Mental Health

Make 2021 Your Best Year Yet!

Make 2021 Your Best Year Yet!
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health

Are you ready to make 2021 your best year yet? What’s that you say? Impossible?

The year 2021 brings the promise of getting on the path to improvements in many ways. And, while you may simply have to wait for some of the change in 2021 (say, getting a COVID-19 vaccine or going to a concert), there are other changes that you can make right now. You can take control of your health and wellbeing immediately by setting goals and working towards achieving them. These are a few tips for making 2021 your best year yet!

Setting SMART Goals

Fewer than half of folks who made New Year’s resolutions in 2019 kept their resolution for a full year, according to an IPSOS poll. Whether you call them “goals” or “resolutions,” how can you stay on track with yours? 

One method is to set SMART goals, as explained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Don’t worry; it doesn’t take a brainiac to write “SMART” goals. Just set goals that fit within these guidelines. 

  • Specific: “Lowering blood pressure” can be a good goal if yours is high, but that is pretty general. More specific goals can include taking medications every day and consuming at least 4,700 mg/day of potassium from foods such as fruits, vegetables, fish, and beans.
  • Measurable: “Getting fit” may help with health concerns such as prediabetes or hypertension, but how do you know when you are “fit?” Instead, you might aim to jog a mile without stopping to walk, or bicycle 7 miles in 30 minutes, for example.
  • Attainable: “Eating five servings of vegetables” every day may be a good strategy for weight loss, but it may not be realistic if you are averaging closer to 1 serving a week. Instead, “adding lettuce or tomatoes to every sandwich” or “swapping vegetables for half of your potatoes, rice, or pasta when you have them as sides,” can be more achievable.
  • Relevant: Are you trying to lower blood sugar to reduce risk for diabetes? Then “going gluten-free” and “avoiding grains” are not relevant, since research does not support those as being effective for lowering blood sugar. Instead, “swapping a refined grain for a whole grain twice a day” may be more relevant if you have prediabetes, since people who eat more whole grains are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, according to research in European Journal of Epidemiology.
  • Time-based: “Losing 5 lb.” can be a good goal, but “losing 5 lb. this month” is very different from “losing 5 lb. this year.” Putting your goal in a time-frame can help you make a reasonable plan to achieve it, and it can also help you stay accountable and focused.

Mayo Clinic provides additional examples of SMART goals related to weight loss and health.

5 Easy Changes to Try

A reason why resolutions tend to fail is because they can be stressful, according to US News and World Reports. Too much stress surrounding health goals can lead to giving up on them. Instead, having the mindset of making long-lasting changes can help you stick with your goals.

Small changes can help establish habits and reduce stress surrounding healthy choices. These are five examples of simple choices that can help with goals such as weight loss, lower blood sugar or blood pressure, or improved stress management.

  1. Eat from the plate or bowl, not the bag. We understand if it is just too much to give up ice cream, chips, cookies, or pizza. We just ask one thing: serve yourself properly and sit down before eating. Sitting down is a more satisfying experience, while standing and eating from the carton, box, or bag is likely to give you several servings without satisfaction.
  2. Breathe slowly three times. If stress gets you down, but stress management sounds like it takes too long, just try this whenever you feel yourself getting angry, frustrated, or otherwise stressed: breathe slowly three times before doing anything else. Yes, it can make a difference!
  3. Eat vegetables first. Non-starchy vegetables are low in calories. Eating them before other foods at meals and snacks can help you fill up before you eat too much of the higher-calorie foods.
  4. Drink more water. Water is calorie-free and it reduces hunger. You might aim to have a cup before each meal as well as when you wake up in the morning and in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon. The benefits are even greater if you sub water for sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda and sports drinks.
  5. Cut dessert and bread in half. Grain-based desserts are the leading source of calories in American diets and breads are second, according to Harvard School of Public Health. You can shave off 100 to 200 or more calories each time you serve yourself only half of your usual portion of foods such as cake, cookies, pies, bagels, and granola bars.

These are just a few examples of small choices that can add up. Lark has tons more tips like this to help you fit healthy changes into your own lifestyle. They are all designed to help you reach your personal health goals, such as lowering stress, losing weight, lowering blood pressure, or managing diabetes or prediabetes.

Mental Health in 2021

What did 2020 teach us if not the importance of mental health? Any plan to be your best self in 2021 needs to support mental and emotional health. Some ways to do that may be:

  • Scheduling phone calls or video chats (until you can schedule in-person meetings safely) with friends and family.
  • Taking 5 to 30 or more minutes per day for yourself to do something just for yourself, such as meditating, gardening, or doodling.
  • Practicing gratitude by making an effort to notice and appreciate the good things in your life. Being positive, instead of focusing on negative things such as not being able to go to concerts or to museums, can keep stress levels down.
  • Expanding your horizons without violating any COVID-19 restrictions by visiting new hiking trails, trying a new hobby such as painting or gardening, or going to online lectures or virtual tours.
  • Using Lark to manage stress.

It is safe to say that the world will never be the same again after the year that was 2020. As we head into 2021, there is a lot of hope and a lot that we do not know, but one thing to be sure of is that it can be your year to shine. With a bit of planning, and maybe some help from Lark, you can take charge and be your best self in 2021. Happy New Year!