Whether you want to eat better, get fit, tap into your spirituality or cut out stress, there are simple ways to achieve your biggest health goals this year.
Ever have one of those days when no matter how much you want to be healthy, life gets in your way? Even those of us who take the stairs instead of the elevator and do our best to steer clear of the drive-through can unconsciously allow a couple of bad habits to creep into our everyday routines. Don’t let it get you down. Plenty of women have stayed up late tweeting fellow #Gladiators about Olivia Pope’s antics only to pay for it by feeling sleep-deprived the next day. Or left that healthful lunch in the office fridge be-cause the burger-and-fries special in the company cafeteria smelled so good.
A slipup (or two) doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel or come up with an elaborate New Year’s health kick. In 2015, all you have to do is resolve to hit reset. Start by giving yourself credit for the good moves you’re already making. Kudos if you don’t smoke and if you eat a healthful breakfast most days, drink lots of water daily and try to make room for me time now and again. Then, to be an even healthier you, end those last few lingering unhealthy habits with these simple steps sure to help you achieve your overall physical, mental and emotional goals.
DIET AND NUTRITION
The goal: Eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 60 grams of lean protein (fish, chicken or lean red meat) and 25 grams of fiber daily is best for adult women. All that should add up to no more than 2,000 to 2,500 calories per day, depending on your activity level.
You might need to reset if... You see physical signs that your good eating habits have waned. “Besides hating how you look in your favorite pair of jeans, you notice your hair or nails are brittle, your skin is drier than normal or your face isn’t as clear as it typically is,” says Jessica “Chef Jess” Swift, R.D., a chef and registered dietitian in Washington, D.C., who is regularly featured on the Food Network.
TIPS FOR GETTING THERE:
1. Gather the girls for support. “My girls and I have ‘pick your pantry’ parties at someone’s house, which is our own healthy-eating support group,” says Swift. Once or twice a month, everyone brings three nutritious ingredients they already have in their home. As a group, they decide how to use them to make a meal together. “Not only does hanging out with your girls bust stress, it inspires everyone to make better food choices,” says Swift.
2. Shop the perimeter of the store. Swift says that’s where you’ll find the most nutrient-dense foods, like fruits and veggies, lean meats, grains and low-fat dairy.
3. Switch your plates. Add a pop of color to your table by only eating off ared plate, which research has found can act as a stop signal and reduce food intake. “Eat all meals, even dinner, off a salad plate for appropriate portions,” says Ian Smith, M.D., medical contributor for Rachael Ray and author of the best-selling book Super SHRED: The Big Results Diet (St. Martin’s Press). Can’t find a salad plate at the office? “Leave one inch of empty space around the perimeter of any plate,” says Smith.
Celeb secret: “I start my day with a smoothie,” says Smith. “One of my favorites is full of fresh or frozen berries for antioxidants, and has kale for fiberand soy or low-fat milk. Add a teaspoon of flaxseed oil for its great omega-3 fatty acids that are heart-healthy.”
EXERCISE AND FITNESS
The goal: Ideally, women should get 30 minutes of physical activity three to five times per week. And once a week, you should do a high-intensity activity, like running, swimming or spinning, with resistance exercises to increase cardiovascular health and lean muscle mass.
You might need to reset if... That jar of almond butter is getting harder to open. Or maybe you make old-lady moaning noises when you bend to tie your shoes.
TIPS FOR GETTING THERE:
1. Work out with a buddy. Recruit a pal to join you in taking ballroom dance lessons or a tai chi class or walking the dog every night after dinner. “This bonding time can enhance your excitement levels, reduce boredom and push you further along in your workouts than if working out alone,” says Kenya Moses, certified personal trainer, professional dancer and founder and president of Be a Fit Mama, Inc., in San Francisco.
2. Mix it up. Small moments of activityduring a busy day add up. “They create the same value as sustained workouts,” says Andia Winslow, a New York City certified fitness professional, sports performance coach and American Heart Association Go Red for Women ambassador. “Five minutes here and ten minutes there, even in nontraditional places like the kitchen or laundry room and with
nontraditional exercise equipment, can be very beneficial.” For example, if a rolling pin is part of your meal prep, do squats in front of the counter while rolling out bread or cookie dough by standing with your feet and knees pointed forward. With your legs about shoulder width apart, start with the rolling pin at the edge of the counter and as you lower your butt toward the floor, push the rolling pin away from you. Repeat five to ten times.
3. Look to divine intervention.
“I maintain focus on my fitness goals by listening exclusively to Christian music artists like Lecrae, Swoope, Christon Gray and W.L.A.K. when exercising,” says LaMecia Butler, 31, of Houston. “My morning workouts give me time with God on a daily basis and allow me to start the day refreshed and focused.”
Celeb secret: Once a week, bookend your workouts. “Do a 20-minute high-intensity session in the morning and then do a 20-minute moderate-intensity session after 4 P.M.,” says Smith. This will keep your metabolismboosted over a longer period of time and increase the amount of calories you burn throughout the day.
The goal: Every woman deserves to enjoy time spent with the people she cares about. “You should feel supported and motivated by your children, parents or other individuals in your life, and have people you can talk to and confide in for your personal growth and sanity,” says Nekeshia Hammond, Psy.D., a psychologist in Brandon, Florida. You might need to reset if... You can’t remember what your BFF looks like orthe last time you and your main squeeze actually squeezed each other.
TIPS FOR GETTING THERE:
1. Schedule dates with your children. Going to a park or movie is fun, but even if you stay at home, make the time special. Read to the kids while they’re soaking in the tub, designate a technology-free zone in the house for sharing a pizza or PB&J, or sing songs together while making dinner.
2. Binge-watch with your BFFs. Invite your closest pals over to stream movies that embody sister-hood. Some of our faves are Waiting to Exhale, The Women of Brewster Place and The Secret Life of Bees. Watching such strong and moving scenes can inspire you to reconnect and strengthen your own sisterhood," says Hammond.
3. Do a random act of kindness. Don’t wait for aspecial occasion like a birthday or anniversary to let your spouse, family, coworker or friends know how much you value them. “Make a random day special,” says Hammond. Cook a favorite birthday meal on an ordinary day or do a chore for a day. “Your loved ones will get warm fuzzies from the special treatment and you’ll feel good making them feel special,”
4. Play the Body Parts game. After 20 years of marriage, Stephanie Freeman, 45, of Raleigh, North Carolina, and her husband keep their marriage sizzling with it. Put one name of a body part (eyes, nose, arms, hands) on a piece of paper. Toss all the pieces in a bowl and every morning, one spouse draws outone sheet. “That part of the spouse’s body becomes the focal point for the day,” says Freeman. During the day write poems about it, send a text about it and/or call your spouse and say what you want to do to that body part. “The point of the game is letting your spouse know that each little part is important and deserves your attention,” says Freeman.
Celeb secret: “My husband works a lot, and his work often involves traveling to sets and film shoots,” says Tia Mowry-Hardrict, author, entertainer, mother and happy wife of fellow actor Cory Hardrict. “To maintain consistency in our relationship we make time for date nights. Not only do we meet for meals, but we also dress up for each other and act as if it’s our first date."
INNER LIFE AND SPIRITUALITY
The goal: You’re on good spiritual footing when you can be genuinely happy for others, says Lisa Nkonoki, a life and family advocacy coach and founder of Live Your Dreams Life Coaching & Family Advocacy in
Greenwich, Connecticut. “Even if you’re not happy for someone else but can honestly say so without malice or jealousy, that’s okay too.”You might need to reset if... You’re feeling lost or negative. “If you’re not sure you’re moving forward or unsure how to take that step, it might signal a disconnect in your inner peace or confidence,” says Nkonoki.
TIPS FOR GETTING THERE:
1. Smoke out negativity. “I have been using dried sage to smudge away negative energy at least once a week for almost two years,” says Desh Dixon, 32, of Alexandria, Virginia. “Getting rid of negative energy brings me peace.” Cleanse your house by putting sage in a heat-resistant container and lighting it, letting it burn for about 30 seconds. Blow out the flames and walk around your house with the container, allowing the smoke to waft around the rooms. “I light the sage and walk into each room chanting, ‘All negative be gone, only positive love and light remain.’ Then I open the windows and doors to make sure negativity can leave,” says Dixon.
2. Get back to basics. Learn about your family’s spiritual history. Find out where your parents, grandparents and ancestors worshipped and try to visit that place or learn about it for context. “Exploring the generations might open the door to family beliefs, customs and so on. And recreating or revising those customs can connect you to a proud legacy and create traditions you can pass onto your children and grandchildren,” says Nkonoki.
3. Create a praise circle. Gather women from all faiths who want to share their positive spiritual connectionsat least once a month (or more if you want). This can have a social element if you want to host a dinner ordessert where your circle reads biblical verses or spiritual literature, and then discuss one another’s point of view.
The goal: You’ve got a good handle on your stress levels if you regularly havepositive exchanges with coworkers, friends and family members. “When we’re overwhelmed with stress, we tend to have habits like being short and rude, lashing out at family, being overly sensitive, or not communicating what our needs are and then getting upset when those needs aren’t being fulfilled,” says Tecsia Evans, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Oakland.You might need to reset if... The simplest things set you off—you’re often on the verge of shouting at a telemarketer who calls during dinner or the driver who cut you off on the way to work.
TIPS FOR GETTING THERE:
1. Go back to school. Take an art or a ceramics class regularly. Participating in expressive arts has been shown to be instrumental in reducing stress, says Evans.
2. Be an apprentice. Volunteer in a field you have considered but have little or no experience in, like floral design or cake decorating. Immersing yourself in a “want activity” rather than a “must do” task can boost self-esteem and melt away stress.
3. Crank up the music. Infusing your atmosphere with music has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety in studies. Try positive anthems for your mind and spirit, like Pharrell’s “Happy,” Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” or the Jackson 5’s “Enjoy Yourself.”
Celeb secret: “I’ve reduced my stress over the past few years by letting go of the pressure to cook everything I put on the table,” says Lisa Leslie, former WNBA star and four-time Olympic gold medalist. “There’s nothing better than the whole family at the dinner table toshare food, conversation and laughter. But sometimes my schedule doesn’t allow time to cook everything from scratch. On busy days I pick up a rotisserie chicken and a few sides so the family has a delicious meal to gather around...even if I don’t have time to cook it myself.”
The goal: The general rule of thumb for adult women is eight hours of sleep a night. “However, eight hours isn’t for everyone,” says Vernon Williams, M.D., a neurologist and director of Kerlan-Jobe Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine in Los Angeles. “It’s quite possible to function well on less and to also need an hour or two more.” You might need to reset if... You’re pooped by 10 A.M. or find yourself head-bobbing your way through the grocery store after work. So how much sleep would work best for you? The way you feel when you wake up is the best indicator. Williams suggests logging the amount of sleep you get and how youfeel every morning for one week.
TIPS FOR GETTING THERE:
1. Scale back on booze. Not only can it lead to waking up with a doozy of a headache the next day, but downing alcoholic beverages two to three hours before bedtime may prohibit the brain’s ability to experience restorative sleep.“Even though alcohol may make you feel drowsy and you might even doze off, you won’t experience the type of sleep needed to keep your body and brain healthy and feel refreshed in the morning.”
2. Sleep on purpose. “I’ve found that what is on my mind the last 5 minutesbefore sleep can have magical or tragic results,” says Elle Swan, 44, of Las Vegas. So instead of thinking about e-mails she
has to answer or grocery shopping she needs to do, Swan approaches sleep as though she’s in a movie. “When I lie down, I am the heroine of my movie, and I see and feel myself having what I want or being where I want to be. This works wonders to block out the shoulda-woulda-couldas of the day and keep me from lying awake,” she says.
3. Bathe yourself in early
light. Take a walk or read the morning paper in natural sunlight, suggests Williams. “Exposure to early morning sunlight, between 7 and 11 A.M., sets up our brains to release melatonin, the chemical needed to sleep, at night.” Filtered light through a car window doesn’t count, but using a lamp with a full spectrum lightbulb on your desk can regulate sleepy brain chemicals.
4. Have a sleep snack. When eaten asa bedtime snack, protein can help you fall asleep faster. So instead of going to bed with an empty stomach, Smith suggests snacking on a handful of almonds, a cup of low-fat Greek yogurt or 1/4 cup roasted soy nuts about an hour before hitting the sheets.
This article was originally published in the January 2015 issue of ESSENCE Magazine, on newstands now!