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Small Steps to Worthwhile Healthy Habits

It may be a cliché, but committing to improving your overall health as a New Year’s Resolution is a staple for a reason. But to keep things attainable, start small — small steps can make a big difference, especially when it comes to your health. Adding a few more steps to your daily routine, eating a few more vegetables, or getting a little bit more sleep may not seem like a big deal, but over time these small processes can help improve your overall health. 

With Americans spending approximately $1,650 per person per year on healthcare costs as recently as 2021, keeping your body in good shape may help reduce the number of doctor visits you make each year, in turn reducing your spending on things like coinsurance and copayments. And if you do get sick — it happens to all of us — healthy habits may help you recover more quickly and limit the amount of time you take off from work or school. 

1. Increase how often and how far you walk

Walking is a simple way to help improve your health. Benefits of walking include improved cardiovascular fitness, increased energy levels, enhanced mood, and a strengthened immune system.

Going for daily, brisk walks may also help with conditions such as arthritis by increasing circulation throughout the body. In addition, studies have shown that for men between the ages of 71 and 93, walking more than a quarter mile per day cut their risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in half.

How to Get Started

To get started with walking, get up and get moving. The goal here isn’t to walk a mile on your first day, but instead to add a few more steps than usual to your routine. Even a couple of laps around your house or apartment complex could give you several hundred more steps. As you feel more comfortable and confident, you can start going farther or making more laps in a shorter amount of time.

2. Build stretching into your daily routine

Stretching can help keep your muscles lean and flexible, in turn reducing the risk of accidental injury. For example, sitting in a chair for long periods of time causes your hamstrings to tighten, making it harder to fully extend your leg and walk when you get up.

Prolonged periods of no movement and no stretching can also lead to more serious injury if you have to move quickly and overstretch or strain a tendon.

How to Get Started

When it comes to stretching, slow and steady is the goal. To get started, stand up and walk around for a few minutes to get your blood flowing. Then, gently stretch out your legs by sitting on the floor and reaching for your toes. Stretch out shoulders with slow shrugs, and gently stretch your neck. 

3. Remember to drink more water, even if you’re not thirsty

Water accounts for more than half of humans’ body weight and is essential for life. It’s recommended that men drink around 13 cups of water per day and women drink approximately 9 cups — if this seems like a lot, remember water comes from more than just a full glass. You can also help keep yourself hydrated by eating vegetables and fruits with a high water content too.

Along with preventing dehydration, water also helps regulate human energy, weight, and bodily functions. As a result, it’s worth having a glass of water even if you’re not thirsty since your body can use this water to help maintain homeostasis, or balance, of your bodily processes. 

How to Get Started

One way to drink more water is to fill up a water bottle at the beginning of the day and carry it with you wherever you go. The goal is to finish the bottle by the end of the day. Once you can finish it easily, consider filling up the bottle a second time during the day and finishing that to keep yourself hydrated. 

4. Add more vegetables to your meals

More vegetables may help reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, digestive problems, and eye issues, as well as help prevent some types of cancer. Non-starchy options — such as apples, pears, and green leafy vegetables — may also help with weight management by reducing the risk of blood sugar spikes which lead to sudden hunger. 

How to Get Started

Add more fruit to your diet by putting it somewhere obvious. For example, you could keep some apples on the counter, or chop some fruit and store it at eye level in your fridge. When it comes to vegetables, try adding them to your existing meals. This could mean having a bagged salad mix ready to go, or snapping off pieces of a crown of broccoli to add into your meal.

5. Tweak your nightly routines to improve your sleep quality

Better sleep offers health benefits. Along with improved physical and mental functioning, sleep also improves the body’s ability to fight off disease, develop immunity to illness, and can help reduce the risk of chronic health issues. In addition, sleep can help enhance your mood and ability to socialize, in turn boosting your overall mental health.

How to Get Started

With busy lives and demanding schedules, it can be challenging to make sleep a priority. To get started, consider making small changes such as going to bed 10 or 15 minutes earlier, avoiding stimulants such as caffeine in the afternoon and evening, and getting regular physical activity to promote healthy sleep.

Your sleep pattern may also improve if you put away your phone or turn off the TV before bed. Studies have shown that the blue light produced by phones, computers, and some TVs may interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone that signals to your body that it’s time for sleep. 

The Importance of Small Changes Over Time

Small changes add up over time. While adding a few more steps to your daily routine or eating an apple a day may not seem like much, it can slowly improve your overall health and encourage bigger changes down the road. Remember, if making a big resolution this coming year is too daunting, start small and see it through.

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