How to Be Your Best Self, from A to Z

Twenty-six ways to improve your health and wellness in 2019

This year, why not resolve to be your best self? Set a course for self-improvement with this full-alphabet list of helpful tips, gathered from local health and wellness experts.

A  Eat antioxidant-rich food.  Antioxidants protect our bodies and cells from the onslaught of damage caused by free radicals. “They are found in many foods, including fruits and vegetables and other sources like nuts, beans, and even dark chocolate,” says Tricia Jefferson, RD, LDN, director of Healthy Living and Strategic Partnerships, YMCA of Delaware. Antioxidants are important to keep our bodies healthy by “slowing the signs of aging and reducing cancer and heart disease risk,” she says.

B  Buy local produce and meat. Buying local comes naturally to Karen Igou, owner and operator of Honeybee Seasonal Kitchen in Trolley Square. Says Igou: “Local food is fresher since it takes less time to travel to our store. It’s also more likely to be grown sustainably, which can strengthen the community supporting this type of agriculture.” Her store is packed to the brim with such local foods as honey from Iris and Callisto’s Apiary, Avondale, Pennsylvania, and greens from Bright Spot Farms in Wilmington.

C  Become part of the community. It’s time to reconnect with your friends and family. Says Jefferson, “Connecting with others and being part of a trusted community can help improve your quality of life by boosting your mental health, decreasing risky behaviors and helping you live longer.” These social and emotional connections are important at all life stages, so make sure to reach out whether it’s by internet, snail mail, phone or in person.

D  Disconnect from your device. Do you find yourself aimlessly scrolling through Facebook or Instagram? You’re not alone. We rely heavily on our phones to keep us on track, but it’s become an addiction we can’t seem to kick. Try spending time with your friends and family and “turn off your phone and leave it in another room,” says Liz Freeman Abel, a licensed dietitian/nutritionist and owner of free + abel, a food and lifestyle company based in Delaware. “Or set time limits on your social media accounts, if only for a few minutes at a time. Increase the frequency and duration [of the limits] each day.” 

Exercise is a no-brainer when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. Its benefits are not limited to your physical health. A study done by the University of British Columbia has shown that regular aerobic exercise appears to “boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.” Follow a consistent schedule and change up your routine with a mix of strength, interval and cardio exercise.

F  Resolve to eat more fermented foods. Igou, who battles chronic health issues, eats fermented foods as part of her daily routine. “They help balance gut health by re-populating beneficial bacteria killed off by processed foods and antibiotics,” she says, “and they help level out the pH balance in the intestines.” She turns to well-known fermented foods like raw sauerkraut, kombucha (fermented tea), kimchi and miso. Want to make your own fermented foods? Look no further than The Noma Guide to Fermentation, an ode to the history of fermentation and guide to how to ferment at home written by David Zilber, director of the Noma fermentation lab, and René Redzepi, chef and co-owner of Noma in Copenhagen. 

G  Setting and achieving goals can be as easy as making a to-do list. Says Jefferson: “Goal-setting helps us think about what we want to achieve, how to get there and then provides the motivation to commit to it.” Goals should be S.M.A.R.T.: specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-related.

H  High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has remained one of the most popular workouts. Scott McCarthy, owner and personal trainer at Balance Strength & Fitness Center in Wilmington, says that HIIT classes make up a “considerable portion of our membership base.” Classes are targeted and quick and vary between high- and low-intensity for increased fat burning. The changes in intensity allow clients to achieve rapid weight loss and fat burning results.

I  The Insight Timer app is a free meditation app that’s similar to Headspace, but with many more free meditations and lectures. The best part of the app is the custom meditation timer that allows you to set the duration, interval bells and ambient sounds of your individual session. It’s available on the App Store and Google Play.

J  Just breathe. Due to our hectic lives, we’ve become accustomed to going full tilt until we fall into bed. Abel recommends taking more moments throughout our day to breathe and to “let the oxygen come into your lungs deeply and then feel it gently leave.” She recommends repeating this five-to-10 times while in line at the grocery store or in the shower – or whenever you feel rushed or stressed.

K  Kindness: Pay it forward. Need inspiration? Here are some random acts of kindness: Pay for someone’s coffee or tea next time you’re in line at Starbucks; donate blood; donate to your favorite nonprofit; hold the door for someone; volunteer your time or services.

L  Les Mills workouts are highly effective. Take a class like Sprint, which is a 30-minute, high-intensity interval training class on an indoor bike. It’s the perfect class for busy people. Available at the YMCA, Sprint is just one class on the Les Mills list, which includes BODYPUMP, BODYCOMBAT and GRIT, to name a few. Teachers are rigorously trained and must pass certification before they can teach any Les Mills class. Check out all options at one of the seven YMCAs statewide.

M  MyFitnessPal App helps you lose weight. From counting calories to exercising on a daily basis, it can be challenging to keep up with the numbers. The MyFitnessPal app helps track your caloric intake and activity levels each day. It allows you to set specific goals based on your biographical information and weight loss goals and also syncs easily between your Fitbit or other fitness devices. Available on the App Store and Google Play.

N  Reconnect with nature. “Nature is something we’re missing from our everyday, 9-to-5 lives,”  says Adam Lush, co-founder of Areté, a wellness company based in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Studies have shown that spending time in nature may reduce stress, and possibly lower the risk of depression. Says Lush, “It’s a way to keep grounded and stable on a daily basis.” He recommends keeping it simple by walking the dog, walking with your partner or kids, or walking with a friend at lunch.

O  Open up. Share your feelings. Whether it’s to your partner, trusted friend or colleague, or family member, resolve to speak your mind more often. We all know everyone has a unique story, so be sure to share it. Or speak with a licensed mental health professional, who can help you improve your mental health and overall happiness.

P  Use Plant Nanny App and drink more water. Most people don’t get the recommended daily quantities. This app rewards (and politely reminds) you to drink water throughout the day. The goal is to drink all the recommended cups of water each day while remembering to “water” your plant. If you forget to water your plant, it will look sad; if you neglect your plant, it will die, and you must start all over.  Available on the App Store and Google Play.

Q   Quit (fill-in-the-blank). Whether it’s smoking, biting your nails or procrastinating, now is the time to quit those bad habits. According to the American Lung Association, smoking “kills more than 480,000 people per year, making it the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.” It’s never too late to stop smoking. Enlist your friends and family to help ease the process.

R  Enjoy recreation in the great outdoors. There are more than 15 state parks and preserves throughout Delaware to explore. From hiking White Clay Creek’s various trails to kayaking Trap Pond State Park, there are many opportunities for fun in local parks and recreational areas. Delaware State Parks annual passes give you access to all parks for a reasonable $35 for Delaware registered vehicles or $70 for out-of-state vehicles.

S  Social Support is critical. When was the last time you spent time with your friends, siblings or parents?  Connecting with friends or family in meaningful ways can have a profound impact on our long-term health and wellness. Says Abel: “Find new opportunities; try something new together. The more you grow and nurture your community, the more it will nourish you in return.”

T  Get some functional training through a functional fitness class. These classes are dedicated to making everyday movements easier and “allow clients to focus on proper movement, which can improve balance, strength, flexibility and coordination,” says McCarthy. Think walking up and down stairs, playing football with the kids or picking up groceries.

U  Unsubscribe. Clean out that inbox. It’s time to start this New Year right by unsubscribing to those annoying sales and marketing emails and weekly newsletters. While you’re at it, be sure to add your phone to the National Do Not Call Registry to minimize telemarketing calls, and deactivate those incessant news notifications on your phone. Also, use the “block caller” function on your phone.

V  We all know it’s important to “eat your vegetables,” so why not try to incorporate new vegetables? Says Abel: “Try a rainbow of fresh produce each week. Vegetables in different colors provide vitamins that are necessary for so many bodily functions, such as cardiovascular health, respiratory health, and immune support.” Some winter vegetables to try: red cabbage, rutabaga, parsnips.

W  Establish a work/life balance. “Work smarter, not harder” has become a cliché that is easier said than done. We all lead busy lives, so it’s no surprise that all interviewed agreed that it’s important to find balance between our work and personal lives. Jefferson recommends taking these steps to achieve balance: Prioritize tasks, structure time, take breaks and use holidays. “Chronic stress is one of the most common health issues in today’s workplace. Work-life balance means reducing stress to help prevent burn-out,” she says.

X   Say no. It may be uncomfortable, even difficult, but saying no is a choice. And no, it’s not rude to say no. It’s a skill that takes time to perfect, so start easy. Value your time and health and make sure what you’re saying yes to is something you truly want to do.

Y   Look to your future self. Forward or future thinking has been shown to be a very powerful mindset. A study conducted by Hal Hershfield, a social psychologist from UCLA Anderson, explored how “human behavior can be modified by bringing people closer to their future selves.”  Arete’s Lush was inspired by this study. “People vastly underestimate their future goals and aspirations, and personality,” he says. “Their goals don’t line up and it’s as if they’re in a stranger-like relationship with themselves.” He recommends setting aside time each week “to think about where you’re going to be in a couple of months or years” and to make “better decisions to improve that future self.” For the full report, go to ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3764505/

Z   Zzzzs—Catch more sleep. It’s essential for a healthy body and mind. Says Jefferson: “Sleep is involved with healing and repairing your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.” Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

So there you have it—a full alphabet of actions you can take to better yourself. And you’ve got all of 2019 to pursue them.

Good luck!

So, what do you think? Please comment below.