January Challenge: Health & Wellness

Day 1: Identify Your Health Goals for 2019

Take a few moments to reflect on your health goals for the new year. Maybe you’d like to lower your blood pressure, or get off a health medication that is maintaining your cholesterol. Maybe it’s adding more exercise into your daily routine, or meal planning more consistently. Or, maybe it’s a mix of more than one of these. Whatever your goals are, write them down and create a basic plan for accomplishing them. This challenge may give you some new ideas as well!

Day 2: Define What Healthy Means to You

There are so many different beliefs on health. From high-carb/low-fat, to low-carb/high-fat, and everything in between! For some, healthy may be tracking calories and nothing else. For others, calories may not be as important as the types of foods you eat. Define what healthy means to you and find ways to incorporate that definition into the health plan you created yesterday. Be realistic both in your definition and your goal setting.

Day 3: Create an Inspiration Board

Browse through magazines or search online for images, words, and quotes that inspire you. I tend to be drawn to beautiful images of healthy foods – they are bright, colorful, and they motivate me to cook equally beautiful and healthy meals. Find pictures that fit with your health goals. If your goal is to lose weight, you may want to find pictures that will motivate you towards that goal. If you want to get toned, pictures of athletes may inspire you. Do what works for you! One word of caution – do not use images that will make you feel badly about yourself! Doing so will demotivate you and stop your progress before you even begin.

This is a basic example of what an inspiration board can look like. This one isn’t health related, but it gives you an idea of how the words and images can be used as a collage to inspire you.

Day 4: Drink at Least 8 Glasses of Water

Our bodies require water to function. In fact, we often think we are hungry when our bodies are actually just dehydrated. Aim for at least 8 glasses of water today (and every day if possible!). If you struggle to fit them all in, try this basic method: 1 glass when you wake up, 1 glass before (or during) breakfast, 1 glass before (or during) lunch, 1 glass before (or during) dinner, and 1 glass before bed. That alone gives you 5 glasses. Then, fill a glass and sip on it between breakfast and lunch, and repeat between lunch and dinner. Add in an extra glass with one of your meals and you’ve reached 8 glasses! I have a 32 ounce insulated cup that I keep filled and sip on throughout the day. I refill it once, giving me 64 ounces of water each day (8 glasses worth). Find the method that works best for you!

Day 5: Go for a 30 Minute Walk

Carve some time out of your day to get outside and walk for 30 minutes. Set your own pace. Not only is the movement good for you, but so is the fresh air. Throw on some headphones and walk alone (in a safe area!), take your dog, or include the whole family – whatever motivates you to get out and get moving!

Day 6: Make a Meal Plan for the Week

It’s easier to stick to healthy, home cooked meals when you have a plan in place. On the days I don’t plan, we tend to rely on fast food, which isn’t healthy and also takes a chunk out of our wallet! Take some time to look at your week so you can pick meals that make sense. If you have a busy evening, plan something that can be cooked in a slow cooker so you don’t have to spend a lot of time pulling dinner together. If it’s a hot day, plan a fresh, crisp salad or sandwiches rather than something that requires the stove or oven. The main goal is to create a plan. Give it a try and see how it works for you!

Day 7: Eat Every Meal without Distraction

This means no phones, no TV, and no reading at the dinner table! When we do other activities (outside of talking), it is easy to ignore our hunger cues and overeat. Eating becomes a mindless activity, rather than one we slow down and enjoy. Take some time to savor every bite, to fully appreciate the flavors you are tasting, and to enjoy the company of those you are sharing the meal with rather than rushing through it.

Day 8: Start and End Your Day with Light Stretching

Stretching first thing in the morning and right before bed is not only good for your body, but it just feels good too! Look up some stretches online, follow along with a short YouTube video, or just do some basic stretches that you already know. If you have a problem area, make sure you look up stretches that will help specifically with that area. It’s amazing what a difference some light stretching can make!

Day 9: Eat a Healthy Breakfast

Start your day off right with a healthy breakfast! Add in protein and healthy fats to fill you up and leave you satisfied. A veggie omelet, overnight peanut butter oatmeal, or avocado toast are all great options. Of course, don’t forget a cup of coffee if that’s your guilty pleasure (it’s mine)! For the best cup of coffee, check out my post on roasting your own beans!

Day 10: Meditate

Take some time to meditate. Even if it’s only for 5 minutes, there are still numerous health benefits. Meditation can help center you, relax you, and reduce stress. It’s a very powerful tool once you get some experience with it (and you won’t get experience if you don’t try!). If you’re new to meditation, or just have a hard time focusing (like I do), try guided meditation instead. I like to use the app Stop, Breathe & Think. There are lots of other apps available and free guided meditations available on YouTube as well.

Day 11: Have a Fruit & Vegetable with Every Meal

For one whole day, make sure you have at least one serving of vegetables and one serving of fruit with every meal. Better yet, include them in your snacks as well. In the morning, put together a veggie tray with your favorite raw vegetables and a healthy dip. Leave it out (on ice) and nibble on it throughout the day. It’s an easy way to sneak in vegetables without really thinking about it! Fermented vegetables are another great option – they are really beneficial for your gut health! You can easily make your own sauerkraut for cheap and then you can control the ingredients. Play around with some ideas and get creative!

Day 12: Start Taking a Daily Multi-Vitamin

Very few, if any of us, get all the vitamins and minerals we need from our food alone. That’s why taking a good multi-vitamin is so important. Do some research to find the best multi-vitamin for you. Some contain DHA, a type of Omega 3, that may or may not be beneficial to you depending on your diet. Some vitamins are higher in iron, magnesium, calcium, folic acid, etc. Choose the one that works best for you (and make sure you read reviews because not all vitamins are created equal). While you’re at it, see if there are any additional supplements that might benefit you as well. I take a magnesium supplement and I know lots of people in the Pacific Northwest who also take a Vitamin D supplement to make up for the lack of sun in the area. Consider all your options!

Day 13: Check in on Your Health Goals

Review the goals you set on Day 1 of this challenge. What challenges have you completed so far that might be helpful in achieving your goals? Are you on the right track? Take a look at the plan you set and readjust if necessary. What do you think your main challenge will be in accomplishing your goals? Identify ways that you can overcome those challenges. For example, if you set a goal to meal plan this year, but don’t have enough recipe ideas, head over to Pinterest. Create a meal planning board and start pinning recipes that catch your eye. Then, when it comes time to meal plan, you can just head to your board and grab some recipes for the week. Easy peasy!

Day 14: Go a Full Day Without Any Processed Foods

Try to go an entire day without any processed foods. Eat only real foods in their simplest form. Whether you want to include items like milk, butter, or cheese is up to you. I tend to consider those items as minimally processed and therefore still enjoy them, but that call is completely up to you. Even without those items, you have lots of options!

Day 15: Try a New Exercise

Experiment with a new exercise and see if you can find one that you might enjoy on a regular basis. YouTube is a great resource for this, as they have tons of free videos teaching everything from kick boxing, to pilates, to different forms of dance. Try a few different kinds – who knows, maybe one will stick!

Day 16: Give Up Weighing Yourself & Ditch the Scale

If you weigh yourself daily, give yourself one day that you don’t step on the scale. If you weigh yourself weekly, do the same. Instead, find another way to measure your success for the week. Maybe use a measuring tape and take your measurements. Did you lose inches? Or, rather than using any form of measurement, simply rely on how you feel. Does your body feel healthier? Less bloated? Do you have more energy? Rely on these cues more than the number on the scale.

Day 17: Start Your Day with a Smoothie

If you’re feeling brave, try a green smoothie (I can never stomach them – I can’t get past the color!). If not, try any other kind of smoothie. Make sure it contains lots of healthy ingredients and isn’t loaded down with sugar (other than natural sugars from the fruit). Smoothies are a great way to sneak some extra servings of fruit and vegetables into your day. Head over to my Smoothie board on Pinterest for ideas and recipes to get you started!

Day 18: Get at Least 8 Hours of Sleep

Sleep is so vital to our health and very few people get the recommended amount on a daily basis. While we sleep, our body goes to work repairing itself, healing everything from your heart and blood vessels to other cells in your body. In addition to this healing process, getting a good night’s sleep reduces stress, improves mental awareness, and even makes it easier to stick to your goals (like the healthy ones you are working on)!

Day 19: Start Your Day with a Cup of Lemon Water

Some health experts claim there is no benefit to starting your day with lemon water, while others argue that it helps jump start your digestion in the morning. All I know is that when I drink lemon water in the mornings, I feel so much better throughout the day. Maybe it’s just because lemon is fresh and tangy, or maybe it’s actually having a positive effect on my body. Who knows, but either way, try it out one morning and see how you feel afterwards!

Day 20: Go an Entire Day without Sugar

No, I don’t mean natural sugars found in fruit and vegetables. However, do avoid sugars in pretty much everything else. Have you ever noticed how much sugar lurks in everything we eat? Take some time perusing the nutrition labels in your fridge and pantry and you may be shocked by what you find. Sugar is virtually everywhere, so avoiding it can be a challenge. Take today to avoid it completely. Identify items in your home that contain sugar and see if you can find a better substitute for when you run out. Ketchup, for example, tends to contain far more sugar than it should. You can often find low-sugar varieties that don’t taste any different at all!

Day 21: Download a Brain Training App

It’s easy to forget about brain training when most health and wellness challenges tend to focus on your body. However, keeping your brain sharp and completing daily brain training activities can help ward off dementia. I like Lumosity, which offers three free games a day, but I’m sure there are other brain training apps out there as well. Find one you like (whether free or paid) and get into a habit of completing a few activities every day!

Day 22: Fill Your Day with Healthy Fats

Fat gets a bad reputation in our society, when really it is just certain fats that should be avoided. Healthy fats, like those found in avocado, olive oil, salmon, and even eggs, are a necessary part of our diets. Fat helps keep our skin healthy, our hair shiny, and our bodies satisfied. Eating a lot of healthy fats throughout the day can help you feel full longer and even reduce cravings. Give it a try and see if you notice a difference!

Day 23: Exercise for 10 Minutes

This could be that new exercise you tried on Day 15 or it could be a workout video in your living room. It could be gathering the family for a brisk walk outside or dancing to a few songs on the radio. Whatever it is, get moving for just 10 minutes. It’s not a huge time commitment, so even the busiest among us should be able to squeeze it into their day!

Day 24: Do Something Relaxing

Take some time off from the hustle and bustle and do something relaxing that you enjoy. Maybe it’s reading a good book, watching a favorite TV show, or taking a hot bath. Whatever it is, fully engage in the activity so that your mind and body can unwind. Ridding your mind and body of stress is imperative to your health!

Day 25: Do a Brain Dump to Relieve Stress

Today’s activity is building on yesterday’s. In order to further relieve stress in your life, do a brain dump. Get a piece of paper, a pen, and find a place to sit uninterrupted for at least 10 minutes. Then write down everything that is on your mind – the to-dos, the worries, upcoming events, whatever is taking up space in your thoughts! They can be good, bad, or neutral. The idea is just to get everything out on paper. When we capture our thoughts this way, it allows us to stop worrying about them because we know they aren’t going anywhere. We can always reference the piece of paper. Spend a full 10 minutes doing this. Tip: make sure you use paper and a pen and NOT a computer! Our brains process typing and writing differently and you will not get the full benefits of the exercise if you type everything out.

Day 26: Pay Attention to Your Hunger Cues

Spend the entire day really listening to your hunger cues. Eat when you’re hungry. Eat slowly so you can register fullness before it gets uncomfortable. Have a glass of water before every meal. That way if you’re really just dehydrated, your body is getting what it needs and you eat less. Really try to tune into your body and rely on the messages it is sending you about what you need.

Day 27: Establish a Bedtime Routine

When we establish routines in our lives, our bodies know what to expect and start to respond in kind. It’s why pediatricians and experts in child raising strongly recommend bedtime routines for kids. Not only does it set an expectation with them, but their bodies respond to the cues and make them sleepy. If you do the same thing and establish a routine, your body will get the signal that it’s almost time to sleep. Find a routine that is both enjoyable and effective. Taking a bath, reading a book, listening to soft music – they can all have a calming effect on your body (and mind). I like to put all electronics away at least a half hour before bed so that my brain isn’t getting that stimulation. Then I use a sunset simulator that gradually decreases in brightness until it goes out completely. Generally by that point, I’m sound asleep. It is incredibly effective. Some nights Hubby and I listen to nature sounds as well (we like crashing waves). Play around with a few different routines until you find one that you look forward to!

Day 28: Find Ways to Add Movement into Your Day

The average American only walks about 3,000 to 4,000 steps a day. That is significantly less than the recommended 10,000 steps (or approximately 5 miles). To increase your daily steps with very little effort, look for ways to incorporate movement into your day. Some ideas to get you started: take the stairs rather than the elevator, park further away in the parking lot, or even walk laps in your kitchen while food is heating. If you don’t have a pedometer, there are apps available on your phone that will track your steps. Get a baseline one day based on your normal activity, then find ways to increase it from there!

Day 29: Start a Collection of Healthy Recipes

Eating healthier and meal planning both become easier when you already have a collection of healthy recipes on hand. Look online or open a favorite recipe book and mark recipes that you’d like to add to your collection. Pinterest is a great resource for this. You can create a recipe board and pin recipes to it that are both easy and healthy. Head over to my Pinterest page to get you started. I have two boards built exclusively for healthy recipes – Healthy Tips, Tricks & Recipes, and Healthy Eating Strategies (for 17 Day Diet and Weight Watcher’s recipes).

Day 30: Do 15 Minutes of Yoga

Yoga is a great exercise both for your mind and your body. It builds strength, improves flexibility and balance, and reduces stress. If you’ve never done yoga, find a beginner’s video to get you started. YouTube is a great resource for this. Try doing 15 minutes of yoga and if you enjoy it, consider adding it to your daily or weekly routine! Even if you don’t, you may learn some good poses for stretching on the days you need it.

Day 31: Reflect

Congrats on completing an entire month of health and wellness challenges! Spend some time today reflecting on everything you have tried and accomplished. Look back at each challenge and ask yourself the following:

  • Is this day’s challenge something that would help me accomplish the goals I set on day 1?
  • Is this day’s challenge something I could incorporate into my daily routine to make my life a little healthier?

Health and wellness doesn’t have to be a drastic change. In fact, you’re more likely to be successful if you don’t jump all in with too much too soon. By gradually making a few changes and incorporating some healthy practices into your daily life, you’re more likely to stick with a healthier way of living. Good luck – you’ve got this!

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