By CASSIE SHORTSLEEVE
Every year, Americans promise to flatten their bellies. In a poll from NPR and PBS NewsHour, “lose weight” ranked just under “exercise more” and “stop smoking” as a top-three New Year’s resolution. But as far as goals go, losing weight is lousy.
Consider how fuzzy it is. How much weight? How will you lose it? By when? The half-hearted goal to “lose weight” lacks all the defining characteristics of what corporate-wellness experts call SMART goals, meaning they’re Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. It’s a resolution that all but guarantees failure.
Look, maybe you’re serious about dropping pounds. If weight is affecting your health or confidence, then by all means, lose some. But focusing squarely on the outcome you want to achieve is a poor motivator, explains Katie Rickel, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and CEO of Structure House, a residential weight-management facility in Durham, NC. Instead, she says, you should home your focus on the specific behaviors that get you where you want to be.
For instance, instead of saying, “I want abs like Brad Pitt in Fight Club,” you’d say, “I’m going to make it to CrossFit before work four times a week.” You’ll have a specific action plan, and you’ll feel the impact of your successful execution long before those abs emerge.
It’s also worth mentioning here that a slim waist isn’t the only measure of how your body is doing. Other goals, like the six below, can have a broader, more powerful impact on health. Feel free to steal them. None specifically require weight loss for success, but some might have that effect anyway.
1. Exercise in nature twice per week.
While running through your city certainly checks the cardio box, it might also sabotage your health in other ways. In a recent review, researchers linked exercise in areas with high air pollution, such as by major roadways or traffic, to an uptick in airway inflammation and blood pressure, plus a decrease in lung function and athletic performance. The combination of conditions can contribute to potential heart, lung, and immune issues down the road.
One solution, according to the Mayo Clinic, is to monitor air pollution levels so you can time your outdoor workouts accordingly. But an even smarter idea is to move your hardest runs and bike rides—the ones where you’re really gasping for air—to the woods, trails, or even a tree-covered neighborhood or park. The exact number of workouts you perform in nature is up to you, but a specific goal will keep you accountable. And more is generally better: Research from the USDA reveals that people who have the most exposure to the outdoors have better mental and physical health than those who never leave the urban grid of steel and concrete.
2. Brush your teeth every day after lunch.
Let’s assume you already brush in the morning and evening. Adding a third session after lunchtime could strengthen your heart. In a study of more than 160,000 people ages 40 to 79, people who brushed three times a day had a 12 percent lower risk of heart failure and a 10 percent lower risk of atrial fibrillation (A-fib), a common heart condition that can lead to complications such as blood clots or stroke.
The explanation boils down to bacteria that live on your teeth. When they build up, they can enter your bloodstream through your gums and trigger inflammation, say the researchers. That’s why poor oral hygiene is so commonly linked to heart problems.
Oral health is particularly important for men, who often don’t take care of themselves as well as women. Gum disease is 18 percent higher for guys, according to the American Academy of Periodontology. And they’re less likely to show up for bi-annual dental appointments.
3. Establish a 15-minute pre-sleep ritual
One of the surest ways to improve the quality of your sleep is to give yourself a dedicated wind-down period before your bedtime. “Sleep is actually a process,” says Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D., co-author of Sleep for Success. “And the best way to ease into it is with relaxing activities, like taking a warm bath or shower or reading a few pages from a book.”
The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults receive between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night, “but the vast majority of us cut our sleep short,” says Robbins. She recommends adding 15 minutes a night until you’re in that range. The payoff will come in increased mental capacity and a slimmer waistline.
In one large analysis, researchers determined that people who slept 5 or fewer hours per night were 55 percent more likely to be obese, and a review from the King’s College of London found that people limited to between 3.5 and 5.5 hours a night consumed an average 385 extra calories the next day.
To power down at night, Robbins recommends avoiding computer or TV screens an hour before bedtime, if you can. But more importantly, spend 15 minutes on something relaxing. In addition to a warm shower or reading, she recommends breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation, where you clench and unclench muscle groups. “The key is that it’s done routinely before bed, so the body starts to know that what comes next is sleep,” she says.
(Another way to help improve sleep is to take daily doses of magnesium and DHA fatty acids, and you’ll find both in our Superhuman Supplements.)
4. Consume all your meals within a daily 8-hour window.
Your body’s internal clock is naturally divided between daylight hours (when you eat and stay awake) and darkness hours (when you fast and sleep). Eating out of sync with this natural cycle (think dinner at 9 p.m.) could increase your risk of chronic health conditions, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to study in the journal Cell.
One solution is intermittent fasting, or setting tight parameters around when you allow yourself to eat. Many restrict their daily calories to an 8-hour window (between, say, 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.). But through an article in Nutrition Reviews, Researchers from the University of Illinois argue that windows as long as 12 hours can still improve blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and insulin sensitivity (the opposite of which, insulin resistance, can lead to type 2 diabetes).
Another way you can use meal timing to your advantage is to make sure you schedule your lunch before 3 p.m. A study in the International Journal of Obesity found that early lunchers lost more weight than those who ate late, even when the two groups consumed similar foods.
5. Sign up for a recreational sports league (and make it to every game).
Team sports are a hell of a lot more fun than treadmill sprints. Plus they come with a schedule, so there’s a certain degree of SMART-goal setting built in.
But the best part is the payoff: According to a study published in The Lancet, people who play on basketball, flag football, and soccer teams have better overall mental health, on average, than those who cycle or work out in the gym. Compared to study participants who didn’t exercise at all, those who played team sports self-reported 22 percent fewer days of poor mental health, such as symptoms of depression.
Other recent research, including a study out in December from the journal Sports Health, suggests that playing team sports can also fine-tune your brain for concentration, helping you tamp down background noise and focus on what’s important. That will make you a whole lot happier and more productive than they guy who’s feverishly trying to lose the three pounds that his body won’t give up.
6. Use every PTO day your company gives you.
Stop thinking of vacation as an optional luxury. Downtime is actually critical for your health: According to a study in Psychology & Health, it can lower your risk of high-blood pressure and blood sugar, decrease body fat around the waist, and improve a host of other symptoms that fall under the banner of “metabolic syndrome.” In the study, researchers linked each additional vacation to a 24-percent drop in the odds of experiencing the disorder.
People in the U.S. tend to travel less than those in Europe, but it’s not for lack of interest. According to a study by OnePoll and Apple Vacations, Americans spend an average of 200 hours a year dreaming about the next trip, and most people say the biggest barrier is the hassle of scheduling. But with micro-holidays (a.k.a. mini-trips of one to three days) becoming more popular, there’s no excuse to procrastinate on plotting out a handful of adventures throughout the upcoming year. So sit down, schedule some travel, and make sure you’re leaving no paid-time off on the table.
And you’ll be happy to hear that all of the products in our Performance Skincare line come in TSA-approved travel sizes. To learn more, click here.