Now that we’re on the other side of mid-January, how are those health resolutions doing? If you’ve given up, you’re not alone. Almost half of us quit our resolutions by the one-month mark, according to Statistic Brain.
But here’s some good news: There are several simple tasks you can integrate into your day that may improve your health, without overcomplicating your to-do list.
Sitting for hours on end is linked to a host of health issues, and many of us are spending more time at our desks during the pandemic. A 2017 study found that standing up every 30 minutes can help reduce the negative effects of sitting for hours.
Physical therapist Lindsay McGraw recommends that her patients set a timer and take a break or change positions at least once per hour, or sooner if they’re having pain or discomfort. Standing or taking a brief walk can also help reduce the impact of excessive sitting, she says.
Getting enough water is important for everything from regulating blood pressure to aiding digestion. Four to six cups per day is often recommended, but your needs may be different if you have a medical condition, or based on your activity level or body mass.
Registered nurse Sandra Crawley, a medical consultant at Mom Loves Best, recommends this simple trick to get enough water: Keep a bottle of water on your desk and mark hourly times on the side of it, “then make sure you are drinking and hitting the amount you have marked,” she says.
Take vision breaks
Too much screen time can cause eye issues ranging from strain to dry eyes. McGraw advises her clients to take vision breaks. “I recommend something called the 20-20-20 rule,” she says. “Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. We are so frequently looking at things near to us, that the muscles in our eyes get fatigued and strained.” If you can’t manage every 20 minutes, do this while you’re taking your standing break.
Check in with yourself—and breathe
Deep breathing can help you relax and reduce stress. Virna Lichter, founder of Energia Wellness Studio, has been working with frontline workers and business leaders during the pandemic and recommends they do a simple self-check and breathing exercise to manage stress:
- Stop: Check how you feel.
- Listen: Use your sense of hearing to be aware of the present moment.
- Breathe: Take three deep breaths, exhaling longer than you inhale.
Repeat this exercise throughout the day.
McGraw also recommends getting outdoors regularly. “Spending 20 minutes a day outside has been shown to have significant health implications in the short and long term,” she says. Some of those benefits include alleviating anxiety and depression and improving blood pressure and the risk of heart disease. “Try creating a commute by walking outside for 10 minutes before or after work, or take a stroll midafternoon when you are feeling tired,” she says.
Do a seated stretch
Stretching can aid circulation, improve flexibility, maybe even ease aches and pains. “There are many stretches that can be done while seated at the desk,” Lichter says. Look side to side, roll your head on half-circles on the front, roll your shoulders back a few times, stretch your arms above the head and then to each side, holding for a few moments.
Enjoy some greenery
Biophilic design, which makes the indoors more like outdoors, has been booming in recent years, boosted by research indicating that being closer to nature is good for us. So, join the houseplant craze. As Fast Company has reported before, research has shown that plants can reduce stress, boost productivity, help with focus, and even increase immunity.
It’s important to stay informed, but constantly seeking out negative and distressing news—known as “doomscrolling”—can have a negative impact on your mental health. If you can’t do a media detox, seek out good news. Follow social media pages and websites that feed your mind with positive stories, useful information, and new information about your hobbies and passions. Apps such as Pocket and Flipboard let you choose areas of interest and serve up interesting stories. And limit your news intake to once or twice per day.
McGraw says we can also create some distance between work life and home by creating rituals. “[For many], there is no physical separation. Work to create mental boundaries, using rituals to start and end your day.” That can start with dressing for work to set the tone for your day. Take a few moments to set up your workstation as you’d prepare your desk in the morning. When you’re finishing your workday, find some small gesture to mark the transition. “Maybe light a candle or go outside for a few minutes to signal the end of the day,” she suggests. The specific action isn’t as important as establishing a habit to help signal to yourself that it’s time to stop work and enjoy some time for yourself.
It’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor about health habits and exercise, especially if you have a health condition. If you are planning on integrating some of these habits into your day, you can also combine them. For example, add some stretches, deep breathing, and your vision break when you stand or go outside to save time.