Just like that, another year has come and gone. January 2022 is more than just the first month of a new year—it’s a chance to start fresh, rethink your approach to wellness, and imbue your life with a new sense of purpose.
Although you probably have a few resolutions in mind already, we’re not here to tell you to set more; in fact, you should feel free to take this year off. There’s nothing wrong with setting resolutions, of course, but you might prefer making a few simple changes to setting lofty (and frequently overambitious) goals.
So instead of setting your sights on sweeping life changes like getting fit, weight loss, or deleting social media, focus on the smaller stuff, whether that’s walking more each day, cooking one more meal at home each week, limiting phone time, or redecorating your room. That way, you’ll work toward your larger goals without feeling overwhelmed, and learn something new about yourself during a less-stressful process. It’s truly a win-win situation.
Now that 2022 is upon us, there’s no better time to welcome the new year than with a renewed passion for your wellbeing, focusing on everything from your brain health to your inner peace, your diet to your workout routine. With a little bit of consistent effort and some small steps, you’ll slowly change your lifestyle for the better. These are the best ways to welcome 2022, according to experts and researchers.
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Set realistic goals
Many of us start the new year with huge, vague goals like “work out more” or “eat healthier.” But those are less likely to stick than more specific, manageable ones, like scheduling three visits to the gym per week or replacing cookies with fruit for dessert, according to the American Psychological Association; if you can actually keep up with your resolutions, you’re much more likely to create healthier habits.
Go for a walk
“Daily walking increases metabolism by burning extra calories and by preventing muscle loss, which is particularly important as we get older,” Ariel Iasevoli, a personal trainer at Crunch gyms in New York City, previously told Prevention. Better yet, walking can lessen your risk of type 2 diabetes, lower your blood pressure, and ward off cardiovascular issues.
“I recommend that people make anti-resolutions: What is something you want to stop doing this year?” Devon Price, Ph.D., a social psychologist and author of Laziness Does Not Exist, previously told Prevention. “What’s an insecurity or obligation that you want to drop? Find ways to say no instead of taking on more.”
Get creative in the kitchen
When you’re stuck in a cooking rut, you can find yourself resorting to the same old meals day after day—totally the opposite of how energizing it should feel to make dinner. Every week, seek out a new recipe to try, whether it’s a hearty soup or a protein-packed smoothie; you might spark a newfound love of cooking, on top of increasing your motivation and self-esteem.
Try new forms of self-care
“Take action by setting aside five to 60 minutes each week to try out a new self-care practice,” recommends Sareena Rama, a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor in Orange County, CA. Some ideas to help you get started are reading a new book, exercising, talking to a therapist, sitting in nature, or mindfully sipping a drink. By the end of the year, you will have tried out 52 new self-care practices!”
Take the stairs
Get this: In a 2017 study, researchers found that just 10 minutes of stair-walking was more effective than 50 mg of caffeine (about half a cup of coffee) in helping sleep-deprived women feel more energized. So on top of burning more calories and contributing to your overall fitness, climbing the stairs daily could keep you awake, too, no caffeine necessary.
Make some music
Playing music—not just listening to it—can positively impact your thinking and memory, potentially warding off dementia according to a 2021 meta-analysis. Singing, playing the piano, and even joining a drum circle all activate multiple areas of your brain, helping you stay sharp even if you already have mild cognitive impairment. Plus, music-making might also help you feel happier overall.
Go (temporarily) sober
Dry January—during which participants refuse to drink for the first 31 days of the new year—encourages people to rethink their relationship with alcohol. And the benefits of giving up booze are myriad, from boosting your mental health to improving your sleep. This time of year, those outcomes are especially helpful.
Question why you want to lose weight
Weight loss is one of the most common New Year’s resolutions—but you can adopt a new approach to your health in 2022. “There is no strong evidence to suggest that higher weight automatically leads to poorer health,” Jeffrey Hunger, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Miami University of Ohio, previously told Prevention. “Instead of trying to shrink your body, start to appreciate everything it does for you.”
Upgrade your sneakers
Believe it or not, your shoes should be replaced at least once a year, and more frequently if you’re on your feet a bunch; with more distance and time, they lose their cushioning, grip, and ability to keep your feet healthy. So if you can’t remember the last time you replaced your walking shoes, the start of 2022 is the perfect time to give them an upgrade.
Find the right therapist.
Even if you already go to therapy, it’s worth evaluating how well your current mental health plan works for you. “Selecting a therapist who is a good fit for you is one of the most cost-effective things you can do,” Forrest Talley, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in California, previously told Prevention. “When working with someone who is a good fit, you will make more progress, and you will make that progress more rapidly.” Wondering how to do it? Check out our guide to affordable therapy here.
Eat less meat
If going vegan or vegetarian seems like too much of a commitment to you, a flexitarian or plant-based diet could be right for you. Both emphasize centering plants on every plate, keeping animal products like meat and cheese in supporting roles—or leaving them out entirely during certain meals. The benefits of the flexitarian diet include weight loss, increased longevity, and decreased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer.
Crack open a good book
Beyond strengthening your cognitive health as you age, a great novel can actually change your approach to life: A 2013 study found that the act of reading literary fiction (works that explore the inner lives of their characters) enhances your ability to empathize with others, making you a better friend, neighbor, and loved one.
Meditate more often
We can all benefit from some form of meditation, according to the National Institutes of Health, whether it’s just being more present and mindful in each moment or a daily half-hour practice. But getting started can be a challenge, especially without a guide. Start 2022 with a 14-day meditation challenge—then keep it going throughout the rest of the year.
Schedule your doctor’s visits
When was the last time you went to the doctor? It’s so easy to put off your visits by a few weeks or a few months that you might reach the end of the year without going through with any of them. Go ahead and schedule all your check-ups through the end of 2022—physicals, dentist visits, and anything else you might need—before you forget.
Get a haircut
Switching up your look (or just touching up your current hairdo) can do more than boost your self-confidence: A small 2016 study found that socializing with your hairdresser and their fellow clients can actually benefit your mental health—especially for Black men.
Read the AHA’s new dietary guidelines
The American Heart Association updated its guidelines for the first time in 15 years in 2021, making them much easier to follow. The new guidance emphasizes dietary patterns, rather than being hung up on specific foods—an approach to eating that’s more understanding of the way people actually eat. The updated list recommends healthy proteins, whole grains, and minimally processed foods, and you can brush up on it here.
Create a workout playlist
Hoping to get to the gym more often? By making it as fun as possible, you’ll be more motivated to work out regularly. One way to do that is with a playlist of high-energy songs, which increase endurance, prevent age-related cognitive decline, and help people feel like their movements are less intense than they actually are. Get started with our list of the best workout songs of all time.
Use your vacation time
If you have it, don’t let your vacation time sit unused: It could actually prolong your life. Meditation and vacation time have roughly the same outcome on overall wellbeing, per a 2018 analysis, and one nine-year study even found that men who took more vacations were less likely than their workaholic peers to die from any cause, including cardiovascular issues.
See the light
Light therapy—that is, exposing yourself to bright light during the darker half of the year—can be as effective for treating major depressive disorder as antidepressants are, according to a 2016 study. Although you can and should invest in a light therapy lamp, getting outside in the morning can have a similar effect. “There’s evidence that sunlight can immediately increase serotonin levels in the brain,” Helen Burgess, Ph.D., a professor and co-director of the sleep and circadian research lab at the University of Michigan, previously told Prevention.
Reimagine your room
Practicing creativity can keep loneliness, disengagement, and even dementia at bay. If you need an extra boost, reconfigure your space to make it more suited to creative pursuits: “The ideal situation is a spacious, warm, fuzzy environment with rounded, soft edges and muted colors,” John Kounios, Ph.D., a professor of psychological and brain science at Drexel University, previously said to Prevention.
Giving away your stuff doesn’t just benefit other people; you can reap the rewards, too. One 2006 study, for example, found that people feel just as good when they donated money to a charitable organization as they did when they were given money. Another 2013 study discovered that at least 200 hours of volunteering per year is linked with lower blood pressure.
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