We’ve all thought a lot about our health this year. As we go into 2021, it’s a great time to evaluate your health challenges and create some goals. New Years’ Resolutions sometimes go unaccomplished, but if you follow the SMART method for setting goals, you can set yourself up for success.
Setting SMART Goals
The SMART method says that your goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timebound. So what does that mean? Here’s an example: Let’s say you want to lower your blood sugar. First, you need to identify a specific step you can take, like replacing sugary foods with low glycemic, fiber-rich foods. Then you need to decide how you’ll know you are making progress on your goal. It would make sense to talk to your doctor about the steps you plan to take and what sorts of results you can reasonably expect to see. After this conversation, you can determine what blood sugar numbers you’d like to see in one month, two months, etc. Since your specific goal has to do with your eating habits, you may also want to keep a food journal to help keep track of how well you are sticking to your new diet. You already know this goal is relevant, and by making it a New Years’ Resolution, you’ve given yourself a time limit of one year to see a specific result.
When changing your eating habits or any other part of your lifestyle, it is wise to start small. In this example, you could try replacing one sugary snack a day with a healthier alternative instead of trying to overhaul your whole diet at once. You might also want to phrase the goal in a positive action-oriented way, like “eat healthier snacks” instead of “stop eating sugar.” Studies have shown that when people state a goal as a thing to do, instead of a thing to avoid, they are more likely to be successful.
Now that we’ve laid the groundwork for successful goal setting, here are three health goals to consider for 2021:
1. Get More Sleep
Sleep-related problems affect over 50 million Americans each year. Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night. Getting less sleep than this for even three nights in a row can severely affect a person’s physical and mental health and overall functioning. Some people suffer from sleep disorders like sleep apnea or sleep-wake phase disorders. For these individuals, treatment at a sleep clinic can improve their sleep and overall health.
Many American adults who report that they don’t get enough sleep have not been diagnosed with a sleep disorder. They simply have trouble getting themselves into bed at an appropriate time. This can happen for many reasons. Sometimes work schedules interfere with sleep, or people stay up later than they should because they feel the hours between work and bedtime are their only chance to get things done around the house or have “me time.”
Lack of sleep can lead to serious long-term consequences, including heart problems, obesity, and a higher risk of stroke. Improving your sleep is a goal that will lead to a healthier future. Try to evaluate why you aren’t getting enough sleep. “Sleep hygiene” or what you might think of as a bedtime routine is crucial to a good night’s sleep. Sleep hygiene includes things like: sleeping in a cool, dark, quiet room, avoiding screen-time for an hour before bed, and avoiding stimulants after 3 PM. If you feel that you have excellent sleep hygiene practices but still struggle to get your zzz’s, then your first sleep goal might be to make an appointment with a sleep specialist to evaluate whether you have a sleeping disorder.
2. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness meditation has been proven to have many health benefits. People who practice it regularly experience fewer anxiety and depression symptoms, greater control over diabetes, and fewer asthma symptoms. Our brains are wired to think constantly, but an uncontrolled flow of thoughts can be draining and depressing. The practice of mindfulness helps individuals recognize when their minds have strayed from the present moment and purposefully bring their focus back. Practicing every day allows you to hone this skill so you can use it automatically in stressful situations. As a result, you’ll be able to balance your thoughts and emotions better.
If you struggle to manage your stress or find yourself dealing with anxiety, depression, or other chronic health problems, mindfulness might be a good goal to set for 2021. You don’t have to dedicate hours to your practice. Five minutes a day is a good goal to start with. Some people find that sitting still makes it more difficult to meditate, but you can also practice mindfulness while walking around or doing repetitive activities like ironing or hand-washing dishes.
The purpose of mindfulness is not to silence your mind but to be aware of your thoughts and their effects on your emotions and body. If you try to focus on the physical sensations and details of the present moment, your mind will wander. Merely noticing this wandering and (nonjudgmentally) bringing your focus back to the present moment is what mindfulness is all about.
3. Improve Your Posture
Most of us spend way too much time glued to our desk chair, and good posture in front of a computer can be a challenge. Unfortunately, all that hunching over can end up causing pain, stiffness, and other health problems. If you struggle with back, neck, or wrist pain or have noticed that your standing posture seems to be changing, with your shoulders rolling forward, it’s time to take action. Seeing a chiropractor can help you correct your posture and fix any damage your slouching has caused. Chiropractors specialize in realigning the spine so your nerves and muscles can function optimally. They can also help you improve your posture so you can avoid further injury.
Some chiropractors recommend that their clients set up a standing desk for themselves at their workstations. This can help prevent posture-related problems as well as the negative health consequences of sitting too much. If standing at work isn’t an option for you, you can adjust your workspace to make it more ergonomic. Adjusting your chair or computer desk’s height so that your screen is at eye level and your hips are parallel to the floor with your feet flat on the ground will keep you from slouching quite as much. If you still find yourself leaning forward, you can invest in a wearable device that will let you know when you start to slouch so you can correct your posture. Sitting up straight more often will help to relieve your pain and improve your overall well being.