5 Resolutions We Should All Be Making For Our Physical & Mental Health In 2021
Here’s how to start the New Year off right!
The Year-That-Must-Not-Be-Named is finally over. A worldwide pandemic. Racial injustice. The stock market crash. Billions of people radically changing the way they work and socialize. It was, by almost any measure, a terrible year, and I’m pretty sure everyone feels the same way about 2020 as my toddler feels about sledding.
And while I wish we could all press a refresh button to reboot our lives, it’s not that easy — getting a fresh start takes motivation and dedication. Here are 5 researched-backed changes to help with just that, as we get inspired to take our first steps in the new year.
1. Consume Less Social Media
Facebook? Delete it. Twitter? Get rid of it. Instagram? Quit it. Reddit? Skip it.
2020 was so full of negativity spread via popular social media channels that we saw a whole new word added to our lexicon: doomscrolling.
Most of us have engaged in this self-destructive behavior, even if we’re not aware of it: you mindlessly open up Twitter and are immediately hit with an onslaught of bad news. You see that coronavirus infections are up. Maybe your kids can’t go back to school. The economy is cratering.
Still, you incessantly scroll though bottomless doom-and-gloom news as you sink into a pool of despair. It erodes our mental health, trapping us in a vicious cycle of negativity that only serves to fuel our anxiety.
Apart from the negative influence social media has on our collective psyche, passive media consumption is usually a horrible waste of time. Americans spend on average 1,471 hours watching tv and 876 hours on social media every year.
We’ve all heard Malcolm Gladwell’s claim that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something – a concept that was popularized in his bestseller Outliers: The Story of Success. Turns out, the ten-thousand-hours concept is a giant oversimplification, but the more interesting takeaway from Gladwell’s writings is that it only takes an average of about 80 hours of quality practice to reach 50% of mastery level. This is due to the ‘Pareto principle’ – 80% of results will come from just 20% of the action.
Let’s be conservative and say it takes 100 hours of practice to become decent at something. So you could get pretty decent at more than a dozen new things this year instead of binging Netflix shows or endlessly scrolling through Instagram photos of people you haven’t talked to in years anyway.
Learn a new language. Study nutrition. Try to master an instrument. Improve your culinary skills. Take up pickleball. This is investing in yourself.
2. Spend Less Time On Politics
While the reigning political parties would like you to believe that the future of our government “rests in your hands”, the amount of power that we hold individually to effect change is almost certainly not worth the physical and emotional costs of letting politics consume too much of your attention.
Seriously, politics are literally making us sick.
A study released earlier this year found that nearly 40% of Americans feel that politics are stressing them out, 20% are losing sleep because of it, and 12% say that politics are adversely affecting their physical health.
So in 2021, reduce the amount of political information you consume. Turn off Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. Set boundaries around the streaming of toxic, politically charged information into your personal space. After you’ve educated yourself on the issues, continuing to expose yourself to politically polarized media does nothing but increase stress levels.
3. Eliminate ‘Zero Days’
It’s hard to be amazing every single day. Especially if you start with lofty goals to accomplish this year, you might be discouraged if you can’t seem to keep up. Instead of giving up, try the more-forgiving philosophy of “no zero days.”
You don’t need to bust your butt every single day; the point is to make easy wins for yourself that snowball into bigger steps toward your goal. Do something every day that moves you toward your goals, even if it’s something very small.
Didn’t do anything all day and it’s 11:55 pm? Write one sentence. Do one set of pushups. Read one page of that chapter. Do 5 minutes of Duolingo. Done right, a “no zero days” approach to your goals is motivating and forgiving. No day is ever a lost cause.
If you want some accountability, there’s a free app on both iOS and Android. However you keep track, eliminating zero days prevents that demotivating feeling of ‘I haven’t done this in forever’ because you’ve been making progress – no matter how tiny – every day.
4. Pick Up A Physical Activity
If the thing you replaced your social media habits with from #1 isn’t a physical activity, choose one. Go run, go kayak, go lift weights (check out the Ascent Gym Essentials workout programs if you don’t know where to start).
Making time for exercise has to be among the things you consider non-negotiable. You have to buy groceries. You have to pay bills. You also have to exercise. It might be a tough pill to swallow, but the evidence makes it overwhelmingly clear: regular exercise is essential for literally every aspect of your health that it’s absolutely absurd to think that you can function optimally without it.
You’ll live longer. A Columbia University study found that swapping a half-hour of sitting around every day with physical activity of any intensity cuts the risk of early death by 35%.
You’ll be happier. Exercise causes the release of feel-good endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which boosts your mood and overall sense of well-being. These chemicals can also help improve your appetite and sleep cycles, which are often negatively affected by depression.
You’ll be smarter. Exercise releases a cascade of chemicals that stimulate the growth of new nerves and synapses – the connection points between nerves – and also helps preserve existing brain cells. In particular, the part of your brain called the hippocampus is especially receptive to exercise, which means that your memory and ability to learn get a huge boost from hitting the gym. Regular exercise has also been shown to decrease your risk of Alzheimer’s later in life by 45%.
You don’t need to spend hours at the gym, either. People often assume that in order to reap benefits of exercising you need to break a sweat, and that it needs to be for a significant chunk of time. But the reality is that getting enough physical activity to make a difference can be accumulated with short “snack” workouts throughout the week.
A new study published just last week in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that even intervals as short as four seconds can reverse the negative metabolic effects of sitting all day and eating poorly. The researchers recruited sedentary men and women aged 50 to 68 and had them perform interval training on exercise bikes three times a week for eight weeks. At each training session, they completed brief four-second sprint intervals once per minute, for 15 minutes per workout.
At the end of eight weeks, the researchers found the volunteers had increased their fitness by 10%, gained considerable muscle mass in their legs, and reduced the stiffness of their arteries, all from just 3 minutes per week of actual exercise.
5. Drink Less Alcohol
A patient recently asked me what, in my opinion, is the single most unhealthy thing you can eat or drink. While I’m sure they were expecting me to answer with “high-fructose corn syrup” or “trans fats”, alcohol is objectively worse for your body than anything else we consume regularly.
Alcohol is a Grade 1 carcinogen. It has a causal link to more than ten different types of cancer. Not correlational, causal – the World Health Organization attributes 600,000 cancer deaths to alcohol per year. It’s one of the reasons the UK’s Chief Medical Officer recently published guidelines stating that there is “no safe level of alcohol consumption.“
And before you jump to defend your nightly glass of red wine “because reservatrol extends your lifespan”, research shows you’d need 500mg of the antioxidant daily before you’d see any measurable health benefits. That means you’d need to drink almost 40 liters of red wine every day to be getting any benefit.
In fact, the study that many alcohol apologists like to refer to that suggests that non-drinkers have higher mortality rates than moderate drinkers is based on totally flawed data, as this clip from Adam Ruins Everything explains.
I’m fully aware that for many Wisconsinites, telling them not to drink is like telling them not to breathe – especially during the pandemic, as drinking is up 14%. And I’ll admit that I personally still have the occasional glass, because I’m aiming for good-enough, not perfection. But when it comes to your health, the negatives of drinking greatly outweigh the positives, and most of us could do with a little less.
What’s Holding You Back?
Finally, if pain is holding you back – whether it’s back pain, headaches, knee pain, plantar fasciitis, or whatever other musculoskeletal problem you’ve got going on – we’re here for you and we want to be part of your team. Study after study shows that regular chiropractic care is an essential part of correcting problems, reducing pain and reaching your full athletic potential.
Ready to smash your goals this year? Let’s do it. To make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic, call 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.