7 Ways to Make a Healthy Fresh Start

No matter your age or the season, it’s never too late to add healthy habits to your daily routine.

Whether it’s the start of a new year, a birthday, spiritual new beginning, or just the changing seasons, we humans tend to look for opportunities to wipe the proverbial slate clean and start again.

For some, that may mean jump-starting an exercise regimen or eating well. For others, it may mean a commitment to spending more quality time with family and friends.

Here are seven ways you might choose to live more fully and healthily all year long.

1. Develop an attitude of gratitude.

From both a psychological and physiological point of view, being grateful is good for your health. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, has made the scientific study of “gratitude, its causes, and its potential effects on human health and well-being” the foundation of his work. Research he and colleague Michael E. McCullough have done shows that counting our blessings not only reduces depression and stress and lowers blood pressure, but also can slow down some of the effects of aging.

2. Commit to becoming more physically fit.

You don’t have to become a world-class athlete to get up and move more. Maybe you’ll set a goal of completing a 5-kilometer race. Perhaps more realistic is deciding to walk around the nearby park twice a week – or leaving the car at home when running nearby errands and riding a bike instead. What’s important is finding a routine that works for you – and then sticking to it.

3. Resolve to make quality sleep a priority.

It’s hard to feel your best when you’re exhausted. Plenty of scientific research proves how fundamental sleep is to our overall health. Not only does getting enough quality sleep help you keep extra weight off, but it can reduce some risk factors for heart attacks, strokes, and chronic diseases such as diabetes. It also helps you think more clearly.

4. Plan to strengthen social relationships.

Think getting together with family and friends is nice, but not necessary? As Harvard Medical School’s Women’s Health Watch reports, “dozens of studies have shown that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends, and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer.” And they live better. Scientists have found these regular interactions help “relieve harmful levels of stress, which can adversely affect coronary arteries, gut function, insulin regulation, and the immune system.” Best of all, connecting with someone else doesn’t require money or a special set of skills.

5. Look for ways to brighten someone else’s life.

We asked nearly 2 million people across the globe what one thing makes them feel most fulfilled, and GIVING has consistently been among their top three answers. No matter where we live, there’s no shortage of people, causes, or organizations that can benefit from our time, expertise, or resources. Not only are we as humans biologically wired to share with others, but research from National Institutes of Health neuroscientist Jorge Moll found we get an actual “helper’s high” – thanks to the release of addictive feel-good neurotransmitters – when we do.

6. Make learning a life-long habit.

Is there a foreign language you’ve always wanted to study? A musical instrument you longed to play as a child? Perhaps this is the year to take up that challenge. Learning is especially important as we get older, says the Association for Psychological Science. They studied 221 adults between ages 60 and 90 who spent 15 hours a week learning a new skill. After three months, those who took up skills requiring active engagement and high-level cognitive processes – think digital photography and quilting – showed memory improvements compared to those who only took part in social interactions or less-demanding mental activities like listening to classical music. Yet another reason to give our brains a regular workout.

7. Place a priority on maintaining your health.

We’re all busy, and it’s easy to put off that medical check-up, vision exam, or health screening. But why not pause to schedule visits to your health professional – and encourage your loved ones and friends to do the same? After all, good health is the foundation of everything we want to do in life.