At the beginning of each new year, more people set goals to lose weight, change habits, or improve their lives than probably any other time of the year. For those of us who are on the south side of fifty, it is more important than ever to make sure we are doing all we can to take care of ourselves. Let’s face it, as we age, we are at greater risk of facing serious health-related consequences if we neglect our health and well-being.
Key Behaviors for Health and Well-Being
As summarized in a Well and Good article, experts generally agree that there are certain key health and wellness behaviors that each of us needs to adopt. One of the most frequently mentioned health habits many experts mention is getting sufficient exercise. We need to keep moving—even when we don’t feel like it. Moderate exercise for at least 150 minutes per week is generally a rule-of-thumb. Other health professionals also emphasize the importance of a combination of cardio, strength training, and stretching.
Numerous researchers and health professionals also emphasize the importance of eating a healthy diet. We may have gotten away with a diet of burgers, fries, and sodas when we were young, but this diet can be a real killer as we get older. Most often recommended is the Mediterranean Diet—fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fish, poultry, and very little red meat.
Other frequent recommendations for our health and well-being include getting sufficient sleep, keeping connected with others, managing our stress levels, practicing good oral hygiene, connecting with others, and finding some sense of purpose. Most of these lifestyle practices were also noted in Dan Buettner’s The Blue Zones. Buettner’s book examines cultures around the world with the longest overall lifespans and what these cultures tend to have in common.
How to Succeed When Setting Healthy Living Goals
It sounds great to set all kinds of healthy goals at the beginning of each new year. But predictably, few people are successful at making long-term changes. According to a Times-Tribune article, approximately 80% of people fail to stick with their new year’s resolutions by February. I have been part of the 80% group many times.
Some of the suggestions a Very Well Mind article suggests for succeeding at goals include identifying goals that are concrete and achievable, limited, and include small steps. When it comes to making healthy changes, I do find that these suggestions are more likely to result in success.
When I realized that the Mediterranean Diet would be healthier for me than the Western-style diet I was used to, I knew I wanted to change my diet. I started with small steps by gradually adding more fruits and reducing red and processed meats. After a couple of years, my diet now primarily consists of fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, fish, and poultry—a Mediterranean diet!
Second, making small tweaks have worked better for me than trying to make radical changes. Limiting my efforts works better than trying to change too much at one time. For me, trying to lose ten pounds by sticking to a rigid diet for two or three months isn’t going to work. However, I tend to be more successful when I focus on small changes like eliminating extra sweets or reminding myself that I need to let my body have a digestive break for about 14 hours between my last meal of the day and the first meal of the next day.
I also find that establishing routines helps me stick with my goals. I usually exercise midmorning just about every day. If I have a meeting or something going on in the morning, I make sure I get exercise in the afternoon. On the rare days that I don’t exercise, I miss it and feel more stressed.
Right now, I’m working on developing better sleep habits. Sleeping in a dark, cool room helps. I also need to put my tablet away and read a book rather than looking at a screen right before bedtime.
Living a healthier life is certainly achievable. As we get older, focusing on our health becomes increasingly more important. We can do this – one step at a time!
Note: No article is a substitute for getting sound advice and direction from your own health providers.