2020 is finally coming to an end, and a new year will soon be upon us. What better time to reset your health and wellness goals? With the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, health and self-care matter more right now than ever.
When it comes to making resolutions, it's important to focus on your physical and mental health.
Women's health experts Dr. Lisa Larkin, the founder of Ms. Medicine and a member of HealthyWomen's Women's Health Advisory Council, and Dr. Ankita Sagar, an internist in New York, recommend some resolutions that can help you have a healthier 2021.
1. Schedule time to focus on your health
Many women are guilty of putting their health needs on the back burner to focus on caring for others. Learning to prioritize your own health can help with sticking to resolutions. One way to make sure this happens is to schedule time for it.
"What I tell people is that you have to think realistically about how much time you can set aside each day, every day," Sagar said, adding that figuring out your pockets of free time can help you plan.
"Calendars and reminders are really good, whether it's on a phone or a physical calendar or a journal that you write your daily plan [in]."
Scheduling everything from a daily meditation break to a yearly mammogram can ensure that you're putting your health first.
2. Find a partner or join a community that can support your health goals
If making healthier lifestyle choices on your own has been hard, consider enlisting an accountability partner or joining a health-focused community.
Larkin suggests asking a family member, friend or spouse to join you in your efforts and help keep you on track.
"If you're focusing on lifestyle stuff, I'm a big believer in finding online networks for different things ... [such as] sleep hygiene and weight loss," Larkin said.
This can be challenging during the pandemic, but you can set up virtual check-ins or go for a socially distanced walk with a friend. The important thing is to reach out to others who share your health goals.
3. Find the mental health methods that work for you
Mental health matters. Learning to prioritize and maintain your emotional well-being is critical to living your healthiest life.
"Anxiety, depression and insomnia are on the upswing during the COVID-19 pandemic," Sagar said. "It's important to bring this to your clinician because [they're] not going to necessarily be able to detect it."
Larkin recommends a variety of mental health methods.
"I refer a lot of people for counseling, but not everybody needs traditional counseling. Lots of people use religious pastors or priests, family or friends. For some people, exercise is really the best thing or even just meditation and doing guided imagery — or even getting a massage," she said.
4. Unplug at least 30 minutes a day
"Take 30 minutes a day where you're not going to look at a laptop or phone or any electronic device, including a TV movie," Sagar advised. She added that unplugging gives our mind time to rest, which can be particularly important before sleep.
She suggested using that time to read a book, write in a journal, paint or meditate. If you can't find an uninterrupted 30-minute break, split it. For example, take three 10-minute breaks during your day instead.
5. Learn about your breast density
When it comes to breast cancer risk, many women lack education on important topics such as breast density. Breast density refers to the ratio of fibrous and glandular tissue compared to fatty tissue in the breast.
Larkin explained that breast density impacts one's breast cancer risk, so people with breasts should know what their breast density is and have a conversation about it with their healthcare provider.
Next time you get a mammogram, be sure to ask your doctor about your breast density and other cancer risks.
6. Check on your family medical history
While much of health is based on lifestyle and diet, genetics also play an important role in our risk factors for certain diseases, including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and psychiatric disorders.
"Take a good inventory of your family history and make sure your clinician is aware of your family history because so often it gets missed in the traditional practice setting," Larkin advised.
7. Eat more fruits and veggies
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only one in 10 Americans eat the recommended one to two cups of fruit and two to three cups of vegetables a day.
If you have trouble fitting the daily amount into your diet, Larkin suggests taking one day of the week to cut up and prepare fruits and vegetables so you have servings readily accessible during the week.
Resolving to eat more fruits and veggies is critical because, along with helping with weight management, they help stave off certain chronic conditions.
"For risk reduction of breast cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, lifestyle matters. Exercise, maintaining an ideal body weight (BMI under 25), eating a healthy largely plant-based diet, and limiting alcohol is critical. Don't overlook the importance of ideal lifestyle habits in disease prevention," Larkin said.
8. Cut back on alcohol
A nightcap can be a relaxing ritual, but too much alcohol can cause health problems, such as heart disease.
"Alcohol intake has certainly risen across the globe as COVID-19 has catastrophic effects on society. Data shows that alcohol also affects mood and anxiety, especially increasing risk of depression, suicide, and anxiety disorder. Patients who are suffering from loneliness, depressed mood, and anxiety may be less likely to seek medical care," Sagar said. She suggests you start cutting back by replacing one glass a day with a nonalcoholic beverage.
"Alcohol intake is associated with a social activity ... so plan ahead. If you are drinking with food ... plan for a different beverage, whether that's water, sparkling water, or flavored water that you enjoy," she adds.
If you want more assistance with reducing your alcohol intake, Sagar recommends finding a professional such as a health coach to help you take a more individualized approach.
We can't predict much about the new year. But one thing we do know is that, if you're looking to have a healthier 2021, these resolutions can help pave the way.