The first month of the year is not yet up, but I’m guessing that many of your New Year’s resolutions are already history. There isn’t anything wrong with making resolutions and there isn’t anything wrong with adjusting or abandoning them. Sometimes those goals are unrealistic or just plain wrong for you.
For those of you who have given up on your resolutions for the year, I have a suggestion for you. This goal is not only manageable, but also one that is good for your mental and physical health. It won’t cost you money and if you do it right, it will make you feel better. While our neurophysiology can be complicated, mental health sometimes comes down to three simple steps – eat right, sleep right, and get plenty of exercise.
Eating right doesn’t mean dieting. Losing weight is one of the most common broken New Year’s resolutions. Eating right sometimes results in weight loss, but that isn’t the goal. The goal is to eat healthy. A diet of green vegetables, fresh fruit, and minimal saturated fats should be the basis of our diets. This doesn’t mean you have to totally give up fried food, McDonald’s, or a steak once in a while. It just means that you increase the amount of green vegetables and fresh fruit in your diet. You can eat as much of these as you want.
An adult between the ages of 21 and 55 should get about eight hours of sleep each night give or take an hour for variability between individuals. These hours should be about the same hours each night. Sleeping from 10 p.m.-6 a.m. is a good target.
Good sleeping habits are complicated by our busy lives and, consequently we are stressed and have trouble sleeping. Almost a quarter of the adult US population uses sleep aids. While they help in the short term, natural sleep is healthier because it allows individuals to cycle through the stages of sleep several times each night as the body requires. Sleep aids interrupt this natural cycle and over time compromise the quality of sleep.
Also complicating the quality of sleep is the fact that one needs five to seven nights in a row of eight or so hours in order to get the body into a natural rhythm. Running on fumes all week and then sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday doesn’t cut it.
Exercise doesn’t mean running marathons and it doesn’t have to be every day. In fact, distance running isn’t that good for you. Some research has shown that some distance runners actually gain weight. While they are burning more calories they are also hungrier so they eat more.
I encourage my clients to get some regular exercise that is reflective of their physical health, condition, and weight. A 45-year-old, 250 pound woman who has been sedentary for years certainly can’t perform at the same athletic level as a 23-year-old male in top condition, but they both can exercise.
Find something you enjoy and, after consulting with your physician to ensure your chosen activity is right for you, engage in exercise a minimum of two to three times a week for at least twenty minutes. This could be walking, biking, swimming, treadmill, running, or aerobics. The goal is to get your heart rate up for at least 20 minutes three or more times a week.
Some research indicates that even moderate exercise in small chunks (less than 20 minutes) can have the same effects if it is daily. This can be achieved by parking furthest away from the grocery store or your office building, walking the stairs instead of taking the elevator, and it even includes sex with your spouse. (If you want a prescription for that last one to show your spouse, email me.)
You have to do all three – eat right, sleep right, and exercise. If you increase what you are eating, even if it is good food, you may gain weight and you won’t feel any better if you aren’t also sleeping well and exercising. The healthy triad can help you feel better, especially if you struggle with depression. It can help you focus, feel refreshed, sometimes lose weight, and it is good for your heart as well. This is a resolution that you can keep.