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Sheryl Kraft

Sheryl Kraft, a freelance writer and breast cancer survivor, was born in Long Beach, New York. She currently lives in Connecticut with her husband Alan and dog Chloe, where her nest is empty of her two sons Jonathan. Sheryl writes articles and essays on breast cancer and contributes to a variety of publications and websites where she writes on general health and wellness issues. She earned her MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2005.

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2012 written in the sky

20 Small Ways to Get Healthier and Happier in 2012

A new year always sparks many emotions in me. I see it as an opportunity for growth; a chance to take what I've learned in the past year and do it differently or do it better or do it for the first time. I see it as a blessing. And there are times, especially if the prior year was fraught with problems, that I see it as a relief.

And my resolve not to join in the tradition of making resolutions stands firm. I learned long ago not to make them simply because I usually end up berating myself for breaking them. Maybe I'm aiming too high; I'm really not sure. Maybe they're just not a good fit for me. Maybe it's time to find some that are actually realistic.

At any rate, there is one thing I like to do in place of resolutions, and that is to mentally review ways to improve. And since writing things down is shown to make you more accountable and less likely to forget or not follow through, I've decided to do just that and share some simple ways to get healthier and happier in the new year. Perhaps it's my twist on the word resolution. You might recognize some of these topics from things I've already written about, but, hey, there's no harm in a little repetition, now is there?

And another thing worth repeating every year around this time: my very best wishes for a new year filled with love, health, inspiration and happiness.

  1. Satisfy your sweet tooth with something healthy. A couple of dried apricots or prunes are sweet enough to satisfy the urge most times, plus they're packed with antioxidants, potassium and fiber. Better yet, top a dried fruit with an almond for a crunchy, tasty treat.
  2. Eat breakfast. It'll help avoid those midmorning my-stomach-is-growling-cravings; keep you from eating too much the rest of the day and can even help with weight loss.
  3. Substitute eggs for bagels (see above). They'll keep you fuller longer.
  4. Trade in your soda, juice or other sugary, sweet drinks for water or seltzer. Add a splash of pomegranate or cranberry juice to liven it up.
  5. Try a new spice. Many have health benefits and are packed with antioxidants. Add ground ginger to cooked carrots or sweet potatoes; sprinkle turmeric into your rice as it cooks; top your latte with some cinnamon.
  6. Eat low-fat dairy (three servings a day). Researchers find that dairy-eating dieters lost twice as much weight and lost more belly fat than those who shunned dairy.
  7. Start a gratitude journal. Keep a little notebook by your bed; before you go to sleep, jot down a few things that made you happy that day. It's been shown to have a dramatic improvement on mood. Even if you've had a lousy day, surely there were one or two things that went right.
  8. If you're trying to lose weight, keep a food diary. It's a good predictor of weight loss, keeping you accountable and conscious of what crosses your lips each day.
  9. Eat more fruit. Just because antioxidant-packed things like blueberries are out of season doesn't mean you can't eat them. Frozen fruits and veggies are frequently even higher in vitamins than fresh, because they are frozen right after picking and don't have a lot of time to sit on trucks and supermarket shelves while their nutrition fades to nothingness.
  10. Take your time. If you eat fast, you are likely to eat too much, since you won't even realize you're full. Slow down and chew longer; savor each bite.
  11. Cut down on salt. The average American consumes more than 3,400 milligrams a day. Our bodies require about 220 milligrams a day. Current dietary guidelines recommend a maximum of 2,300 milligrams (about one teaspoon) daily. Enough said.
  12. Eat fewer processed foods, especially processed meats. Avoid fast-food restaurants, read labels and when eating in a restaurant, ask that your food be prepared without added salt. Three-fourths of our salt intake comes from eating processed and restaurant foods. (See above).
  13. Add fiberto your diet. Most of us don't get enough. A high-fiber diet appears to have a positive effect on reducing your lifetime risk of heart disease as well as lowering cholesterol levels. Aim for about 25 grams each day.
  14. Exercise harder. Researchers found that people who exercise vigorously continue to burn extra calories for up to 14 hours after their workout is finished.
  15. Work out to music. It helps you work out longer—and stronger (providing it's an energetic song, that is).
  16. Use the stairs rather than the elevator.
  17. Get up during TV commercials and walk/run/stretch.
  18. Use sunscreen—even on cloudy and/or cold days.
  19. Fidget. It helps burn calories. Pace while you're on the phone, wiggle in your chair, twist and fiddle while waiting on line. Every little bit of movement helps.
  20. Add strength training to your workout. It slows muscle loss that comes with age, builds your strength, increases bone density and decreases your risk of injury.
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