Small Steps That Can Make a Huge Difference in Your Health in the New Year

As a runner, health and fitness are on my mind a lot. I’m often thinking about exercise, what I’m putting in my body, and not only my current physical fitness, but my long-term health. That said, I’m very aware of what happens around the holidays. There’s a cycle of “falling off the wagon,” with whatever exercise routines, diets, or good eating habits we may have had.

We usually put on a few holiday pounds, feel bad about it, and, come New Year’s, we’re ready to make a resolution to get healthy and fit.

I know that not everyone is an endurance runner. Not everyone is all that interested in being one, either. What if you’re not all that experienced in serious exercise or healthy eating? The idea of committing to an intensive exercise routine or diet is overwhelming and, honestly—it’s probably setting yourself up for failure.

Instead, I want to suggest small steps to improve your health for the new year that will have a big long-term impact on your health.

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6 Small Changes to Improve Your Health in Big Ways in the New Year

1) Ditch the soda, drink more water.

There are few easier steps that are better for your health than simply leaving soft drinks behind. You don’t need them. Once you quit them and break the habit, you won’t miss them. If you want carbonation, there are always seltzer waters. Sodas are so packed with sugar and empty calories. They do nothing good for us! People who quit soda can see weight loss just from quitting it alone (and no other changes), on top of just feeling better.

Beyond quitting soda, there’s just drinking more water. Most of us are dehydrated without knowing it. We need to drink more water and there is a lot of technology out there designed to help us meet hydration goals, from smart water bottles and apps to our fitness watches.

2) Count calories.

No one likes calorie-counting. It’s boring. It’s tedious. But it’s necessary if you want to manage your weight. With apps like MyFitnessPal, it’s easier than ever, too. When we don’t calorie-count, it’s so easy to underestimate our caloric intake. We make poor food decisions and wind up with a lot of empty calories and poor nutritional decisions.

Not only that, but we waste a lot of money! Those chips won’t fill you up for nearly as long as those vegetables, but they have five times the calories and they’re much more expensive. Actually recording your caloric intake forces you to think about these things.

3) Keep the fridge stocked.

When the cupboards are bare because you didn’t make it to the grocery store, it’s much easier to just go out to eat or run through a drive-thru, isn’t it? That’s not a great health decision. You can prevent this from happening by scheduling your grocery runs. Set aside that time. Have a method for planning your lists. Make sure you don’t wind up having to scramble for food or end up taking the easy way out and making poor health decisions.

4) Identify when you’re most tempted.

We all have times when we’re tempted to make poor choices. It might be after we get home from work, late at night, or while we’re in front of the TV. Maybe we’re weak when we’re out friends. Identifying when you’re most tempted is step one. Figuring out what to do about it is step two. Maybe you snack when you’re bored—so find out how to occupy your time with something productive. If you snack when stressed, have healthy snacks on hand. Prepare in advance so you aren’t caught off guard.

5) Mind your portions.

In America, we get huge portions wherever we go. An easy step for your health is simply to cut the portions you’re used to in half. At restaurants, set half aside before you even start to eat. At home, eat off of a salad plate instead of a full-sized plate. If you’re still hungry, you can eat more. But starting with less will help you reduce your caloric intake and curb overeating!

6) Don’t beat yourself up.

Lastly, if you slip and stumble, don’t be too hard on yourself. When meeting a health or fitness goal, you’re bound to have some back-and-forth in your journey. If you stress or are too hard on yourself, you’re only going to hurt your health and metabolism. Get up and keep trying!

When it comes to health and fitness steps, no step, no matter how small, is wasted. This year could be the beginning of new, healthier, happier you.

How will you transform your health in the new year? Share your goals in the comments!