UK HealthCare

8 Healthy Habits to Start in 2021

2021 Health
Photo credit: Wand_Prapan, iStock / Getty Images Plus.

The University of Kentucky Public Relations & Strategic Communications Office provides a weekly health column available for use and reprint by news media. This week's column is by Jean Fry, Ph.D., registered dietitian and assistant professor in the UK College of Health Sciences Department of Athletic Training and Clinical Nutrition.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 25, 2021) — Making health a priority has been a challenge during the pandemic, but good nutrition, physical activity and a healthy weight are protective factors against COVID-19. Try these tips to help you reach health-related goals for 2021.

Hit the Hay

Sleeping less than seven hours a night increases hunger hormones, leading to sugary and salty snack cravings. Support health sleep goals by engaging in a screen-free relaxing activity about one hour before bedtime. 

Watch the Time 

Some research shows that hunger peaks around 8 p.m. and decreases during sleep. The longer you stay awake, the more tempting those stale holiday cookies may seem. Also, food eaten later at night is more likely to cause spikes in blood sugar. When you do indulge, plan to have those treats earlier in the day. 

Veg out with Veggies

Hot Cheetos and screen time are formula for failed resolutions. Research shows that zoning out while eating leads to less fullness and more calories in your belly. For those who need to nosh in front of the TV, a snack like carrots and a low-cal dip is the perfect way to get five servings a day without even trying. 

Stay Active 

Data from the National Weight Control Registry shows that 94% of people who lost weight and kept it off included physical activity as part of their plan. Most chose to walk. At least 60 minutes a day is recommended for weight maintenance, but any activity is better than none, and it can be broken up throughout the day.

Keep It Simple 

Research shows that our willpower is finite. Trying to reach too many goals or change too many habits at once makes us less successful. Small changes can have a big impact. I’ve had clients who lost over 50 pounds just by reducing portion sizes or trading soda for water. To be successful this year, pick one or two small habits that can yield big benefits.  

Be S.M.A.R.T. 

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based. Focus on behaviors rather than outcomes, such as increasing physical activity rather than losing a specific amount of weight. You can control the behavior, but your weight is less predictable. An example of a behavior-based SMART goal is “I will walk 30 minutes a day at least five days each week." Form realistic strategies to implement the goal (for example, going for a 10 minute walk after each major meal). 

Watch Yourself 

Effective weight loss usually requires monitoring: twice weekly weigh-ins, calorie-tracking apps, a daily checklist, etc. Some people love monitoring, others despise it. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Decide what will work for you and make a concrete plan to monitor your SMART goals. 

Be Nice to Yourself

We’re all human and make mistakes. Research shows that shaming and negative self-talk sabotage health goals. We are not defined by our mistakes or body weight, and food has so much importance beyond its effect on our weight. Accept yourself and continue to work toward your goal.