If you like to take the new year as an opportunity to get serious about your health but don’t know where to start, here are 22 habits for 2022.
Resolutions vs habits
Resolutions work for some people but chances are most people who make new year’s resolutions don’t keep them. This can be because most resolutions are unattainable, too vague or focus on the result instead of the process.
Habits are behaviours that are repeated consistently. They take time to establish, but once up and running they don’t require much effort to keep going.
22 habits for 2022
Below is a list of suggested habits you can implement in your life. You don’t need to choose all 22, you don’t need to start on the 1st of January. Pick whatever sounds attainable to you and be consistent.
1. Cook most of your food
Cooking most of your food gives you control over what goes into your meals. This is especially important for people who have allergies or intolerances. It is also useful for those looking to meet certain energy and/or macronutrient targets. Last but not least, you can choose better quality ingredients than those used by manufacturers and restaurants.
Visit the recipes section on my site if you need inspiration.
2. Read labels
Always read labels before you buy a product. At the very least, you want to look at the product description and best before/use by date to make sure you are buying what you think you are and that the product is not expired or will not expire before you intend to use it.
You should also looking at the ingredients list and nutrition information panel to check for undesired ingredients, energy and nutrient content. For more information please check my article on how to read food labels.
3. Eat in season
Fruits and vegetables in season are likely to be cheaper, fresher and more nutritious than at other times of the year. Limiting your produce intake to what is in season also supports local farmers and forces you to expand the your diet, exposing you to a wider variety of nutrients.
4. Eat protein at every meal
Protein is essential for life and important for muscle mass growth and bone mass maintenance. Protein is satiating (helps you stay fuller for longer) and relatively low in energy, which helps improve body composition. Consuming protein within a carbohydrate-containing meal lowers its glycaemic index, which is beneficial for people with blood sugar control issues.
5. Eat more fish
Is no coincidence that the healthiest and most long-lived populations in the world consume large quantities of fish. Fish is an important source of protein, essential fatty acids, minerals and other nutrients. If you do not eat fish on a regular basis, try to aim at 2-3 times per week as a minimum.
Sure, there are some concerns when it comes to sustainability, feeding and farming practices, etc., so try to choose wild caught and sustainable choices whenever possible. Fresh fish is great but don’t use lack of availability as an excuse to not eat any. Frozen and canned fish are also fine. Try to avoid the most processed choices: battered/crumbed, deep-fried, canned with flavours, canned in oil. The better choices are plain fish fillets or canned fish in water (springwater or brine).
6. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good
If you obsess on achieving perfection in every meal you will soon become frustrated and/or disappointed. Life happens, which means things will go off plan and you will end up eating foods you did not plan to eat or miss training sessions. This is ok as long as the general trend is improvement.
Don’t use the inability to achieve perfection as an excuse to make unhelpful choices. For example, not being able to access local organic produce doesn’t mean you should eat cheap ultra-processed food instead. There are many good widely available and affordable choices.
7. Limit liquid sugar
Sugar is not inherently bad but sugar-containing beverages expose your body to large amounts of added sugar in a very short amount of time. This can result in big blood glucose spikes which can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes if repeated consistently. In addition, it can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is a serious metabolic issue that affects both children and adults. Finally, sugar in drinks contribute to total energy intake.
Try to choose water and other unsweetened beverages more often than not. Natural sweeteners on occasion are fine but there is still a lot we don’t know about their effects on the gut microbiome and other aspects of health.
8. Limit ultra-processed food
Ultra-processed foods tend to be energy-dense, nutrient-poor and less satiating than whole foods. High consumption of these foods is associated with multiple health issues, including obesity, inflammation, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular risk and cancer.
9. Wake up at the same time every day
Waking up at the same time every day can align your circadian rhythms, sleep cycles and hormone release. All of these can deeply affect many aspects of health, including cognition, immunity and metabolism. By the same token, it’s a good idea to go to bed roughly at the same time each day.
10. Go for a walk after lunch
Most people choose to walk before a meal to “work up an appetite”. However, a brisk walk after a meal is a powerful way of regulating your blood sugar. This has a big impact in energy modulation, insulin levels and body composition. Any walk is better than no walk but a minimum of 10 minutes is recommended.
11. Don’t drink coffee after lunch
Some people metabolise caffeine quickly, which means it gets out of their system in a few hours. However, for most people it takes several hours to get metabolised, which means that the caffeine in a cup of coffee or tea consumed in the afternoon will still be in your system when you go to bed. For some people, this translates to difficulties falling asleep, for some people their sleep quality is compromised.
12. Pay attention while you eat
This doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t multitask but it does mean you should not mindlessly shove food in your mouth. Take time to appreciate the look and smell of your meal and chew your food properly to aid digestion.
13. Stop eating when you’re full
Many people eat beyond fullness, consuming more energy than they probably need. This can lead to weight gain, digestive issues, disturbed sleep (if eating late at night), etc. There are different reasons behind this behaviour. Some people feel guilty if they don’t finish everything on their plate. Some people eat too quickly and/or while distracted, missing the fullness signals sent by their bodies.
14. Stop eating 2 hours before going to bed
Eating late at night affects your circadian rhythm and hence your sleep, hormone release, metabolism, etc. In addition, we are likely to make poorer food choices late at night due to decision fatigue, feeling like we deserve a treat after a long day, etc.
Below are a few tricks you can use to limit those late night fridge/cupboard incursions:
- Set an alarm to remind you to stop 2 hours before your usual bed time
- Use a fasting app (e.g. Zero)
- Brush your teeth after dinner to deter you from continue eating
15. Stop looking at screens at least 1 hour before going to bed
Looking too much at screens can be detrimental to vision. Moreover, there is some indication that the blue light emitted by screens can negatively affect circadian rhythms. Sure, nowadays phones have night shift settings, you can install apps that change the light temperature in your computer and you can wear blue light blocking glasses, all good strategies to implement.
However, if you are looking at screens until the very last minute before sleeping, chances are your brain will be active thinking about work or whatever you are looking at. This can prevent you from getting quality sleep. Instead, get off your devices 1 hour before bed and do something else. For example: have a chat to your family, fold laundry, unpack the dishwasher, meditate or stretch.
One trick I learned from Katy Bowman that I’ve implemented is to install electric timers in the power points where our modem and repeater are connected. These timers let you set the times when you want the power point to be on, meaning we decide when to switch off the WIFI. Sure, we still have mobile data but losing the WIFI is a deterrent doing more data-intensive web browsing late at night.
16. Have several alcohol-free days per week
Drinking in moderation is not detrimental to some people, however moderation involves the amount that you drink at a single occasion and the frequency. Most people should aim at not exceeding 1-2 standard drinks per sitting and to have several alcohol-free days per week.
Alcohol can have a negative impact on various aspects of health, can lead to weight gain, loss of productivity, poor exercise performance and recovery, limit muscle mass growth, etc.
17. Take the stairs
Incidental exercise can account for a sizeable portion of total energy expenditure, which helps with weight control. Moreover, exercise can increase metabolic rate, help control blood sugar, pressure and cholesterol levels, increase balance and mobility, etc. Of course, taking the stairs is just a proxy for “be as active as you can”.
18. Stretch daily
Sedentary lifestyles and stress contribute to muscle tightness, diminished joint mobility and, ultimately, injuries. Many of us leave stretching to a dedicated time slot such as Saturday yoga class or even less often than that. However, you can and should stretch often and anywhere. You don’t need to follow a routine, just focus on those areas that feel tight.
19. Learn a new skill
It’s never too late to learn new skills and engaging the brain in learning keeps it active, potentially preventing neurodegenerative conditions later in life. Last but not least, learning new skills can be fun, relaxing and useful.
20. Instead of weighing yourself, monitor how your clothes fit
Weight can be deceiving due to normal fluctuations and changes in body composition (i.e. fat vs fat-free mass, water content, etc.). In addition, measuring weight can cause anxiety and be triggering for some people.
If you have a goal of improving your body composition or health (e.g. your doctor has told you to lose weight), you can monitor how your clothes fit instead of weighing yourself.
Another option is to measure your waist circumference. Try to use a firm tape and measure at the narrowest point of your waist or, if you can’t see it clearly, at the belly button. Measure after exhaling but not sticking your belly out.
You are at increased risk for heart disease if your waist is over 80cm (women) or 94cm (men) (1). This is because a wider waist can indicate increased visceral fat, which is more detrimental to health than subcutaneous fat. Of course, a lower waist is preferable.
In addition to waist circumference, you can also measure your hip circumference. The division between those 2 numbers (waist to hip ratio) is also an indication of increased risk of metabolic-related health issues. You want this ratio to be low, as ratios equal or greater than 0.85cm (women) or 0.90cm (men) indicates a much greater risk of metabolic disease (1).
21. Support local businesses
The effects of Covid-19 on many businesses has been devastating, highlighting the importance of supporting businesses, particularly local ones.
Besides the impact of the pandemic, it is always a good idea to support local businesses. This helps community growth, allows you to build connections with your neighbours and promotes sustainability.
22. Establish a daily breathing or meditation practice
The last 2 years have been tougher than ever. Chronic stress can be detrimental to almost every aspect of health. Breathing and meditation are two very effective techniques that can be used to manage stress and anxiety. The beauty of these 2 techniques is that they are free and they can be as short as a few minutes.
- Organization WH. Waist circumference and waist-hip ratio : report of a WHO expert consultation, Geneva, 8-11 December 2008 [Internet]. Geneva PP – Geneva: World Health Organization; Available from: https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/44583