Studies have shown that 2020 was a very challenging year for many due to the pandemic and many changes in work and schooling life. While many global circumstances are still out of our control, we can still control what happens within ourselves and our daily lives that can make a positive difference – such as feeling better mentally and physical – in 2021.

The approach that I’m taking for betterment in 2021 – and that I’m recommending to all my clients – is to get back to basics this year. This is not the time to set overarching goals (I don’t know if there is really any good time to do that)! Instead start making small changes in your lifestyle that will eventually lead to habits and build on one another. As the old saying goes, slow and steady wins the race.

Here are some tips on how to get back to basics for your health.

Get Moving – Physical Health

Make physical health your priority as it affects your sleep, energy, emotions, and even sets the tone for an entire day. If you’re just getting started or re-starting your physical fitness routine, commit to a simple exercise regimen that happens a few days per week. Here are some ways to turn your small change into a healthy habit.

  • Commit to 30 minutes of cardio for three days every week.
  • Consider your schedule and pick a time of day and stick to it.
  • Schedule it on your calendar as you would an appointment for the doctor. If you need to cancel, reschedule immediately.
  • Technology can help. Find a tracker (on your phone, app) to keep track of movement; set alarms to remind yourself to get up and move.
  • Once you’re regularly exercising, add another day or extend your timeframe from 30 minutes to one hour.

Design Your Plate – Healthy Meals

Fad diets are appealing as a quick fix, but usually not sustainable. While we may be able to eliminate certain foods or food groups from our plate for some time, realistically we are not able to keep doing this for the rest of our lives. In fact, studies have shown that popular diets often end up not working and leaving us feeling disappointed and frustrated.

One way to figure out which foods have contributed to your “COVID 15” (the popular term that refers to the weight gain from the quarantine) is to identify your stress eating triggers or “treats” that you may have been indulging in (maybe it’s chips in the afternoon or cookies and ice cream during a movie). Once you have figured it out, replace them with healthier alternatives. For example:

  • Swap raw veggies for potato chips.
  • Swap Greek yogurt for ice cream.
  • Swap a cookie for a piece of fruit.

Finally, design your plate at mealtime to be made up of half vegetables. One quarter protein, and one quarter of another item, such as grains or potatoes.

Pause – Mental Health

The pandemic has taken a serious toll on our mental health, including symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, trauma- and stressor-related disorder, and substance abuse.

One way to help alleviate feelings of stress or the worries running through your mind is to pause. Simply stop what you are doing and sit quietly. Start with five minutes and work your way up to 15 minutes. Set a timer to remind you to take a time-out a few times a day. Somehow removing yourself from everything – even for a few moments – can be beneficial for your mental wellbeing.

Note: Many mental health conditions may require medical care so it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor if you are experiencing serious symptoms or have concerns.

Drink Less – Mental Health

Finally, the pandemic has seen an uptick in drinking for many. Drinking alcohol can subject you to irritability and mood swings (short term), and depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, and, in extreme cases, permanent brain damage (long term effects). Plus, it does not help you get a better night’s sleep. Commit to reducing or eliminating alcohol outright as doing so is one of the biggest boosts you can do for your mental health.

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This blog post is a summary for an article that I wrote for the American Bar Association (ABA). The article cites studies about health and addresses the above topics more in depth. Read the full article here.

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