9 Small Lifestyle Changes With Big Results for Health

Cropped shot of a woman's hand serving salad on plate while having lunch in a restaurant

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When the new year rolls around, it is common to set grand goals for large-scale change, especially for health. “New year, new you” sloganeering can give us the sense that, if we just mustered the willpower, we could do a 180 on our well-being, almost to the point of becoming new people.

The reality, though, is that resolutions for drastic lifestyle change often do not stick. According to 2015 data from U.S. News and World Report, around 80% of New Year’s resolutions fizzle out by February.

While it can be inspiring to dream big, for most of us, bold, sweeping changes simply are not realistic. Perhaps it is better to start small. Many public health agencies, including the American Heart Association and American Society for Nutrition, have promoted the idea that small changes are where real transformation takes place for health.

Before you know it, a small change can turn into a healthy habit. Try these nine smaller, totally doable shifts for a healthier new year.

Make Half Your Grains Whole

It is a catchy phrase and an excellent, but manageable, change—make half your grains whole. This recommendation touted by the USDA encourages Americans to choose whole grains over refined grains at least half the time.

By selecting whole grains like whole-wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, and oats, you will boost your fiber intake for better digestion, and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

In general, the more whole grains you can include in your diet, the better—but you do not have to be a stickler about achieving exactly 50%. Perhaps you decide to purchase only (or mostly) whole grains for your home cooking, then opt for refined grains when dining out. Or maybe you would like to commit to trying one new grain a month, exploring the intriguing world of lesser-known options like freekeh, amaranth, kamut, and spelt.

Begin Walking

Maybe training for a marathon is not within reach in the next 12 months, but walking you could manage. Walking requires no special equipment and is an easily accessible form of fitness for most people. A brisk daily walk can help you manage weight, reduce blood pressure, build bone health, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, and more.

But, if you are not walking at all right now or if you feel like you could only manage walking one or two times a week, that is a reasonable goal as well. The key is to set goals for yourself that are realistic and achievable.

No matter how often you are walking, walking outdoors gives you the one-two punch of physical and mental health benefits.

One 2018 study found that people who regularly walked outdoors experienced a slight—but significant—boost in mood and energy levels. Consider adding a few loops around the neighborhood after dinner or a lap or two around the building on your lunch break.

You can even go the extra mile—literally—by finding a walking buddy. Having a partner provides built-in workout accountability, while social time with a friend may elevate your emotional well-being. Be sure to talk to a healthcare provider before beginning any type of exercise regimen. They can help you determine what is right for you.

Eat More Fermented Foods

Eating more fermented foods may not rise to the top of most people’s goals. But before you turn up your nose at the prospect of a daily dose of sauerkraut, remember that there are multiple delicious options for fermented foods—all of which come with probiotics that may promote gut health and reduce inflammation. Upping your intake of foods like yogurt, kombucha, miso, and kimchi could yield meaningful results for your health.

Set a Consistent Bedtime

Getting to bed on time is not just a good idea for kids. Research shows that adults also benefit from hitting the hay at a consistent time each night. A 2018 study found that a regular bedtime—not just the amount of total sleep—could be a key to many aspects of better health.

Researchers found that going to bed at approximately the same time each night could reduce the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, stress levels, and depression, especially in older adults. Maybe this is the year you set a goal to turn in around the same time each night, even on the weekends.

Start a Meatless Monday

Scaling back on meat—especially the red and processed varieties—comes with impressive benefits, such as cutting your risk of colon cancer and heart disease and possibly even extending your life.

If you are a lifelong meat-eater, though, diving into a vegetarian or vegan diet is likely a daunting prospect. Rather than ditch animal products entirely, start with the baby step of a meatless Monday (or Tuesday or Friday—the day of the week doesn’t matter). Get the whole family involved in brainstorming how to incorporate sources of plant-based protein into one day out of seven.

Drink a Large (Reusable) Water Bottle Every Day

You have probably heard the many advantages of staying hydrated, from a brighter complexion to smoother digestion to amplified weight loss. There is no perfect target for daily hydration, as the eight-glasses-a-day mantra really is not one-size-fits-all. Your body will tell you it is not getting enough fluids through indicators like constipation, headache, lethargy, and dry, cracked lips.

If any of these symptoms sound familiar, perhaps it is time to bump up your fluid intake by drinking your way through a reusable water bottle each day. There is something far more appealing about drinking from a bottle whose look and feel you genuinely like than from a plain glass bottle or a standard plastic bottle.

Choose Better Salad Greens

Consider simply switching up your salad greens. If you tend to opt for iceberg lettuce as the base of your salads, try opting for a more nutrient-dense choice like spinach, kale, or arugula.

These deeper-hued greens supply higher levels of important vitamins and minerals like iron, vitamin K, potassium, and vitamin C. Once you make the switch—and your tastebuds adjust to these richer-flavored veggies—you may find it easy being green!

Focus on Nutritious Snacks

Overhauling your whole meal plan is overwhelming, and usually unnecessary. One way to start improving your dietary habits is to add nutritious snacks. Try stashing a piece of fruit, hard-boiled egg, low-sugar yogurt, or granola bar in your work or gym bag each morning. This way, you will have something nourishing to nosh on between meals. If you work from home, you can prep and store these snacks ahead of time so you'll have an easy grab-and-go option when you're feeling hungry.

Set Limits on Social Media

Social media is a double-edged sword for mental health. On the one hand, it connects us with friends, family, and even strangers we would otherwise have trouble keeping up with. On the other hand, spending too much time scrolling can create feelings of insecurity or FOMO (fear of missing out)—and may even compound mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

For most of us, a temperate middle ground is likely best for social media usage. Finding your own personal balance may not happen without a little boundary-setting. For healthier social consumption, try an app that allows you to set your own daily time limits, or set aside one day a week to take a break from social media. Then, spend the time you regain on uplifting activities like reading a good book, practicing meditation, or even calling a friend for a real-world conversation.

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to establishing goals, it is important to remember that everyone is in different places. The suggestions we have included above are just recommendations for small changes that can have a big impact.

Remember to start small and where you are now. Going outside for a walk once a week is better than not going at all. Similarly, drinking a few extra sips of water a day is a great place to start. Change can take time and be overwhelming, but just start right here, right now with goals you can manage and achieve.

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  4. Aune D, Keum N, Giovannucci E, Fadnes L T, Boffetta P, Greenwood D C et al. Whole-grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all-cause and cause-specific mortality: A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studiesBMJ 2016; 353:i2716. doi:10.1136/bmj.i2716

  5. Fuegen K and Breitenbecher K. Walking and being outdoors in nature increase positive affect and energy. Ecopsychology. Mar 2018.14-25. doi:10.1089/eco.2017.0036

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By Sarah Garone, NDTR
Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a freelance health and wellness writer who runs a food blog.