New Year’s resolutions shouldn’t be about changing yourself, but about creating habits and setting goals that make you feel great.
After one of the most financially, psychologically and emotionally draining years in recent history, you deserve a bit of a rest and a big old hug. Unfortunately though, the ‘new year, new me’ rhetoric is yet to disappear, and we are still being sold ways of improving ourselves in 2021. Not that there’s anything wrong with working towards your goals, but being told you need to rectify things about yourself is unhelpful at best, dangerous at worst.
So, instead of setting goals that are all about changing yourself and your body to fit a certain ideal, how about setting a goal that is all about making yourself feel great and achieving something amazing? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be able to lift more, run faster, stretch further, swim better or handstand for longer, so long as it’s coming from a place of self-respect.
In fact, after a year in which your exercise routine was turned on its head with gym and pool closures, finding your way back to a form of movement you loved could be a really great idea.
So if you are thinking about how you can challenge, rather than shame, your body, here are some New Year’s resolutions that celebrate you.
1. Take extra work breaks
2020 was the year of sitting at a desk/kitchen table/sofa/bed for hours at a time trying to get to grips with this new thing called ‘working from home’. While we all know that being sedentary isn’t optimal for our physical or mental health, it was pretty easy to ignore the negative impact of our new routine while we tried to get to grips with everything that was going on.
Now that we’re a bit more established with working from home, why not set yourself a goal of at least five mini-breaks during your workday, in which you step away from your screen and stretch, walk or do some deep breathing? As part of Stylist magazine’s Work It Out campaign, these are known as your ‘Work 5-A-Day’, and are scientifically proven to help you reduce the risk of burnout.
Alternatively, why not try working according to the Pomodoro method? This means working intensely for 25 minutes, giving your full focus to a task, and then taking a five-minute break to recalibrate. It’s been proven to boost productivity, but also stops you from being strapped to your chair for hours on end.
2. Build up to more reps
If you want your resolution to be more exercise-based, how about working to increase the number of reps of an exercise you can do? Perhaps that would be through following our four-week plan to nailing a press-up, or working on lat strength so you can learn to do one pull-up. Alternatively, it might be about upping the number of burpees you can do in a minute.
The key here is consistency. If you want to improve at a specific exercise, you need to do that exercise regularly. So as well as telling yourself you’ll one day be able to hold a one-minute plank, think about how you’ll do it, such as holding a plank until failure at the end of every workout.
3. Add more weight on the bar
Rather than rep-based activity, how about setting a goal that’s weight-based? This is great thing to work towards if your gym is open, but even if it isn’t, there are ways you can lift heavier without access to a wide range of equipment.
How much weight you can lift will be personal, as ‘heavy’ is relative to everyone. But your goals could be something such as squatting your body weight on a barbell (i.e. if you are 70kg, aiming to squat 70kg) or adding an extra 10kg on to your deadlift. For those at home, why not try a weighted press-up by wearing a vest of placing a light weight on your back? Or simply challenge yourself by opting for the heavier dumbbells you have at home, rather than the lighter pair.
Again, think about how you will get there. To build strength you’ll also need to be working on accessory movements to strengthen the muscles that are working in your lift, practising proper recovery and eating refuelling foods.
4. Get more sleep
Don’t underestimate a good night’s sleep. Our always-on culture has been exacerbated in 2020, with more pressure on people to answer emails, Slack messages and phone calls from the boss at all times of day and night. But sleep is one of the most important factors in good health.
Don’t believe us? A 2017 study showed that in otherwise healthy adults, short-term consequences of sleep disruption include increased stress, aches and pains, reduced quality of life, emotional distress, mood disorders and a reduction in cognitive, memory, and performance signals. Long-term, that can lead to serious issues including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Getting on top of your sleeping habits should be the first port of call for anyone looking to improve their health, then.
How do you do that? Improving sleep hygiene by removing tech from the bedroom, ensuring a dark, quiet and cool room is hugely helpful. Then there are mental health tools that can help, such as pre-bed journaling. If you’re worried about your sleep, it’s always best to talk to your GP.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).