8 simple tips for a happy and healthy year

Small changes can bring big benefits and reduce your risk of disease.
three women laughing in workout clothes.

A new year can motivate us to improve our health, feel good about ourselves and have more energy. Here are some simple steps to get you (and me) going for a great year.

Move more: Most of us do not get enough physical activity to keep us healthy and protect us from disease. This doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym every day but it does mean getting up and moving around. The recommendation is for 30 or more minutes per day of activity on most days. If you’re already doing this, great. Doing more will lead to even better health. Some simple ways to get activity in your day:

  • take a walk on your lunch break (it will refresh you for the afternoon)
  • park further from your destination
  • get off the bus one stop earlier
  • use the stairs instead of the elevator
  • be active with family and friends. 

Avoid sitting or standing for long periods: Sitting for extended periods increases your chances of getting diabetes and heart disease, and of early death, even if you’re active. If you sit most of the time either at home or work, set a timer to remind yourself to get up every 20 minutes and take a two-minute walk.

Even this short break is helpful. If you can, try to have walking meetings instead of sitting in the office. Getting a standing desk is not the solution; standing in one place can lead to back pain and other problems. It is moving your muscles that helps.

Don’t smoke: Smoking is a risk factor for cancer, heart disease, stroke and lung disease, among others. If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do. If you don’t smoke, minimize your exposure to second-hand smoke.

Be social: People who have active social lives tend to be healthier and happier. Having a support system helps to relieve stress and make you smile and laugh — all good things. It also helps to have that support when things go wrong.

Make time for yourself: No, this doesn’t contradict what I just said. We rarely make time for ourselves during our day as we are always “on,” whether for work or family life. Taking 20-30 minutes each day for yourself is a good way to clear your thoughts, feel refreshed and concentrate more effectively. Use this time to do something for yourself like read a book or go for a walk.

Eat breakfast: Eating breakfast can help increase your energy throughout the day, leading to more activity. However, it’s also important what you eat. A breakfast high in sugar is unlikely to help. One with fibre and protein is ideal.

Eat protein with each meal: Most of us do not get enough protein in our diets. It helps us feel full, fuels our metabolism and may help in weight maintenance. Simple protein sources include eggs, nuts, lean meats, yogurt (Greek yogurt especially) and peanut butter.

Sing and listen to music: We’re all singers at heart. You don’t need to get on stage in front of a crowd, and it doesn’t matter how good you are (no one needs to know). Singing has benefits that make us feel good about ourselves and can help with our health. Even listening to music can make us feel better.

Making a change in lifestyle isn’t easy. Having a plan will help. This includes setting goals that are realistic.

Trying to change three or more things in our lives at one time is very challenging and usually doesn’t work, leaving us with a feeling of failure, which is not helpful for a healthy lifestyle. Of the eight tips above, maybe you just want to start with one first before moving on to another one.

Here’s to a happy and healthy year!

Dr. Scott Lear

Dr. Scott Lear is a leading researcher in the prevention and management of heart disease. He holds the Pfizer/Heart and Stroke Foundation Chair in Cardiovascular Prevention Research at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, and he is a professor in the faculty of health sciences and the department of biomedical physiology and kinesiology at Simon Fraser University. Dr. Lear also lives with heart disease himself. Follow his blog at drscottlear.com.