Fresh Start: 19 Easy Ways to Renew Your Body, Mind and Spirit
As you start the new year, you’ll think about the resolutions you want to make and maintain. Sure, you can vow to run a marathon or say you’ll quit drinking soda cold turkey, but it’s the big goals that are often harder to sustain for 12 long months. To help you on your journey to living a healthier life, three local experts offered suggestions on achievable changes you can make and uphold from January to December. Make a change each day, week or month, and give yourself a brighter outlook on life—mentally, physically and spiritually.
1. Find your favorite flavor of yoga. “I still think a ton of people don’t know about yoga,” says Ryan Bailey, co-owner of East Wind Yoga, with studios in Roseville and Auburn. “Yoga is a great way to add balance and equality to your life. For me, I think of it as getting to work out and going to church at the same time.” Just like ice cream, yoga has many different flavors. You can sample classes at different yoga studios until you get that one experience where you find what’s right for you, he says. “Running is running. Going to the gym is going to the gym. But yoga is personal.”
2. Use the buddy system for workouts. “Find someone with similar goals,” advises Noelle Ritter, certified athletic trainer with Roseville Health and Wellness Center. It could be anyone—a spouse, family member or a personal trainer. “Trainers will make your goals their goals,” she says. “They’re all great accountability partners.”
3. Plan your workweek lunches ahead of time. Harmony Boeh, R.D. and certified personal trainer with Roseville Health and Wellness Center, suggests three ways to eating healthier five days of the week:
- Bring in last night’s healthy meal leftovers.
- Go half and half. “Throw together a large salad packed with vegetables and beans and a small container of healthy dressing,” she says. “At work, buy a small piece of protein, like grilled chicken or salmon, to top your salad and keep you fueled all day long.”
- Each week, make a large batch of your favorite soup, loaded with whole grains, vegetables and lean proteins, she says. “Portion out and package individually. I like to use recycled salsa jars because they are microwave safe. You can grab it and go early in the morning.”
4. Drink moderate levels of caffeine for health benefits. “Potential perks of moderate coffee consumption include a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, liver disease, dementia and Parkinson’s disease,” Boeh says. “But you can get too much of a good thing. Too much caffeine can cause irritability, excitability, increased urination, sleeplessness and heartburn.” If you’re going to drink coffee, she says to watch out for calorie- and fat-laden additives like whipped cream, syrups and creamers. How much is moderate consumption? “Three or fewer cups a day is considered moderate to normal. If you’re drinking coffee all day to just to maintain adequate energy levels, you’re probably drinking too much and should try to figure out why you’re really tired. Dehydration? Too little sleep? Too much stress? More caffeine will never be the answer.”
5. Eat smart after your workout. “After a workout, your blood returns to your digestive system from your limbs and muscles, and is ready to do some work on that metabolism,” Ritter explains. “Try not to overeat right after working out.” If it’s mealtime, a moderate meal of about 500-700 calories, depending on weight and size, is sufficient. “You want to have some protein, making sure that you pair it with a healthy grain and vegetable, which is helpful for digestion. Protein can be challenging to digest by itself.” If you are not going to be eating your meal within an hour or two of your completed workout, have a snack (about 200-300 calories) that contains a little protein. Ritter suggests a hardboiled egg with some crackers; an apple with peanut butter; Greek yogurt; homemade trail mix with nuts, dried fruit and granola; or 10-12 ounces of a healthy shake.
6. Stretch first thing in the morning to help awaken the body. “Pick a stretch that will have an effect you can feel in your body,” Bailey says. He suggests three poses, but warns these stretches may not be right for everyone. “Listen to your body. Connect your mind, body and soul, and then listen. Ask, ‘Is this right for me or not?’”
Forward fold. With your feet on the floor under your hips, slightly bend the knees. Then bend forward at the hips to bring your hands to the floor. The inverse flow allows for blood to rush to your head, which gives you a rejuvenating boost of oxygen. “But for some people, this might be a lot in the morning,” Bailey advises.
Thread the needle. “This is a great hip stretch,” Bailey says. To begin, lie on your back with knees bent, thighs parallel and hip-distance apart. Place your right ankle on your left knee, making sure the anklebone clears your thigh. Flex your right foot by pulling the toes back. Then, pull your left knee in toward your chest and thread your right arm through the triangle between your legs. Wrap your hands around the left leg, at the calf or hamstring, whichever is more comfortable. Repeat on the left side.
Repeat forward fold. Repeat stretch one, only this time reach your arms behind you and intertwine your fingers, palms facing in. When you bend forward, bring your arms up toward the ceiling. You’ll feel the stretch in your chest and arms.
7. Stretch before going to bed too. Bailey suggests practicing different yoga poses at night to benefit your body and mind in multiple ways. “These grounding poses are more calming,” he explains. “They will ease the nervous system to help you slow down before your final rest of sleep.”
Viparita karani. In this pose, you’ll need empty wall space. Start by lying on your side, getting your bottom up next to the wall. Then roll onto your back with your legs moving straight up the wall. Your body should be in an “L” shape. Hold for 5-15 minutes. This is a restorative pose and it will help ground your hips and pelvis, Bailey says.
Reclining bound angle pose. Once again, lie on your back, knees bent with your feet on the ground. With your hands supporting your knees, let your knees drop open and bring the soles of your feet together. Your legs should be in a diamond shape. Stay in this pose for one minute. As it becomes more comfortable, you can extend your stay for 5-10 minutes. To come out of the pose, use your hands to bring your thighs back together. Then roll over onto one side and push yourself up from the floor.
Savasana. Almost every yoga class ends with about 10-15 minutes devoted to savasana, a restorative pose that focuses on the body being still. To practice, lie on your back with arms and legs spread at about 45 degrees. Eyes are closed and the breath is deep. To release, slowly deepen the breath, add movement to the fingers and toes, reach arms above the head and stretch your body. Exhale and bring your knees to your chest. Roll onto your side in fetal position. Inhale, and push yourself up from the floor.
8. Green tea is golden. “Green tea is full of antioxidants that can help reduce hypertension, oxidation of bad cholesterol, and improve good cholesterol – all of which translate to improved heart health,” Boeh says. But instant, decaf, bottled and ready-to-drink forms of green tea contain less antioxidant power. She suggests choosing loose-leaf tea or bags instead. Steep three to five minutes to maximize the amount of antioxidants in your cup. “Several cups a day –about three – have been associated with heart protection,” she says.
9. Listen to your sweet tooth: Dark chocolate can be good for you! “Cocoa beans themselves are rich in antioxidants and other antioxidant-like compounds that can improve blood flow to the heart and brain and reduce blood pressure,” Boeh says. However, the more processed the cocoa bean is, the less antioxidant properties it is able to retain, she says. “Dark chocolate and natural cocoa powder (not Dutch processed) are your best bets. Avoid the bag of M&M’s and savor a few squares of dark chocolate instead. One ounce, a few times a week, is all you need.”
10. Replace 30 minutes of TV with 30 minutes of physical activity. “Everyone has to start somewhere,” says Ritter. “Even if it’s a 15-minute walk three times a week, that’s a start! Aim to build up to 30-minute walks three to five days a week. With as much time as we spend in front of a computer, on the phone or watching TV, 30 minutes for a walk really is nothing at all.”
11. Avoid mindless snacking late at night. “Most of the time, people eating late at night are mindlessly snacking on high-calorie comfort foods—think ice cream, popcorn, candy—out of boredom, stress or reasons other than actually being hungry,” Boeh says. “[Eating] excess calories promotes weight gain. Conversely, some people skip meals all day long only to sit down to an oversized meal just before bedtime. Even though it may not seem like you’re getting too many calories, eating one meal a day (typically at night for busy people who say they ‘aren’t hungry all day’) can also cause weight gain, as your metabolism slows in response to infrequent fueling. Another downside to late-night meals includes a greater risk for developing gastric reflux.”
12. Use your feet as transportation. “Figure out a few errands that are close together—the bank, craft store, picking up those few items at the store, the post office. Park at one, and walk to and from the other,” Ritter says. You can also park your car in the spot furthest away from the door whenever you go to the store. “Every step counts,” she says.
13. Balance your goals and sacrifices. “Usually fitting healthy eating and exercise into your life requires one to let go of other things for the sake of achieving their goal,” Ritter explains. “Decide what you are going to sacrifice.” Tight on free time? Make time for your workouts by cutting back on your overtime at work. Or make it a goal to not open the fridge after 7 p.m. “You are worth all of these sacrifices,” she says.
14. A glass of red wine a day has its perks. Boeh says there’s no strong evidence that red wine is better for our hearts than other forms of alcohol, when taken in moderation. “However, a compound called resveratrol might be key to preventing blood vessel damage and blood clots, reducing inflammation related to heart disease, and reducing LDL, or ‘bad’ cholesterol.” Resveratrol can also be found in peanuts, blueberries, grapes and cranberries. For women, one serving of wine is five ounces a day while men can have up to two five ounce glasses a day, she says.
15. Take more walks. “Add a post-dinner stroll with your spouse or roommate,” Ritter says. “It may help curb that thought for seconds or that dessert you probably don’t need!”
16. Choose the right vitamins and supplements. “Taking a daily multivitamin can provide ‘insurance’ for people who find it hard to eat the recommended 10-plus servings of fruits and vegetables daily,” Boeh says. “But supplements are not to replace healthy foods in a well-rounded diet.” Choose a multivitamin that is specific to your gender and age range. “Our vitamin and mineral needs change throughout our lifespan,” she says. People who should be taking supplements include pregnant and nursing women, strict vegetarians and vegans, senior citizens, and people with food allergies or certain forms of inflammatory bowel disease because they’re at a higher risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies, she explains.
17. Keep your fridge stocked with healthier snacking options. Boeh’s grocery list for healthy snacks includes edamame, hummus and carrots or celery, nut butter and an apple or banana, string cheese, grapes, and homemade granola bars. Dried fruits and nuts are also great to have on hand, as long as you are mindful of portion sizes, she says.
18. Get out of your own head. You may have noticed that when you’re stressed mentally, your body can manifest those feelings, causing you to become physically ill. “It’s a natural human tendency,” Bailey says. And he suggests yoga as a back-door distraction. “You can step into a yoga class after having a funky day in your head, and we will work on your body so much that you will stop thinking in your head. Your mind will be focused on the practice, taking you away from thinking about what was so wrong in your life.”
19. Remember to breathe. Life is hectic. Life is crazy. And sometimes it moves so fast that you forget the one basic human instinct that is innate to all us: inhaling and exhaling. “At the end of the day, we have to revert back to the first breath that we took when we were born—it was very sweet and very smooth,” Bailey says. “If you’re in an argument, take a moment to breathe. Or just stop to take a few breaths every once in a while. Need a time out? Take a couple deep breaths.”