8 Healthy Things You Can Do During the Last Week of the Year (and Beyond)

The fitness rush is in full swing during the first week of the new year at the fitness center on Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea.
The fitness rush is in full swing during the first week of the new year at the fitness center on Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Jan. 8, 2016. (Staff Sgt. Amber Grimm/U.S. Air Force photo)

The last week of the year, from the day after Christmas to the first day of the new year, can range from a time to rest and enjoy some family time to a bonus week for finishing projects. I have found this week to be some of my most productive times for both work and home projects, as not much in the day usually competes with your time available.

So if you are staying home and limiting travel time, consider the following things to do to help you get the new year started and perhaps focus on your health and wellness more:

1. Get More Sleep

If possible, sleep a little longer each night. Take a short nap, if possible. Sleep is our No. 1 recovery tool, and after a long year of busy work, school and life schedules, sleeping better each night is an absolute requirement for better physical and mental health. Build the habit and see whether you can carry better sleep into the new year. See ideas for more restorative sleep habits.

2. Get Moving Again

Set a time in your day and do something. This can be chores around the house, walking, biking or doing regular workouts again. Just get moving. The truth is, it does not matter what you do at first; just setting a time in the day to do something is a habit worth starting, not just for the new year but for life. Start a good habit this week.

3. Try Something New

Why not try something you have never done? This is a wide opportunity to add variety to your life, and who knows? You may find something you really enjoy. Some ideas:

  • Take a yoga class
  • Try weightlifting
  • Read a different type of book than normal (fiction/nonfiction)
  • Visit a state or national park
  • Take a flight to a city you have never been, or
  • If you are always on the move, try staying home and relaxing this week.

This is one of those weeks ranging from the adventurous to a well-deserved rest. Treat it like a way to reset yourself.

4. Learn to Eat Better by Avoiding Mindless Snacking of Ultra-Processed Foods

Limiting or eliminating ultra-processed foods greatly boosts your health and wellness. Multiple studies show that eating ultra-processed foods also contributes to depression and anxiety issues in teens and adults. Consider a basic way to classify food with the NOVA system that ranks food in four groups from the field to the factory. You can quickly address food choices for each meal with this method of thinking and classifying food:

  • NOVA 1 includes unprocessed or minimally processed foods, such as fruits and vegetables, straight from nature. Think of a tomato off the vine.
  • NOVA 2 contains culinary ingredients like salt or sugar, produced from NOVA 1 foods. Think of sliced tomato in a salad.
  • NOVA 3 includes processed foods, such as bread or canned vegetables, made by combining NOVA 1 and NOVA 2 foods. Think of the tomato now in a can or jar of marinara sauce.
  • NOVA 4 contains ultra-processed foods and ready-to-eat products made mostly from substances derived from foods and additives, with little intact Group 1 food. Think of the tomato now in the bottle of ketchup, mixed with high fructose corn syrup and other ingredients.

This classification system can be a useful tool to help you better focus on group Nos. 1, 2 and 3, primarily with little food from the NOVA 4 group. This is very tough as 65%-70% of Americans choose most of their diet from NOVA 4, eating ultra-processed foods (cookies, juices, chips, soft bread, processed meats, condiments, ice cream, etc.). Challenge yourself to stay away from NOVA 4 "foods."

5. Drink More Water

Most Americans do not drink enough water. In fact, more than 47% are considered dehydrated. If you want to double the progress, replace your sugary soft drinks or juices with water, and you can lose 15-20 pounds or more this year by just doing this. Water helps us regulate body temperature, helps joints remain lubricated, moistens eyes and sinuses, and reduces headaches, to name a few of the basic benefits. If you are looking for a way to become healthier this year, start with this recommendation.

6. Consider Reading and Writing More

Reading for enjoyment and writing in a journal or making basic to-do lists daily can add to a more efficient and less stressful personal and professional life. Whether you are reading for personal growth or just relaxing entertainment, adding reading and/or writing to your life is a great activity to get started doing this week. Maybe you can find more time in the new year to continue it after seeing the benefits.

7. Find an Attitude of Gratitude

I bumped into a neighbor for the first time in a long time. I found out he had been battling cancer for the last year. Seeing him in the gym again inspired me to be more grateful for the daily events in my life that we all take for granted. Consider this daily confirmation: "I do not have to do this today. I get to do this today." It is a little corny, but it beats the alternative.

8. Instead of Adding Something New, Quit Something Old (and Unhealthy)

We all have bad habits. From too much caffeine, alcohol and nicotine to poor food choices and portion sizes, there are things that we would like to do less of or eliminate from our lives. Many of our habits may be addictions, and it may be more difficult to quit on your own. Do not be scared to ask for help, as there are many useful programs and people can help.

Just Pick One at a Time

My final recommendation for you this week is to pick one of the above (or your own) activities to add to your life and continue it through next month, if possible. Then, if you want to add a new healthy activity to your life, pick another from this list in February. Each month, if you continue adding one of these recommendations to your life, you will be amazed at the evolution you will have made by the end of the year.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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