Seven Essential Health Tasks to Complete in the New Year
These to-dos cover all areas of wellness.
Everyone wants to age gracefully—and we know how to do it. Follow along with Live Well for beauty tips, exercise routines, and lifestyle changes to make as the years go by. Together, they'll make aging simple, which gives you more time to embrace each moment.
Prioritizing your well-being is the first step toward meeting any of your other New Year's goals—if you don't have the energy to get off the couch, you're not likely to plan that (eventual) bucket list trip or even organize your closet. Set yourself up for a healthy year ahead with these expert recommendations for everything from better sleep to simpler skincare.
Look on the bright side.
Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist with NYU Langone Health, recommends starting with a slightly non-traditional health change: "I think one of the first things people should focus on is taking a positive outlook," she says. "That's a very hard thing to do now, and I understand that, but having a positive outlook really impacts cardiovascular health—we know that people with a positive outlook have lower rates of heart disease and better heart disease risk factor profiles." That might mean you cut back on the time you spend browsing your news app, begin a daily meditation practice, or make yourself stop Googling "coronavirus symptoms" every morning when you wake up. "It's really about making a resolution to look at the upside," says Dr. Goldberg. "It's about taking care of your mental health."
Rework your favorite recipes.
Limited restaurant dining means you've likely improved your cooking skills already this year, but Dr. Goldberg recommends giving your favorites a health-conscious makeover. "Many of us are eating more of our meals at home, so focus on how you make great meals that are healthy," she says. Get comfortable baking and broiling instead of frying, look up a few new recipes, and trade a few ingredients for healthier upgrades. "Use ingredients aligned with cardiovascular health, like fruits and vegetables, whole grain foods. Think about oatmeal and berries for breakfast, using zucchini noodles, and cutting back on pasta," says Dr. Goldberg. "Use the skills you developed over the past months to make these recipes healthier."
Check in with the experts.
Starting a new calendar year offers a perfect opportunity to schedule your routine checkups with your general practitioner, dentist, and any specialists. This year, add a meeting with a registered dietitian nutritionist, suggests Amanda Kirpitch of Nutrition Perspective. "Schedule an appointment to make sure you are meeting your nutrition needs and maintaining a healthy relationship with food," she says. Then use the results to make a plan to try new foods at least twice a month. "Nutrition thrives with variety," says Kirpitch. "The more foods you have in your diet, the more likely you are to be getting all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients your body needs. Try a new food, cook a food in a new way, explore a new cuisine, or try a new recipe or a new restaurant."
Commit to an exercise plan.
If you don't already have a solid exercise plan in place, make it a priority. "Exercise has always been associated with good cardiovascular health—aerobic exercise, walking, running, swimming, dancing, anything where you're moving your large muscles," says Dr. Goldberg. She recommends 30 minutes a day of a moderate workout—you should be breathing more heavily than usual, able to carry on a conversation but not sing—or 45 minutes a day if you're working toward a weight loss goal. It's also important to add strength training, which can improve your posture and balance, and core work, which helps prevent back pain. "If you can't think of what to do, get 10,000 steps a day," adds Dr. Goldberg. "It all accumulates."
Work on your sleep habits.
Practicing good sleep habits—like a consistent evening and morning routine, limiting screens before bed, and getting a seven to eight hours of sleep each night—can improve your overall health, notes Dr. Goldberg. "Lack of sleep raises blood pressure, cortisol levels (so people get belly fat), and your sugar level," she says. Stick to a routine bedtime and wake-up time, even on the weekends. "You need to really make sure you get good sleep," she says. "Those LED screens can really alter your sleep patterns. When you're in bed, you should associate that with going to sleep."
Streamline your skin care.
When it comes to your daily skincare routine, says dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe of Advanced Dermatology, less is more. "Those multi-step skincare routines and elaborate 'shelfies' on Instagram are not doing your skin any good!" she says. "Opt for a more streamlined routine with only the essentials, and limit yourself to three steps maximum each morning and each evening." Your morning should include a gentle—"fingertips only," says Dr. Bowe—cleansing with a pH-balanced cleanser, vitamin C serum, moisturizer, and sunscreen.
In the evening, cleanse your face and remove your makeup, and alternate treatments: "Choose two nights each week as your exfoliation/peel nights, and on those nights use an alpha hydroxy acid serum—one with glycolic acid and/or lactic acid—followed by a moisturizer," she says. "On the other nights, use a hydrating hyaluronic acid serum or a retinol serum followed by your moisturizer. Most people can only tolerate retinol once or twice a week, and you never want to use a retinol on the same night as you use an exfoliating peel or serum or product with glycolic acid." If you already have a plan in place, Dr. Bowe recommends incorporating eco-friendly products—"Clean products are safer for your body, your skin, and the environment," she says—and "microbiome-friendly ingredients," like prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics.
Kirpitch recommends keeping track of one key vitamin in the colder months: "Make sure you are getting enough vitamin D—the sunshine vitamin!" she says. "Many people living in the northern hemisphere are vitamin D deficient, which can be worse in the winter months. Deficiency can lead to changes in mood, fatigue, as well as muscle and bone pain." Checking with your doctor or nutritionist about adding a vitamin D supplement to your diet can help your winter feel a little brighter.