Every year, as the final days of December slip away, millions of Americans make a list of resolutions for the coming year.
And, by doing so, many set themselves up for failure. After nearly two years spent living under an umbrella of uncertainty that has left many of us mentally exhausted, it is time to rethink the way we approach change in the coming year. With the help from some local experts, we’ve compiled a list of four ways you can focus on longer-range goals that promote both physical and mental wellbeing that lasts well beyond the calendar year.
Set Realistic Fitness Goals
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults who are physically active are healthier, feel better and are less likely to develop many chronic diseases than are adults who are inactive. Physical activity has also shown to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression and improve sleep and quality of life.
That doesn’t mean you have to run out and sign up for your first marathon. Even the CDC acknowledges the need for baby steps, starting their list of guidelines with a simple statement: “Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day.” For substantial health benefits, the CDC recommends a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, or 75 minutes of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, plus muscle-strengthening activities two or more days per week.
To progress to more intense activities, certified health and fitness professional Shannon Thigpen stresses the importance of looking for activities that will stick. “Consider what you enjoy doing as a foundation for choosing the activity. Think about the time of day you are most likely to stay committed to the activity. If you are a morning person, look for opportunities to do things earlier in the day. If you have a family, consider looking for activities you can do together,” Thigpen recommended.
Physical activity does not always need to be restricted to a set exercise regimen. “Combine exercise with daily living activities throughout the day, like standing whenever possible, moving around, chair squats from your desk, calf raises when reaching for shelves, balancing on one leg when doing dishes, etc. The options are limitless. You can burn calories, strengthen muscles and joints and become more flexible,” Thigpen said.
Finding an exercise partner or fitness group can help maintain motivation and accountability. “Be realistic, recognizing that life happens and setbacks or inactivity for a period of time should not equate to an all or nothing situation. Get back to it as soon as possible,” Thigpen concluded.
Create a Healthy Sleep Routine
Research has shown that sleep deprivation is detrimental to both physical and mental health. “Literally, lack of sleep can kill a person,” stated Dr. Maria Aranda, a licensed psychologist. “It is widely known that when we change our clocks in the spring and lose one hour of sleep, heart attacks increase 25 percent. Even the Guinness Book of World Records no longer allows anyone to compete for the longest amount of time awake, given the disastrous effects it has on the person’s brain and body.”
Changing your pre-bedtime habits can help improve sleep patterns. “Sleep hygiene is what we call the set of behaviors that we engage that promotes restful sleep,” Aranda explained.
She noted that shutting down screens and engaging in restful activity before sleep, as well as trying to maintain a consistent sleep and wake schedule, are small steps that can have a big impact on sleep quality—but consistency is key. “The development of a consistent routine around bedtime is what can really help promote sleep,” she said.
To resist the temptation to scroll before bedtime, create a central docking station away from the bedroom and set a time at least an hour before bedtime to dock devices. If you rely on your phone to wake you up in the morning, consider investing in a good old-fashioned alarm clock.
For those suffering from insomnia, Aranda noted there is an effective research-based, non-medication treatment called Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for insomnia (CBT-I).
Rethink your Approach to Eating
Healthy eating should be viewed as a means to fuel your mind and body with the nutrients necessary to run optimally, not as a way to reach a certain jean size. “The foods we eat have both an immediate effect and a long-lasting effect on our mental wellness,” stated certified health coach Pam Velez. “When we eat our favorite dish that our grandmother used to make, or our favorite dessert, it probably brings on good feelings while we are consuming the food. Hours later that same food may bring on digestive discomfort or fatigue, which is a hit to our mental well-being.”
An easy way to jumpstart healthier eating habits is by incorporating more whole foods into your diet, particularly vegetables. “If someone is looking to be healthier, adding in vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables, is the best way to achieve greater health,” Velez said. “If we start a meal with a green salad (with a healthy dressing) or a cup of broccoli or green beans, we simply won’t have as much room to fill up on the less healthy portion of our meal. Vegetables have so many vitamins and minerals that help our bodies and minds work optimally.”
In our fast-paced world, processed foods inevitably work their way into our diets. When these are a must, look for items with a short list of recognizable ingredients and keep an eye on sugar content. “Sugar, while delicious, is very bad for us in the quantities typically consumed by the average American,” Velez said.
Velez added that sugar is often hidden in foods we think are healthy. “Many yogurts, salad dressings and peanut butters are packed with sugar,” Velez explained. She advises people to look for sugars listed in grams under Nutritional Facts, and pay close attention to the serving size. “There are healthy options sitting on the Publix shelf right next to the sugar-filled options. You just need to look for them.”
If weight loss is your goal, shifting eating behaviors is much healthier in the long run than crash dieting. “Add more vegetables, limit sugar, drink eight glasses of water per day and don’t beat yourself up,” Velez said. “Enjoy your favorite meal or dessert that you know is not super healthy, but only do it once per week. This way you don’t feel deprived, and you have something to look forward to.
Velez added that having an accountability partner, like a friend or health coach, is a great way to monitor progress and keep yourself on track.
For the past two years, the headlines have been full of bad news, followed by worse news. In the midst of so much negativity, it can be difficult to focus on the positive, but that shift in focus is precisely what is needed to make our mental and physical health a priority. Psychological research has consistently linked gratitude with greater happiness. A 2009 study by the National Institutes of Health found that, “gratitude causes synchronized activation in multiple brain regions, and lights up parts of the brain’s reward pathways and the hypothalamus. In short, gratitude can boost neurotransmitter serotonin and activate the brain stem to produce dopamine.” Dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical messenger that allows us to feel pleasure, satisfaction and motivation. The more we think positive, grateful thoughts, the healthier and happier we feel.
Taking the time to acknowledge the good in our lives stirs positive emotions and puts the focus on happy memories, rather than past regrets. There are a number of ways to incorporate gratitude into you daily life, whether that is jotting a thank you note to a friend or family member, keeping a gratitude journal or taking turns around the dinner table each night naming something you are grateful for in that moment. For those who are on social media regularly, another great way to practice and spread gratitude is to regularly share uplifting moments or lessons learned. Social media can be such a negative space. Spreading personal messages of gratitude is one way use our digital age in a positive way to remind each other that despite the setbacks life throws our way, there is much for which to be grateful.
It’s been a roller coaster ride the past two years. This year, take the time to make your physical and mental wellbeing a priority.
We wish all our readers a happy and healthy New Year.
By Karen Ring
2022 Health and Wellness Guide Summaries
WOW thanks the following physicians and health/fitness businesses for helping to bring you the Health and Wellness Special. The listings on these pages represent paid advertisements in conjunction with the Health and Wellness Special. Paid advertising is not an endorsement by WOW, Inc. Interested residents should contact the businesses and ask all relevant questions prior to engaging their services.
AdventHealth Carrollwood is a faith-based, 119-bed hospital nationally recognized for quality and patient safety, offering comprehensive services, including heart and vascular care, spine surgery and orthopedics, wound care, bariatrics and emergency care in a state-of-the-art facility.
Cyn’s skincare will help you reach your health and beauty goals. Get ready for a New You this New Year!
Family EyeCare at Westchase
We are dedicated to providing you with excellent vision and eye health using high tech equipment in a Covid-19 safe environment.
Foot & Ankle Specialists
J. Russell Lowrey, DPM, FACFAS
Dr. Russ Lowrey treats all foot, ankle, and leg conditions and sees patients of all ages. Dr. Lowrey has been a Westchase resident since 1999.
Internal Medicine & Pediatrics of Tampa Bay
Our board-certified doctors and nurse practitioners provide the highest quality of primary care for newborns, children, teens and adults in the Westchase area.
Jazzercise Westchase Fitness Center
Jazzercise, the original dance party! A full body work-out that combines dance, strength, and resistance training set to your favorite beats. All fitness levels welcome.
Prime Endocrinology of Tampa
Dr. Archana Swami launched Prime Endocrinology of Tampa. She is passionate about providing good clinical care in a welcoming environment and looks forward to providing endocrinology care to the Westchase community.
Proactive Primary Care
Our board-certified providers provide comprehensive primary care to adults and children 12 years and older. Most major insurances accepted. Now accepting new patients!
Suncoast Women’s Care of Westchase
We are an all female staff, dedicated to providing quality gynecological care. We are currently accepting new patients! We also offer bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, in office procedures and same day appointments.
Tampa Health Centers
You’ve got a great year ahead. Let’s plan it together! Discover the difference at Tampa Family Health Centers. Visit www.TampaFamilyHC.com!
The Exercise Coach—Westchase
We are the perfect fit for people for whom standard workouts don’t work. Get real results with just two 20-minute workouts per week in our semi-private studio.
Renew, refresh and rejuvenate at Westchase’s luxury medspa. Let Dr. Pham and her highly trained aesthetics team help bring out the beauty in you.
Westchase Physical Therapy
Eliminating pain and restoring function without medications or surgeries. Using skilled hands-on manual therapy and exercise. The results you want; the care you deserve.