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It’s usually around this time of year that people stop to think about their health goals. Not only is the new year right around the corner, but with turkey and pumpkin pie followed by eggnog and gingerbread men, many people are left feeling a bit guilty about letting their healthy habits slide over the past few weeks.
And while health goals commonly have to do with weight loss, your health is also about integrating self-care into your life, staying on top of your mental health, and getting adequate sleep. Maintaining optimal health isn’t only good for your well-being, it also affects your ability to achieve your other goals. By becoming the best version of yourself, you will be setting yourself up for success in everything you do.
I try to revisit my health goals several times throughout the year, but when things get busy, this task sometimes gets pushed aside. Furthermore, if I’m going through a tough time, I typically end up working out less than usual, and I often find myself scrounging for cookies at night to relieve my stress (which isn’t actually effective, by the way). I always regret this a few days in because I feel awful, I look awful, and my productivity at work suffers.
But no matter what, I always spend a significant amount of time at the end of the year reviewing my habits, finding areas in which I can improve, and celebrating the things that I have done really well over the last year.
In this article, I will go into detail about why it’s important to focus on your health goals. Then, I will give you 23 examples of health goals that you could set for the new year.
But first, let’s look at what a health goal really is.
What is a Health Goal?
Your health is one area of your life that it is important to set goals, as these goals outline your ambitions for your wellbeing. By making health goals and taking steps to reach them, you’re able to obtain a better balance of not only your diet and exercise, but also in the subcategories of the health arena, including weight loss, eating whole foods, avoiding being sedentary, taking proper breaks from working, and having the self-awareness to realize when you’ve adopted a bad habit that could be detrimental in the long run.
It’s important to realize that your health and well-being are the product of a combination of your everyday habits, and not simply one aspect of it. All of your lifestyle choices become interlinked, so in order to improve one facet of your health, you have to step back to look at the big picture and your life balance.
RELATED: 21 Examples of SMART Goals
Want to set goals you can actually achieve? Then watch this video that provides a quick overview of SMART goals with 21 examples.
Why is it Important to Focus on Your Health Goals?
Your health has an impact on every other area of your life. It is also something that you have the ability to strongly influence. Even if you have a genetic predisposition to a certain disease, you can take preventative action that could reduce your chances of being impacted by this risk factor.
However, research has found that people who know they have a family history of a disease often don’t believe their own susceptibility to developing the disease is any higher than average. On the other hand, some perceive inherited risk as being unavoidable, which can ultimately lead to death. What these two groups have in common is that neither of them are proactive in setting health goals to help reduce their chances of developing the disease in question.
However, the truth is, if you have a genetic predisposition to developing a disease, your genetic makeup only contributes to the development of the disease. It may not be the single cause of developing the disease, so having a genetic predisposition in addition to compounding lifestyle and environmental elements (that you can control) can either greatly increase or decrease your risk of getting the disease. This means that setting health goals can be mitigating factors in your genetic predisposition and help reduce your risk if you follow through with them.
Your health goals can range from being quick, five-minute habits to exercising for a few hours on a regular basis. There are a lot of things you can do to improve your health, and when you put them all together, they will compound to help you get the most out of life through your daily healthy habits.
Now that you know why it is important to set health goals, let’s look at 23 health goals that you could achieve in 2021.
23 Health Goals to Achieve in 2021
1. Get Adequate Sleep
A lot of us feel like there are not enough hours in the day–trust me, I’m one of them. But in order to be able to use the time that you do have efficiently, you need to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. This is a basic need that will impact all other areas of your life.
If you have trouble falling asleep, here are some tips to help you get the slumber that you need. It is also important to know the basics of sleep hygiene so you can be sure to set yourself up for success.
2. Eat a Plant-Based Diet
Set a specific goal in this domain that makes sense to your eating preferences. If you don’t want to go completely vegetarian, that’s certainly ok. You can still incorporate lean meats and dairy into your daily eating routine. But set a goal amount (perhaps 80%?) of your diet that you think you could realistically make plant-based. If you need to, start small and slowly cut things out. If you set this goal, pay special attention to limiting processed foods.
3. Abstain from Alcohol, Smoking, and Illegal Drug Use
Nearly 21 million Americans have an addiction of some sort, however, only 10% of this population seeks treatment. Many people who suffer from depression or anxiety turn to harmful substances such as alcohol, nicotine, or drugs as a coping mechanism. However, each of these options is extremely harmful for your health.
Drinking alcohol increases your chances of developing diseases such as cancer, liver disease, and other chronic conditions. It can also negatively impact learning and memory, accelerate the aging process, and disrupt healthy sleeping patterns.
Smoking is the number one cause of preventable death worldwide due to a wide variety of diseases that it may cause, and avoiding illegal drug use will result in better overall health–both mental and physical.
4. Reform Your Dessert
If you crave something sweet after dinner, you certainly aren’t alone. Somehow a plate of vegetables isn’t quite as appealing as a bowl of ice cream or a piece of cake. But sometimes eating dessert can be a slippery slope. If you get into the routine of having a brownie and ice cream every night, it will just be second nature to indulge in what you may have formerly considered to be a “treat”.
Choose something light that offers you a bit of nutrients. One of my favorite things to have for dessert is strawberries with freshly whipped cream on top. Being able to incorporate pleasures like reasonably healthy desserts into a nutritionally balanced diet is one of the most effective ways to develop a realistic approach to managing your weight and staying in great health.
5. Take the Time For Self-Care
Make sure to put yourself first by practicing self-care. Doing so allows you to take intentional time away from stress so you can be more resilient when you’re facing challenges. Know what your boundaries are and set functional limits in order to operate at capacity in all of the areas of your life.
Did you know that those who created an intention for the implementation of their goal were more than twice as likely to achieve it? Learn more about implementation intention in this post.
6. Eat Breakfast Every Day
We’re all rushing out of the door in the mornings, but you have to take the time to fuel your body in order to do your best work each day. Make breakfast the night before if you have to or get up ten minutes early to pack something to take with you in the car. Make sure that your breakfast includes protein and whole grains in it so you can stay full and satisfied throughout the morning. There are so many benefits to eating breakfast, including increasing your concentration and metabolism and decreasing your cholesterol.
7. Get a Pedometer
I know the standard goal is to hit 10,000 steps a day, but I want you to aim for 15,000. You can do this by:
Push yourself and create challenges for yourself to always be beating yesterday’s numbers.
8. Don’t Take Two Days Off in a Row
No matter what goal you’re focusing on, whether it’s hitting the gym or doing an overhaul of your diet, you may take a rest or a “cheat” day, but don’t do this twice in a row. You need to maintain your momentum to make your goals into habits, and this requires consistency and dedication. Research shows it takes approximately 66 days to turn an action into a habit, so you don’t want to break that up too much.
9. Keep a Food Journal
Not only will keeping a food journal help you become aware of how much you’re actually eating throughout the day, it will also make you second guess yourself every time you reach for that bag of chips at 3:00pm. If you know you have to write something down, you’re more likely to take pause before eating it–especially if it’s a snack that’s open and you would typically eat it out of boredom.
If your goal is to start running, join a running club. If you want to start a Paleo diet, join an online group of people who follow this diet and share recipes with each other. Having a supportive group of people who are encouraging of your goals is critical to success.
Finding a community of people who all share your common goal will give you a place to go during possible moments of weakness, and it can allow you to help other people on their journey to achieving the goal, which is motivating and rewarding in itself.
If you feel like you need professional help, try Talkspace.
11. Be Selective of Your Rewards
If you run three miles one day and want to reward yourself for making such great progress, don’t turn to a brownie sundae to do this job. Don’t choose rewards that counteract the success that you just gained. Rather, tell yourself you can’t catch up on the latest episode of your favorite show until you complete your run for the day. Or find another motivating factor that will allow you to feel rewarded without undoing your hard efforts.
If your rewards come in the form of snack, try some of these low-carb snack ideas and recipes.
12. Unplug Yourself
Putting away your phone or laptop isn’t just good for your mental health, it’s good for your physical health as well. Sure, you will develop deeper relationships with actual people if you interact with them in real life, but aside from that, when you’re on your phone or laptop, you’re more than likely sitting or being sedentary in some way. Do not spend a significant amount of time using electronics each day.
13. Learn Your History
Find out what diseases run in your family so you can be aware of what you may be at a higher risk of developing in the future. This way, you can either take specific steps to reduce your risk, or you can begin getting screenings earlier than you normally would.
14. Do a Self-Check Mid-Meal
Often, we have a habit of finishing everything on our plate, even if we’re full, possibly because there is a sense of guilt associated with wasting food after you’ve prepared it. In fact, research shows that people tend to eat 92% of whatever they put on their plate. But if you’re satisfied after eating just 50%, that’s a great opportunity to wrap up the rest and have a meal waiting for you for another time.
Practice portion control and mindful eating by paying attention to your internal signals of feeling satisfied instead of waiting for an external cue to stop eating, such as your plate being clean.
15. Age Gracefully
I’m sure you’ve heard someone say that age is just a number, but if you’re starting to notice some physical signs of aging (such as wrinkles, age spots, etc.), it can be a tough pill to swallow that your youth is behind you.
Keep in mind that there are some really great things about getting older. In fact, people over 40 often report being happier, less stressed, and more confident than they were 20 years ago. There are a lot of reasons to embrace your age, and in doing so, you will demonstrate to others that your life experience is a strength rather than something to be ashamed of.
16. Increase Your Physical Strength
You will have to make this goal more specific depending on your current strength level, but most of us could use some more lean muscle on our bodies. When you have strong muscles, you reduce your risk of injury and make it easier to maintain a healthy body weight. Keep track of how much weight you can lift as you’re trying to increase your strength so you can watch your progress.
17. Reduce Your Risk of Disease
Make sure to attend all preventative care appointments that apply to you. Aside from your annual checkup with your primary care physician, get a dental cleaning every six months, get all of the routine tests and exams for your age, and get vaccinations to boost your immune system. Stay one step ahead of your health.
18. Stop Eating Out
I know it’s easy (and sometimes the fastest option) to grab lunch at a drive-through in the middle of the day or pick up dinner on the way home from work. But, not only does this drain your bank account, it can seriously impact your health.
The amount of sodium, calories, and fat in restaurant meals is…usually a mystery. Yes, you can often find some information online, but each restaurant’s servings may vary and the nutrition facts that the restaurants give are often an estimate. You can assume that anything you eat from a restaurant has more sodium, fat, and calories than something that you could make for yourself at home. Which leads me to…
19. Plan and Prep Your Meals
Sundays are a great day to plan and prep your meals for the week. Plan out your meals and then go to the store to buy what you need (and only what you need) to prep them. Not only will this save you time during the week, but it also gives you the ability to have full control over what goes into your body. Prepping your meals ahead of time will ensure that you eat a balanced diet and get the nutrients that your body needs.
20. Practice Yoga
Yoga is great for your health because it promotes relaxation and helps you develop a mind/body connection. Practicing yoga also helps increase your strength and flexibility and helps you maintain a healthy metabolism. Finally, focusing on your breathing can help improve your respiration, energy, and vitality.
21. Walk Everywhere Within a Mile
If you’re headed out to run an errand and it’s less than a mile away, leave your car at home and walk there (unless you’re planning on doing a big grocery trip or will otherwise be returning home with a car load of things). The more walking you can incorporate into your day, the better your health will be, as it can help you lose weight, get some fresh air, reduce your risk of developing several diseases, and improve your mood.
If your neighborhood isn’t walkable, walk from store to store in a shopping center if you have to make several stops. While you may be tempted to drive from one end of the shopping center to the other, it’s healthier to choose to get some extra steps into your day.
22. Educate Yourself
It would be ideal if you have the time and the funds to hire a dietitian and a personal trainer, but many of us don’t. If this is the case, take the time to do some self-education to gain a basic level of knowledge behind the biological processes that occur to help you meet your goals. Some things to research could be:
23. Maintain a Positive Mindset
Your mental health is certainly a big part of your overall health. You’re continually faced with challenges and temporary setbacks in life–these are inevitable–but having a positive attitude will keep you motivated to stick with all of your other health goals.
If you can learn how to cope with life’s challenges and move forward with a positive attitude, you will be able to move forward more easily with life after experiencing a hardship. You can even learn to see challenges as opportunities to grow. A large part of your ability to stay healthy comes from how you deal with and manage stress.
I hope that you find some of these health goals to be habits that you want to incorporate into your life. But keep in mind, it’s often overlooked just how closely related your goals may often be. Most improvements that you make in one area of your health will have a positive impact on another area.
For example, if you’re overweight and you start training for a 10k, the extra calories that you’re burning through increased activity will help you lose weight. Improving your diet by focusing on eating plant-based foods can also help reduce your cholesterol levels.
Everything has a domino effect. So if one goal seems a little far-fetched, change your focus to other related goals that will have a positive impact on your long-term challenge. This will help your bigger goals become more of a product of your habits rather than something that is completely out of reach.
Choose some of these health goals to start in 2021, and if you come back and look at this list in six months, you may find that you’re meeting more goals than you originally thought.
If you’re a visual person, use a vision board to keep yourself on track to achieving your health goals. Check out these 25 vision board templates that you can use as inspiration. If you prefer charts to keep track of your goals, check out these goal chart ideas and templates.
Connie Stemmle is a professional editor, freelance writer and ghostwriter. She holds a BS in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her 4-year-old daughter, running, or making efforts in her community to promote social justice.