benefits.
- Allow space for yourself to grieve changes and losses. This past year many of us have experienced a loss of some kind, whether a job, a home, or even a loved one. “Find ways to express your grief,” the CDC advises. “Some people express grief and find comfort through art, gardening, writing, talking to friends or family, cooking, music, gardening or other creative practices.”
Even if you decide not to set a resolution related to mental health this year, we encourage you to make it a priority nonetheless.
2020 was a year of adaptation for just about everyone, and most of us adopted new habits to reflect our changing circumstances—some healthy, some not so much. The turning of the calendar page gives us a chance to reevaluate those habits, and choose what we would like to bring forward and which we want to leave behind. The days of uncertainty are not yet over, but 2021 gives us real hope for a future with more stability. Whatever our New Year’s Resolutions might be, we should all resolve to put ourselves in the best possible condition to meet that future when it arrives.