Spring is in the air and summer will be soon to follow. Many people take stock of their health at this time of year and vow to eat better, exercise more, or lose weight. Sadly, most of those good intentions fall by the wayside after only one or two weeks. This happens for a couple of reasons. First, change is hard. When you’re trying to do something new or break an old habit, it can take months before that change is set in stone. The second reason that our healthy life-style plans tend to fail is that many people set unrealistic goals that are unsustainable in the long run.
There’s good news, however, for those who want to improve their health for many years to come. It’s in knowing that small changes that are easy to sustain can actually make a big difference in your health. Researchers have found that seemingly inconsequential adjustments in your diet can produce large health benefits. Furthermore, by changing it up in a small way and staying with it, you’ll have a success under your belt and with it the knowledge that you can do it again.
The following are some simple and easy changes that you can implement to really improve your health:
- Get more sleep. Easy, right? The reality is that many people don’t get the hours of sleep that they need for good health. Sleep deprivation can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, decreased immunity, and it leaves you tired during the day. That’s because your body repairs and resets itself while you’re asleep. If you’re not getting about seven or eight hours each night, chances are that you’re running on a sleep deficit. The answer: go to bed just a little earlier, slow down and turn off all your screens a good hour before bed, and keep your bedroom cool and dark.
- If you want to improve your diet, think about plants first when making your grocery list. That’s it. If you’re buying what’s on your list, and the list is plant forward, chances are that you’ll end up eating a little healthier. In Chinese medicine, a healthy diet is mostly plant-based with small amounts of protein, and whole grains. Furthermore, in Chinese cuisine, the produce is almost always cooked to make it more easily digested. That means that stir fried dishes, soups, and casseroles are going to be better digested, and ultimately give you more energy.
- Make it a plan to check your posture every couple of hours. Just pretend that the top of your head is being pulled upward by a string. This not only straightens your spine, but it also opens up your lungs. In Chinese medicine, the air that you breathe, combined with what you eat are the sources of your body’s energy. Sitting hunched over limits the amount of air that you can bring into your lungs. Furthermore, there’s been a lot more hunching going on in the past several decades, with people plugged into computer screens or hunched over their phones for hours at a time. This increases your chances of shoulder and rotator cuff injuries.
- Make a commitment to reduce your stress in small ways. Chronic stress has a negative impact on every system in your body. It interferes with your sleep, hampers your immune system, and disturbs your digestion. Learning to say no to another commitment, listening to a meditation recording, or walking away from your desk at lunchtime—whatever it takes—are all small steps in reducing your stress, with large payoffs.
- Spend some time outdoors. There is an incredible amount of research on the health benefits of spending time in a park or a wooded setting. It can lower your blood pressure, reduce your stress, and actually help improve your immune system. Scientists believe that some of the health benefits of being in the woods come from chemicals that are released by nearby trees.
- Go take a walk. Repeat daily. It doesn’t have to be far, but if there were such a thing as a magic bullet for good health, it would be physical activity. In Chinese medicine, moving your body moves your energy, which is a good thing. It also boosts cardiovascular health, helps to clear your head, loosens your joints, improves your immunity, and can help your memory.
- Spend more time playing and doing things that you enjoy. There’s actually a term in Chinese medicine for spending too many hours working, studying, or caregiving. It’s called overwork, and is considered to be a common cause of illness. The bottom line is that too many hours with your nose to the grindstone isn’t improving your health—just the opposite. So give it a break and do something fun.
Making plans for healthier lifestyle habits doesn’t have to be an exercise in futility. Broad goals like eating better and exercising more are not specific enough. We can easily lose our focus and give up. Small steps over a period of time brings progress. Any time of year is a good time to make adjustments in our lifestyle. You can make healthy changes in baby steps that are doable, sustainable, give you a sense of accomplishment, and actually have a big impact on your health!