Even if you’re not the type to set resolutions, it’s hard not to feel reflective at the end of a year, not to envision what you’d like to accomplish or who you’d like to be at the start of another year.

For many, new year’s resolutions revolve around health and fitness. Gyms are packed, friends are enthusiastically proclaiming their new aspirations on social channels and the media is full of messages that sell promises of the next quick fix. January is a month of hopefulness, a fresh start. Momentum is always strong at the start of a new venture. But inevitably, enthusiasm wains and by mid-February, most of us are back to our familiar old habits.

Why is this? The answer is simple. If you don’t feel passionate enough about a goal to begin now, you’re not going to fully commit to it later. If you’re thinking about turning things around and prioritizing your health in the new year, I challenge you to shift your perspective. Start now!

Winter is a wonderful time to draw inward and focus on building healthy habits. Not yet feeling the pressure of warmer seasons on the horizon, with generally less to do and fewer places to go – you’re currently presented with the perfect opportunity to improve your health and fitness. And I know what you’re thinking – there’s no way you’re going to skip out on holiday gatherings, traditions and foods that bring you comfort and joy (you don’t have to by the way). Allow me to present you with some actionable steps you can take now, that have nothing to do with skipping out on your favorite holiday treats.

In my experience as an online fitness coach, certified personal trainer, and nutritionist – my clients typically struggle to make progress on their own for a few reasons:

  1. They have no idea where to start
  2. They’re trapped in an all-or-nothing mentality
  3. They lack accountability

To help you with the first issue, I’ll tell you where to start. Within these tips, I’ll touch on letting go of the all-or-nothing mentality and provide some direction if you struggle with accountability.

Here are the most impactful changes you can make to improve your health right now. Prioritize these 5 healthy habits and I guarantee you’ll be well on your way:

Move more. This one is so obvious it had to be number one. Before I tell you how, let me explain why. Most people think the key to weight loss (if that’s your goal) is working out harder for the hour or so they spend at the gym. When it comes to your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), the calories you burn working out only make up 5% of the calories you burn throughout the day. Pretty minimal, right?

But there’s another kind of movement that happens outside the gym. NEAT, or Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, contributes to 15% of your daily calorie expenditure and it makes a bigger impact than you’d think.

Don’t overcomplicate this. Walk the dog, park further away, take the stairs, turn your treadmill into a desk or get a walking pad, clean the house, start that home project you’ve been putting off or join our Holiday Exercise Streak (you can still register!). It all adds up and it’s relatively easy to do.

Prioritize protein. When I start working with a new client, this is always one of the first things we focus on, especially if their goal is weight loss. Most people aren’t getting nearly enough! Protein is contained in every cell of the human body and involved in all major functions. Consuming it keeps you fuller longer, reduces cravings, supports the building and maintenance of lean muscle mass, and requires more energy to digest than any other macronutrient.

Typically, the women I work with are consuming around 50g per day without trying, when they should be aiming for closer to 100g. I recommend working your way up to your daily target, which should be between 0.7g – 1g per lb. of your goal body weight.

Having trouble hitting your target? Make sure every meal and snack is built around protein first, increasing your serving size of protein at each meal if necessary and don’t be afraid to supplement with protein shakes as needed.

The best sources of protein are going to be animal products such as meat, eggs, and dairy. While it is possible to hit your protein target on a vegan or vegetarian diet, there are nuances. If you have questions about this, I’ll provide my contact info in the conclusion.

Strength train. Remember TDEE, or total daily energy expenditure? The greatest variable that influences the calories you burn each day is your BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate. Your BMR is the number of calories you burn at rest and makes up 70% of your TDEE. Many of the factors that influence your BMR are out of your control, such as age, gender, and genetics. However, one major factor you can positively influence is the amount of muscle mass you carry. Muscle tissue is metabolically active – your body requires more calories to maintain than fatty tissue. In other words, the higher your lean body mass, the more calories you burn at rest.

Start simple – you might aim for 2-3 sessions to start. If you’re new to building muscle you might begin with a couple of full body days or perhaps an upper/lower/total body split. If you’re short on time, look for compound movements that touch multiple muscle groups at once or superset lifts that touch different muscle groups so you can get more done between rest periods. Don’t have equipment? No problem – start with body weight exercises! If you want to avoid the all-or-nothing trap, just pick something you don’t hate and can stick to.

Need some inspiration? Here’s a complimentary 8-week strength training protocol I created for a group coaching program recently. You can get it done with super bands and a couple dumbbells – I highly recommend this adjustable set if you’re looking to start a small, home gym setup.

Prioritize sleep. I know you’ve heard this before, but do you know why it matters? Sleep is key to optimizing your health. It’s when your body and mind recover, muscle tissue is repaired, and growth hormones are released. Further, during REM sleep, the areas of your brain that are essential to learning and memory making are stimulated, which is why you sometimes wake up with solutions to the problems that “keep you up at night.”

Unsure if you’re getting enough? If you’re feeling sleepy before lunch, can’t function without coffee, would oversleep without the aid of an alarm clock, or find yourself snoozing longer than normal on the weekends – these are all signs you need to prioritize sleep.

Aim for 7-8 hours or more each night. Or at least take time to research and learn strategies for enhancing the quality of your sleep. To start, create a simple morning and evening routine, stick to a sleep schedule (even on the weekends) and before bedtime avoid exercise, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, large meals, and screens.

Drink more water. Water helps flush toxins from the body, keeps cells functioning at optimal levels, and helps to keep organs functionally properly.

Have you felt bloated lately? Did you know water retention is a common result of not drinking enough water? Your body is compensating for the lack of hydration and holds onto water when it is not getting enough.

Drinking water throughout the day is going to help you feel more energized and alert and will also contribute to your NEAT, as you’ll be getting up frequently to refill your bottle and empty your tank!

Aim for ½ - 1 gallon per day. I like to keep a ½ gallon jug on the counter and pour from it throughout the day. This gives a visual of how much I have left and spares me from lugging around a huge bottle.

Stop overthinking and putting off what is important to you. If you have a desire to make a commitment to your health and fitness, now is the perfect time. Feeling motivated? Great! Just remember, balance and rest are just as important as discipline. Find ways to personalize your healthy habits and build in rest and rewards – this way you’re more likely to stick to them in the long-term. Avoid fad diets at all costs. There is no secret you don’t already know. You need fats, you need carbs, you need to eat on a regular basis and if you can’t stick to a plan forever, then it’s not sustainable (in other words, it’s a waste of your time).

Final note – if you’re in need of guidance and accountability, I currently have a few spots open for one-on-one coaching. Connect with me if you’re interested in working together, or even if you’d just like more info on one of the tips I shared with you here. And because it’s the season of giving, here’s one more freebie, a Healthy Holiday Recipe Guide. Enjoy!

Be well,