By Shelley Widhalm for LONGMONT MAGAZINE
New Year’s resolutions work until maybe February, and then they become too hard to maintain, schedules get too full and, most importantly, they have not become a habit.
Year 2020 is over when life changed drastically in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and those good intentions from early in the year were dropped—but with 2021 here, it’s a great time to hit the reset button and make changes in things like diet, exercise, sleep health, skincare and smoking cessation that will last the entire year.
“In my experience, people backslide and regress to old habits when they feel out of control and want to comfort themselves in some way. The pandemic has created a lot of stress and unknowns,” said Rachel Koenigsberg, a certified clinical hypnotherapist, psychotherapist, biofeedback specialist and owner of Healthy Thoughts in Longmont (healthythoughts.net). “To many people, the New Year represents a new beginning and a time to reset so to speak. It helps to have a consistent routine and it also helps to have a plan.”
Part of that plan is focusing on one behavior change at a time, according to Joshua Spencer, chief trainer and owner of Peak Conditioning and Fitness, a personal training studio and membership gym in Longmont (pcflongmont.com/training.html).
“It would be far better to pick something easy and master it, and then move onto the next thing than to try to start a comprehensive program and tell yourself you’re going to nail it,” Spencer said.
DIET AND EXERCISE
For a healthy diet and long-term weight loss, Spencer recommends avoiding dieting, since a mistake can lead to feelings of guilt and the desire to give up, then more weight is gained and the cycle continues as another diet is tried, he said. Instead, he recommends starting with one healthy habit and focusing on it for two to four weeks before adding a second new habit.
Spencer suggests including vegetables with every meal, whether they’re cooked or raw, he said. After eating vegetables becomes routine, he recommends eating until satisfied and stopping at that point. He also recommends eating whole foods.
“Food is not a reward,” Spencer said. “Food is there to help you be healthy. You learn to reward yourself with other things.”
Weight loss is best when it’s gradual, and the habits that were put in place to lose that weight need to be continued for maintenance, Spencer said.
The same goes with exercise, since a fit person will continue to exercise even, in the case of the pandemic, gyms might be closed, Spencer said. There, however, is an advantage to going to the gym, since it is an organized environment with fitness equipment in place instead of stored away and enough space to do the exercises, he said.
If a gym is not available, Spencer recommends three types of exercise. They include high quality body weight movements, such as going deeper with pullups and pushups and holding them longer; walking or running on the stairs for 10 to 20 minutes if going outside isn’t an option; and mastering a new exercise skill.
A minimum home gym kit for those at-home workouts includes a suspension trainer, kettle bells and exercise bands with handles for pushes, pulls and small shoulder blade exercises. Kettle bells can be used to do snatch, jerk and long cycle exercises, plus many of the same hand weight exercises.
“We’re designed to move and we’re designed to eat, so that’s how we have to live. If you choose to eat poorly or move poorly, you’re living below your potential,” Spencer said. “That’s a situation someone will never really be happy in.”
Another important aspect of living a healthy lifestyle is getting a good night’s sleep—insufficient sleep can result in reduced alertness and changes in mood, performance and overall health.
Studies show that most people need seven to eight hours of sleep, though children and teenagers typically need more and those who are older need less.
“Most people have a natural circadian rhythm that leads them to feel sleepy at a fairly consistent time of night and wake up around the same time in the morning,” said Danielle Pohlit, PA-C, physician assistant in sleep medicine at the UCHealth Sleep Medicine Clinic-Longmont (https://uchealth.org/locations/uchealth-sleep-medicine-clinic-longmont/). “Ideally, bedtime and wake-up times should vary by no more than one hour every night.”
Sleep, however, can be affected by air travel, schedule changes, stress, sleep disorders and other medical conditions, certain medications and insomnia, Pohlit said.
“Some people struggle to get to sleep or awaken for long periods of time during the night, worrying, thinking or planning,” Pohlit said. “For some, this only lasts a few days or weeks, depending on the stressor, but can also be a chronic problem for months or years.”
Following good sleep hygiene, or behaviors conducive to a good night’s sleep, can help address issues with falling and staying asleep.
Pohlit provides her patients with a list of sleep hygiene tips, including stopping all alerting activities during sleep time, such as reading, eating, drinking, using electronics and watching television, which can interfere with the ability to fall asleep. Other tips include avoiding light exposure from screens and bright overhead lights for at least one hour before bedtime; using sounds in the room to help relax, such as a white noise or sound machine, a fan, quiet music or an audiobook; keeping the room and body cool during sleep; avoiding the intake of stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine, within six hours of bedtime; and avoiding napping during the day—if naps are needed, limit them to 15 to 20 minutes and end them no later than 3 p.m.
“If someone is struggling with sleep after doing their best to accommodate as many of these measures as possible, I’d recommend they talk with their primary care provider and/or consider a visit to a sleep provider,” Pohlit said. “Sleep testing may be needed to see if there could be a medical cause for sleep problems or excessive sleepiness during the day.”
An additional habit to incorporate into a healthy lifestyle is following a skincare routine.
“The New Year is a great time for taking care of your skin, as well as taking care of the rest of your body,” said Dr. Sarah Bair, a dermatologist and owner of Crossroads Dermatology in Longmont (crossroadsdermatology.com ).
The start of the year also falls during winter, a good time for skin procedures that require a few weeks of remaining out of the sun following treatment. Those include chemical peels to exfoliate the skin and remove dead skin tissue; microneedling to stimulate the production of collagen and remove fine lines and surface irregularities; and laser treatment to rejuvenate skin and remove vascular lesions and red and brown spots.
Bair has seen some of her patients continue their skincare routines because of Zoom calls, while others aren’t, possibly from low-grade depression from not seeing other people or having to wear a mask, which covers most of the face. Some of her patients are not wearing foundation and cover-up but continue to wear eye makeup, which accentuates the eyes above that mask, she said.
Instead of foundation, Bair recommends tinted facial sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, which provides coverage and helps protect the skin, since sun exposure causes 90% of changes associated with aging. She also recommends choosing products that are proper for skin type and agreeable for the way they feel and the results that are achieved.
“Hopefully if you’re using good products, you will see improvements and it will help you be diligent about the routine,” Bair said.
To care for skin, Bair suggest a few simple steps, starting with washing the face every night to remove dirt and makeup.
“If you leave that makeup or debris from the day, it can be damaging,” Bair said. “You want to get a clean slate for the morning and to apply your moisturizer.”
Moisturizer is important both for the face and entire body, especially in dry climates like Colorado, Bair said. She suggests after a shower, pat drying and applying lotion while the skin is still damp to help with better absorption. Drinking water also helps with hydration and helping the skin look more plump and youthful, she said.
“Plenty of rest, exercise and good food all make a difference in your skin as well,” Bair said.
Another way to improve health is to stop smoking if that has become a habit, Koenigsberg said. She employs hypnotherapy, a guided relaxation technique that helps people change behaviors using the power of the mind through responsiveness to suggestion, direction and instruction.
Many smokers have tried to quit, including going cold turkey or using reward-based strategies, but they are dealing with the habit on the conscious level where logical and reason-based thinking is derived, Koenigsberg said.
“This is where your willpower lives, but it is only driving 10% of your behavior, and unfortunately even those with strong willpower often find that these attempts do not last, especially in moments of weakness, triggered by environmental or social situations,” Koenigsberg said. “Habits like smoking are so deeply ingrained in the mind that they are often performed automatically, or subconsciously. The key here is that when a habit becomes automatic, it is common to feel powerless in trying to break it.”
Hypnotherapy works at both the conscious and subconscious levels, Koenigsberg said.
“When it comes to changing a bad habit, feeding your subconscious positive, compelling thoughts about what you desire will help create or anchor change in the subconscious mind,” Koenigsberg said. “And because the subconscious directs our thoughts, it is ultimately responsible for the energy that drives us to achieve our goals.”
Koenigsberg’s hypnotherapy smoking cessation program is tailored to the individual and is followed up with a list of tips to reinforce the session. The tips include delaying to help the urge or impulse go away, doing something else or finding a distraction, taking deep breaths, going for a walk, drinking water or changing routines.
“If you want to cultivate wellness habits it is important to be realistic. … Set goals that push you out of your comfort zone, but are possible to achieve,” Koenigsberg said. “To stay motivated to cultivate new healthy habits you need to have a strong why. Carefully consider why you want to be healthier. Do you want to feel better? Look better? Have the energy to spend with your loved ones? Continually remind yourself of your why and it will help you stay motivated.”