January 1. Is there a more anything-is-possible date on the calendar? It's the day you say, "More salads, less ice cream," renew your gym membership (and vow to actually go this year), download a meditation app, follow a home organization guru on social media, and pledge to get 8 hours of sleep. Every. Single. Night.
And you mean it. You really do.
But somewhere between New Year's Day and spring, it all starts to slip sideways. Something comes up at work, or with your family. It's too dark and cold for that 5:30 a.m. workout that sounded perfect just a few weeks earlier. That meditation app is buried somewhere on your phone. And sleep is as elusive as ever.
This year, try a trick that may seem counterintuitive: Downsize your expectations. That's right. Go for less and get more. Make goals that are really going to be doable, bit by bit. You can't rebuild your body or redesign your health in a single leap, but if you take enough baby steps, you can make big strides toward a healthier, happier new you.
These 20 supercharged tips -- five each for body, face, mind, and overall health -- will start you on the road to success this new year, for real this time.
TAKE 5 for Your Body
Step up. You may have heard that 10,000 steps a day -- roughly five miles -- is the magic number to aim for. But adding just 2,000 steps a day to whatever you're doing now can make a big difference, says Marie Savard, MD, women's health expert and author of Ask Dr. Marie: Straight Talk and Reassuring Answers to Your Most Private Questions. Wear a pedometer while you take the stairs instead of the elevator, park a block or two farther from work, and fast-walk a few laps around the mall. Once you've hit 2,000, add another 2,000 -- and keep on walking.
Get a lift. While you brush your teeth, lift one leg. Count to 60. Repeat with the other leg. This little exercise not only improves your balance, essential for preventing falls as you age, but also ensures you brush for the two minutes your dentist recommends.
Ditch the chips. Every week, throw out one processed food -- cookies, crackers, or potato chips -- and replace it with an apple, red pepper, or other fruit or vegetable. "Eating a colorful array of fruits and vegetables will lower your blood pressure and help you lose weight," says Holly S. Andersen, MD, a cardiologist and associate professor of medicine at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical College. These antioxidant-rich foods will also help your body battle disease, she says.
Cinch an inch. Good health is less about what you weigh than about how many inches you can tighten your belt. The fat that sits around your middle is the most dangerous kind. Experts say a waist size of 34.5 inches or less is the target for women, but taking off just an inch or two can reduce your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems. To trim your waistline, eat less sugar and increase your physical activity, Andersen says.
Dish the fish. Put fish on your menu at least twice a week. "We know that people who eat several servings of fish each week live longer and have less heart disease than people who don't," says Andersen. Salmon, lake trout, tuna, and flounder strike a good balance between high omega-3 fatty acids and low mercury levels. (However, if you're pregnant, limit fish and shellfish to 12 ounces total a week.) Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, which contain high levels of mercury.
TAKE 5 for Your Face
Reach for retinol. Many products claim to tighten lines and wrinkles, but the closest thing to a cosmetic time machine is a retinol-based cream. Yes, it really works. "Most dermatologists agree that retinol is the best topical anti-aging product," says Paul M. Friedman, MD, a Houston- and New York City-based dermatologist and co-author of Beautiful Skin Revealed: The Ultimate Guide to Better Skin. Not only will retinol (or Retin-A, its prescription name) smooth your skin, it will also diminish sunspots and acne.
SPF, every day. Smooth on a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 no matter what the weather or the season. Don't forget to use a lip balm with SPF, too. Apply a sunscreen/moisturizer combo every morning to keep your skin hydrated and protected against skin cancer and premature aging. "It's the most important thing you can do" for your skin, says Friedman.
Butt out. If you smoke, and you need more motivation to quit, the prospect of a face full of wrinkles will convince you. Research confirms it -- smoking prematurely ages your skin. Can't quit on your own? Ask your doctor for help.
Wash the day away. Before you go to bed, wash off all the makeup, dirt, and other gunk that's accumulated on your face throughout the day. Then top off your cleansing ritual with a light moisturizer that has fatty acids called ceramides. "A simple moisturizer is important to enable your skin to repair itself," Friedman says.
Get naked. Find a mirror and do a skin check. Red-flag any spot that's changed in color, size, or shape and let your dermatologist check it out. "Skin cancer caught in its early stages is almost completely curable, so it's important to get your moles checked," Friedman says.
TAKE 5 for Your Mind
Rise and sing. Set your phone or alarm clock to wake you with your favorite song so you start every morning humming a happy tune. Music is a great stress-buster, especially when you listen to songs you really like.
Be kind. Before you climb out of bed each morning, "Spend 20 seconds thinking of one nice thing you can do for yourself that day," advises Alice Domar, PhD, executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health and co-author of Live a Little. Promise to call your best friend, soak in a hot bath, or treat yourself to a skinny latte from your favorite café. Whatever you do, give back to yourself for at least a half hour each day. If you can't spare 30 minutes, do something that fits your schedule, even if it's a few moments.
Take a breather. When your job or kids are driving you crazy, go somewhere quiet, close your eyes, and count backward from 10 to zero, taking one deep breath for each number. When you breathe deeply, your heart doesn't have to work as hard and your mind is too focused to race, Domar says.
Phone a funny friend. Laughter can soothe your mind and help heal your body. Cracking up with your BFF for just 15 minutes has the same kind of blood-vessel-relaxing and blood-pressure-lowering benefits as 30 minutes of aerobics, Andersen says.
Strike a pose. Yoga is good for mind and body. It simultaneously stretches away stress and strengthens muscles. "Choose a yoga pose you like that feels comforting," Domar says. Assume the tree pose for balance or the downward-facing dog for a full-body stretch. Hold the pose for a few seconds, and feel stress drift away.
TAKE 5 for Your Health
Recruit a pal. It's harder to bail out on your food and fitness plan when you've got a friend egging you on. Partnering will help both of you achieve your goals.
Catch a catnap. Can't get your full seven to nine hours of sleep at night? Recharge with a catnap. Set your alarm for 20 to 30 minutes. Don't hit the snooze button, though. Napping too long in the daytime can mess up your sleep that night.
Revisit your doctor. If you haven't seen your primary care doctor in a while, make an appointment. Discuss your goals, any problems you're having, and ask what vaccines and screenings -- including cancer tests and checks of your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar -- you'll need in the coming year. Then book those appointments.
Drink up. "Staying hydrated is important for your skin as well as for your overall health," Friedman says. Every morning, fill a large bottle with 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of water. By the end of the day, you should be seeing bottom.
Work out. A 30-minute workout each day will help you stay fit. Getting that exercise early in the day sets you up for a great day, but do it any time that's convenient for you.