Looking for a fresh start? If you have a vague sense that you’d like to embark on a path toward a healthier lifestyle, we’ve got you covered. Here’s one small step a day for every weekday over four weeks. Try them out this month and decide which steps are going in the right direction for you.
Week One, Day One: Get your full eight hours of sleep
Start the month off right by getting to bed early tonight. In one study, people who slept just a third less than they were accustomed to ate more than 500 extra calories per day.
Week One, Day Two: Try noncaffeinated energy
Don’t want the jittery effects of coffee but need a little energy boost on this first day back after the long weekend? Try starting your day with a little exercise. Though it may seem counterintuitive, exercising when you feel tired can give you a needed boost of energy. Or consider taking a ginseng supplement; studies have suggested it may help battle fatigue.
Week One, Day Three: Choose fiber before sugar
Check the fiber content—and reduce the amount of sugar-laden empty calories found in many prepared breakfast cereals. Eating more fiber limits subsequent spikes in blood sugar, and it helps you feel full so you might eat less. Adults need 21 to 38 g of fiber daily.
Week One, Day 4: Add protein to every meal
Many of us eat carb-rich breakfasts and protein-heavy dinners, but it’s wise to pack some protein with your lunches too—we should add protein to every meal. Studies have found that spreading out our protein intake may enhance weight loss and improve muscle health.
Week One, Day Five: Wear sunscreen
Something to keep in mind as you head toward the weekend: most of the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays—up to 80 percent—pass through clouds. Even in the winter, keep in mind that snow reflects up to 80 percent of UV radiation, making it worse than sun glare off beach sand or water. Wear sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30.
Week Two, Day One: Pop probiotics
Probiotics aid digestion and may improve skin health, prevent colds, and assist with modest decreases in weight and BMI, but the benefits aren’t just physical. Some probiotics may also help reduce negative thoughts and boost our mood so we start the week on a bright note.
Week Two, Day Two: Walk away from a cold or flu
Just 20 minutes of walking a day strengthens the immune system. Researchers aren’t sure exactly why this is the case, but suspect that exercise flushes bacteria out of our lungs and raises our body temperature to prevent bacteria from growing into a serious infection.
Week Two, Day Three: Banish dry skin
Moisturize skin from both the outside in and the inside out with omega-3 fatty acid supplements. These essential fatty acids reduce dry skin symptoms, soothe inflammation, and guard against signs of aging brought on by UV exposure.
Week Two, Day Four: Stay hydrated
Staying hydrated is important for many things: it helps with digestion and removal of waste, improves physical performance, maintains healthy blood pressure, and keeps our skin healthy.
Week Two, Day Five: Try an outdoor activity
Plan to get outside this weekend. Getting outdoors—especially in nature—can not only keep you fit and burn unwanted calories, but it can also affect your mood and relieve stress. Did you know that activity levels plummet with the thermometer? About 64 percent of us are inactive in the winter versus 49 percent in the summer.
Week Three, Day One: Have a cuppa
The amino acid L-theanine, found in teas (especially green tea), may increase brain activity and cognitive function when we’re trying to pay attention to important tasks at work on Monday morning. (And you could probably use a little mental boost if you had a little too much fun over the weekend.)
Week Three, Day Two: Combat SAD
Getting vitamin D during the summer months can be accomplished by getting outside to enjoy the sun. As we experience shorter days, less sunshine, and more time indoors, many people begin to experience mood changes. Around two to three percent of Canadians experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), while another 15 percent feel the milder “winter blues.” Around 40 percent of us don’t get enough vitamin D in the winter; taking vitamin D may help prevent SAD.
Week Three, Day Three: Kick insomnia
From problems at school to worries about projects at work, many things can keep us up at night. Melatonin has long been the go-to supplement for sleep problems, but don’t overlook theanine, which promotes relaxation without sedation and helps us fall asleep more quickly/easily and sleep more soundly, or valerian, which helps reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and improves total sleep time.
Week Three, Day Four: Nab a nap
Speaking of sleep, a 10-minute nap can dramatically improve productivity. Track your circadian rhythm— your internal biological clock: it dips and rises at different times of the day. For many adults, the hours between 1 and 3 pm are the perfect time to catch a nap.
Week Three, Day Five: Mellow out with magnesium
Is your schedule leaving you stressed? Ask your health care practitioner about magnesium. More than one-third of adults don’t get enough of this important mineral. Our brain needs magnesium in times of stress, and this mineral has been linked to preventing or reducing the effects of anxiety and depression.
Week Four, Day One: Boost your metabolism
Feel warm inside and manage weight, too, with capsaicin. It’s the compound in cayenne and other peppers that gives them their heat. Studies have shown capsaicin can ramp up your metabolism, while eating more protein also boosts your metabolism and can also help you eat less.
Week Four, Day Two: Freshen the air
Many of us spend most of our time indoors, especially when the weather begins to cool off. And office air is up to 85 percent recirculated, causing a buildup of pollutants. Invest in an air filter or try Mother Nature’s filters: aloe, peace lilies, and spider plants are just a few houseplants that filter out indoor pollutants.
Week Four, Day Three: Use the three-bite rule
Do you work in a generous office where baked treats and other goodies are shared? Remember, the first nibble of a treat sparks the taste buds, but every bite after that has diminishing returns of pleasure. Try the three-bite rule. This satisfies our cravings and lets us indulge without going overboard.
Week Four, Day Four: Sip detox teas
You’ve found those home-baked treats irresistible, and the three-bite rule didn’t help. You might want to keep a stock of detox teas in your desk drawer to help flush your system. Examples of herbal remedies include green tea, dandelion root tea, ginger root tea, and senna tea.
Week Four, Day Five: Recover with adaptogens
If we feel fatigued and run down as we trundle through the work week, adaptogens—plant compounds that help us adapt to and avoid damage from environmental factors—may help. Examples include rhodiola, schisandra, and Siberian ginseng.