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7 Ways to Live a Healthier, Happier Life in 2021

That year is finally over, and happier, more hopeful days are on the horizon. Maximize your brand new year, with 7 simple habits for better health in 2021.

1. Up your plants

Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes are high in fiber, antioxidants and other nutrients, and a plant-based diet is linked with a lower risk of disease and increased longevity. You don’t have to go totally vegan; even cutting back on animal products promotes both health and sustainability. Commit to Meatless Mondays, have one vegan meal a day, trade beans for burgers or swap your Cheddar with cashew cheese. And no matter what, amp up the plants: fill half your plate with vegetables in a variety of colors to maximize antioxidants, top salads with beans and pumpkin seeds, add a handful of spinach to smoothies, sub cauliflower rice for white rice, munch on blackberries instead of movie popcorn. And make prep easier: pre-cut carrots, broccoli, red peppers and snow peas, and store in glass containers for super-fast salads or stir-fries.

Aim to fill half your plate with veggies at every meal. Photo: svetikd/E+/Getty Images

2. Get sneaky with exercise

Regular physical movement strengthens bones, boosts mood, enhances sleep and reduces the risk of disease. But if fitness center closures have put a serious strain on your daily sweat, get sneaky with exercise. Shoot for at least 10,000 steps a day—a step-counting app can help you keep track—and slip more steps into your regular routine: park at the far end of the lot, skip the elevator and take the stairs, walk in place while you’re waiting in line. If you’re working from home, take active breaks: run up and down the stairs, jump rope for five minutes or take the dog for a jog around the block. For a more structured routine, look for small-group in-person classes or sign up for online interactive workouts. Mix up your routine to avoid drudgery; alternate strengthening, stretching and balancing workouts like yoga and Pilates with interval training, and enlist an accountability partner to keep you honest. Inspire yourself to move more, with a revamped workout wardrobe; toss that frumpy gear, and shop for fun, eco-friendly athletic wear. Check out thegoodtrade.com or plantathletic.com. And replace your shoes, not your knees; get rid of those tired old tennies and protect your joints with high-quality footwear designed for your specific activity.

get creative with exercise to stay consistently active
Get creative and switch up the modes of movement you do every day. Photo: martin-dm/E+/Getty Images

3. Hydrate, sustainably

Drinking more water is critical for energy and brain function, and even mild dehydration can impact mood, stamina and cognitive abilities. Here’s the catch: it has to be the right kind of water, free from chlorine, heavy metals, industrial chemicals and other nasties lurking in tap water. The Environmental Working Group shows more than 200 unregulated chemicals in the tap water of 45 states and unsafe levels of PFASs—toxins linked to high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression and cancer in 49 states.  But bottled water is an environmental nightmare: microplastics—nearly invisible particles generated from the breakdown of plastic water bottles, straws, soda rings and other forms of plastic—have a devastating impact on marine life and human health. And they’ve made their way into bottled water; studies have found microplastics in 93 percent of 11 popular bottled water brands. Hydrate sustainably, without plastics, with a filtered water pitcher designed to remove impurities. Check out the LifeStraw Home Glass Water Filter Pitcher, which safely filters out hard-to-remove microplastics, as well as bacteria, parasites, lead, mercury, PFAS, chlorine, pesticides, herbicides and other toxins. Plus, it retains essential, good-for-you minerals like magnesium and potassium. We love its sleek, sustainable design that naturally makes you want to drink more. 

Hydration is a simple way to improve your health
Hydrate with water free from chlorine, heavy metals, industrial chemicals and other nasties lurking in tap water with a Lifestraw water filter pitcher.

4. Take stress seriously

It’s more than an inconvenience; studies link excess stress with sleep disturbances, obesity and a higher risk for heart disease, depression, Alzheimer’s and other conditions. Tame tension, with simple daily shifts. Make your morning latte with green tea instead of coffee; it’s low in caffeine and high in soothing L-theanine. Swap sugary snacks for foods rich in B vitamins, magnesium, tryptophan and other stress-busting nutrients, like edamame, almond butter, hummus, Greek yogurt or guacamole. Or try an adaptogen like ashwagandha or holy basil, to ease anxiety and promote balance. Unplug regularly: shut off your laptop, turn off your phone and give your brain a chance to disconnect. Instead of Netflix and the nightly news, unwind with an uplifting book, a cup of calming chamomile tea and a lavender candle—shown to promote calm. And commit to meditation; even ten minutes a day lowers cortisol levels and eases anxiety. Include a super-simple routine of closing your eyes and focusing on your breath, or try a guided meditation app like Headspace, Inscape or Insight Timer.

Unplug and destress for better health
Find time every day to unplug and unwind for stress reduction. Photo: FatCamera/E+/ Getty Images

5. Socialize, creatively

We humans are highly social creatures, and extended isolation is linked with stress, anxiety, depression, heart disease and premature death. If social distancing is hampering your ability to connect, get creative: start an online book club, enlist pals for a virtual game night or host a Zoom dinner party, complete with cooking. Or gather a group of buddies and sign up for an online painting, martial arts class or foreign language class, with follow-up group “homework” sessions. Schedule regular outings with favorite friends, and look for outdoor venues like botanical gardens, outdoor museums or the local zoo. Even better: ice skating, rollerblading, golfing or weekly hikes sneak in exercise, and sunshine enhances mood-boosting vitamin D. Don’t forget one-on-ones: have a quality heart-to-heart every day, with a trusted friend or family member. And choose your interactions wisely—focus on folks who inspire joy and galvanize your sense of optimism.

6.  Protect your peepers

All those smart phones, tablets and Zoom meetings are hard on eyes. We naturally blink less when we’re looking at screens, and eye movement and focusing requirements for digital viewing can lead to Computer Vision Syndrome—a group of problems that include eye strain, blurred vision, dry eyes, neck or shoulder pain and headaches. Protect those peepers: keep screens an arm’s length away from eyes, increase font size to make online reading easier, avoid glare from windows or overhead lighting, adjust screen brightness to match ambient light and print documents instead of reading them online. A natural lubricant drop can relieve dryness and irritation. And take regular breaks: every 20 minutes, shift eyes away from the screen for 20 seconds and look at an object 20 feet away. Simple exercises after long screen sessions help relax eyes and promote blinking. Try this: roll eyes five times clockwise, then counterclockwise, then focus on an object four inches away and quickly shift to one far away, like a tree in the distance. Emphasize foods that support healthy vision, like spinach, kale, sunflower seeds and red peppers, and try a vision-supportive supplement that includes lutein and zeaxanthin.

7. Shrink your footprint

You’re probably working from home, and driving (and flying) less than ever, so there’s that. But some studies suggest we may be using even more energy working and shopping at home, and frequent online purchases produce more packaging waste and higher greenhouse gas emissions per item. Meanwhile, take-out meals have increased the use of disposable utensils and carry-out containers, and supply chain disruptions mean mountains of food are going to waste. Do your part to shrink your footprint: if you’re working from home, convert to LED lighting, install low-flow fixtures to reduce water consumption, get a smart thermostat to save energy throughout the day, layer on a cozy sweater and turn down the heat. Consolidate your online purchases and avoid anything with excess packaging. Support local restaurants that use sustainable to-go containers; skip the plastic utensils and paper napkins, and use your own at home. And adopt a low-waste policy in your kitchen: emphasize local and organic, eat less meat, invest in a compost bin, and plan meals and shopping to cut down on food waste.  

Shop sustainably by choosing local and package-free
Shop local whenever possible and avoid plastic bags and packaging. Photo: PeopleImages/E+/Getty Images