Healthy Habits for Spring
Seven small things you can do to boost health and happiness this spring
Tis the season for spring cleaning! And okay, while it IS a great time to spruce up your home and yard, maybe clean out that junk drawer or organize your socks, "spring cleaning" doesn’t have to mean decluttering the garage, alphabetizing the spice rack, or washing your windows (but here are some tips on how to do that!)…why not take this season of starting fresh and make some time for yourself? After all, if we've learned anything during the ups and downs of the last couple of years, it's that self-care is important.
So as the days start to get longer and winter hints that it may be ready to call it quits, here are seven small things you can do to boost your health and happiness this spring.
Move it or lose it.
There are lots of great ways to get in your cardio and have fun! Exercise is a key component to both our mental and physical well-being—especially in times of stress. Regular physical activity helps improve your overall health, fitness, and quality of life. It also helps reduce your risk of chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, many types of cancer, depression and anxiety, and dementia.
The CDC recommends 150 minutes of activity a week...but no one said being active means you have to be a gym rat or take up marathon running.
Looking for inspiration and a few ways to sneak that 30 minutes of activity in every day? NewYork-Presbyterian Health Matters blog offers these tips (and lots more, on their website!)
• Take at least two 30-minute walks a week at lunchtime or plan some walking meetings.
• Do 30 minutes of strength training with a kettlebell or hand weights while watching TV.
• Jump rope for 15 minutes when you get up in the morning and again when you get home at night.
• Do squats at your desk for 10-minute increments three times per day.
Just like no one said we all need to become gym rats, no one ever said we have to act our age all the time, either. We grownups can, and should, play (remember all the puddle stomping we did as kids? THAT'S EXERCISE!). In fact, there are studies that show the many benefits of playing for adults, which include increased creativity, productivity, and feelings of well-being.
So put the phone down for 30 minutes and do something active. Go on a neighborhood bike tour. Try a new sport like tai chi or yoga. Take a nighttime hike to look at the stars. Create an obstacle course at your home. Include activities like jumping jacks, pushups, and squats. Got kids (or even if you don't)... get them moving! Run through the sprinklers, freeze dance, jump rope, test your hula hoop skills. And hey, even if you DON'T put the phone down...take a movement break! Many apps, such as Tik Tok (which we are on...wink wink) have content creators who specialize in workouts you can do at home!
Catch some rays...
Alanis Morissette was on to something when she said she "wanted to soak up the sun." Sunshine boosts your mood and stimulates blood circulation. It also stimulates the production of vitamin D— which is plays an important part in increasing calcium and phosphorus absorption from food and helps with skeletal development, immune function, and blood cell formation.
So head outside when you take a conference call. Take a weed-removal break and clear a square meter of your flower beds. Grab a field guide and sit on the front steps looking at the birds. Play with your kids. Take a hike in the park. Make your lunch a picnic—even if it's just in your yard. Don't be afraid to take advantage of the longer, warmer days—your body and mind will thank you!
But of course keep in mind, when you’re gearing up to go outside, don’t forget to use a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher that protects against those harmful UVA and UVB rays.
The general rule of thumb is to use about 1 ounce (roughly the size of a golf ball, or enough to fill a shot glass), and apply an even covering over all of your exposed skin at least 30 minutes before you head outside.
And don’t forget to reapply often—even the highest SPF sunscreen isn’t doing you any good if it has worn off after two hours of sweat, swimming, and sand.
…And then catch some ZZZs
When we’re searching for ways to balance our busy schedules and get everything done in a day, we often come up with solutions that include going to bed later and getting up earlier. That can be doubly true in uncertain times, where we find ourselves up late, staring at our smartphones, mindlessly scrolling through social media or anxiously churning through the news sites.
But poor sleep habits can contribute to many health issues, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and stroke, poor mental health, and even early death.
On top of that, being sleep-deprived (even if it’s only from one night) makes you more likely to be in a bad mood, be less productive, and to be involved in a motor vehicle crash.
The CDC offers these healthy habits for improving sleep quality and quantity:
• Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends.
• Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature.
• Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smart phones, from the bedroom.
• Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime.
• Avoid tobacco/nicotine.
• Get some exercise. Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night.
Make over your plate.
Being hunkered down and bundled up all winter makes it easy to reach for all those tasty, processed, and refined carbohydrates and junk food. But spring is a great time to give your plate a makeover!
First off, aim for quantifiable goals. Making gradual changes to your eating habits is a more achievable goal than the nebulous “I’m going to eat better.” A wholesale, 180-degree revamp is not only difficult to carry out, it is extremely difficult to stick with.
Commit to incorporating fresh, local produce into your diet AND take the guesswork out of what to buy by signing up for a CSA (community supported agriculture).
CSA users pay a set fee to a farm which covers produce throughout a given period—what is selected is dependent on what’s available in that time period. Not only does it support local farmers—who are working hard to keep us fed—it’s also environmentally friendly as it eliminates long-distance delivery systems.
Plus, since subscribers don’t know what they’ll receive each week, they often end up finding creative uses for new items that they may have never tried before. Check out localharvest.org/csa/ to find the CSA program closest to you.
Another way to get all those servings of fruits and veggies in? Try a Meatless Monday and eat vegetarian one day a week. Meatless doesn’t have to mean bland, either. You can make delicious versions of almost all your favorites—lasagna, tacos, pizza, quiche, grilled kebabs…you name it. Check out some of these easy weeknight meals from Southern Living to get you started. (Bonus: Meatless Mondays are ALSO good for the environment--stay tuned for next month's Earth Day features to learn more!)
Water, water, everywhere....
Okay...fess up. How many of us are really drinking 64 ounces of water every day? And do we really NEED to? Maybe, maybe not. But while the jury may still be out on where that 8x8 "rule" came from, or if there is sufficient scientific data to back it up, we DO know that staying hydrated is good for you for a number of reasons. Water helps flush toxins from the body, keeps your digestive system moving, promotes good kidney function, keeps your joints and muscles lubricated, supports healthier and younger-looking skin, and helps regulate body temperature.
How much you need to drink can vary from person to person--for some, 8 glasses a day is enough; others may need more.
The Mayo Clinic offers these tips to up your hydration game:
• Add flavor. Don't want plain water? Add some fruit for a natural flavor burst. Lemons, limes, and oranges are great options. Cucumber, watermelon, strawberries, and herbs are also tasty and refreshing.
• Make it part of your routine. Drink a glass of water every time you brush your teeth, eat a meal or snack, or use the bathroom.
• Eat it. Many fruits and vegetables have a high water content, including melon, cucumbers, lettuce and celery.
• Gamify it and track it. Everyone likes to know how many points they've earned. Invest in a high-tech bottle that connects to your smartphone and records how much you drink. Or set an alarm as a reminder and track your intake in your calendar. Set a goal amount and stick to it.
• Challenge a friend. Kick off a healthy competition with a friend or your kids to see who can meet their hydration goal more often. Motivate each other on social media--share your favorite bottle, cup, or container. Offer tips for success.
• Keep it close. Pretend you're on a desert excursion--don't leave your oasis without your beverage. Fill your water bottle before you leave home, and bring it along on your daily travels.
• Alternate your drinks. If you can't give up soda or juice completely, try alternating with water. Each time you finish a glass of water, switch to soda or juice and vice versa.
Clean up your act.Icky stuff can lurk in some of the most innocuous places. Take a few minutes to clean some of them up and help keep your family healthy. Try a few of these fast fix-ups...
Fresh face to the world...Makeup and skincare products have finite lifespans. Formulas can change/degrade, certain products can harbor bacteria, and some (like sunscreen) can lose efficacy over time. Toss any old or expired items and degunk your brushes with a drop or 2 of gentle dish liquid and a rinse. And remember, when in doubt, toss it out if you notice changes such as odor or separation of ingredients.
Ewwww, David...Let's face it: the remote control is gross. Cut back germs and icky stuff by giving your devices a disinfecting. Remove batteries, then use an antibacterial wipe to thoroughly wipe each remote down. Use a cotton swap dipped in rubbing alcohol to gently clean between buttons. BONUS: use the same tactic on other high-touch surfaces like light switches, doorknobs, and door handles!
Everyone's best friend...Don't forget Fluffy & Fido! Put durable plastic and metal bowls and toys in the dishwasher. Toss stuffed toys in a pillwcase, tie shut, and machine wash on gentle (with a perfume- & dye-free detergent). Vacuum pet beds (shop vacs are GREAT for this), and, if washable, toss covers into the washing machine. Spot clean the others. Try using an enzymatic odor eliminator for additional freshness. down each one.
Laughing and smiling are good for the soul…and research suggests laughter may actually be on par to eating well and engaging in daily activity in terms of efficacy on keeping you healthy and preventing disease. And good strong relationships also benefit health and happiness, and can help reduce stress.
So put down the feather duster and the dish rag. Step away from the "But I should"s and the "I need to"s.
Watch a favorite movie. Have Alexa or Siri tell you a joke. Call a friend to chat. Try a kitchen karoke with your family--take turns picking a song and singing (and dancing) along.
The news is vital, so sure. Stay informed. But it is okay--necessary, even--to have moments of joy. Put the screen down for a bit and make a date for fun. Take some time to connect with your friends and family, even if you have to do it the old fashioned way (over the phone!). Spend some time with people, activities, characters, and hobbies that make you laugh.
And again, we say, the world has changed so much in the last two years. There seems to be a "new normal" every few weeks. So control what you can, and be kind to yourself. Let go of what you're not doing or what you think you should be doing. Take a minute to read that extra chapter or color that extra page. Eat cereal for dinner. Go outside and howl at the moon. Stomp in the rainy day puddles.