I'm not a big fan of sweeping New Year's resolutions, given that I have little faith in my ability to actually sustain those promises. I'm not alone: Half of Americans break their resolutions in the first six months, and just 10 percent stick with them throughout the year. That said, I would like to make some effort to improve my and my family's health.
Resolved: Make tiny healthful lifestyle tweaks so barely noticeable that I won't be tempted to untweak them.
1. Take a daily vitamin D supplement. I never take multivitamins since I figure I get enough nutrients through my fortified cereal, but I know that I can't get enough vitamin D from food and that my skin can't churn out plentiful amounts from sun exposure during the winter months. Thus, I'm going to follow the lead of vitamin D researchers, nearly all of whom take a supplement (ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 international units a day) to keep their bones and immune systems strong. I'm planning to take 1,000 IUs a day—more than the current recommended daily intake, which is just 200 IUs for adult women under age 50 (like me). Vitamin D experts all agree that the RDI needs to be raised and are currently drawing up new guidelines. Popping one small pill a day takes little effort, and 100 tablets of 1,000 IUs of vitamin D will set me back less than $5. [Read more on how much vitamin D to take.]
2. Switch cable news channels, at least some of the time. A New York Times piece on training your aging brain tells me that I need to confront ideas that are contrary to my own in order to keep my brain's nerve connections in good working order as I age. So, I'll read the conservative opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal if I normally read the Washington Post, or I'll tune into the progressive radio station Air America if I normally listen to Rush Limbaugh.
3. Do more strength training, less cardio. I have no time to add more exercise to my day, but I can cut back on the 45 minutes of running, three or four days a week, that I normally do and instead focus on maintaining my muscle mass. The reason? I'm in my late 30s, a time when women lose about one third to one half of a pound of muscle each year while gaining one third of a pound of fat—a natural consequence of aging that I've plan to fight. Thus, I've decided to limit my running to 25 minutes at a time and spend the extra time lifting weights, working my upper and lower body on alternating days. [Here are 10 strength training exercises to work all your major muscle groups.]
4. Get my teenage daughter in bed by 10 p.m. OK, this will be tough, but a study out last week showing that earlier bedtimes can help ward off teen depression has me convinced that my 14-year-old could benefit from more sleep. I just have to remember to start pestering her to turn off her computer a half-hour in advance.
5. Set aside two minutes a day for a little inspiration. As much as I'd like to meditate or practice other relaxation techniques like mindfulness, I never seem to find the 20 minutes needed to do it. So instead, I signed up for a free daily E-mail to give me a few sentences of inspiration to reflect on. Here's one, by author Natalie Babbitt, that I'll be reflecting on for the next 120 seconds: "Do not fear death. Fear the unlived life."