2020 was an unprecedented year in so many ways. A few of the complaints I heard most often:
- “I can’t exercise; the gyms shut down, and it was too hot to work out outside!” or once the gyms reopened, “I can’t/don’t want to work out in a mask!”
- “Stress levels have been through the roof.” Fill in the blanks on why: lost jobs, homeschooling kids all of a sudden, working from home, anxiety about COVID, anxiety about politics, etc.
- “I gained x number of pounds since the pandemic,” due to lack of exercise, comfort eating, no time, etc.
So, here’s my general recommendations for 2021 New Years Resolutions, if any of these apply to you.
Work Out With What You Have
If you’re fortunate enough to have a home gym setup, great! Make sure you schedule time to use it, at least three times weekly. A good rule of thumb is 30 minutes, three times weekly of cardio, and 15 minutes three times weekly of body weight exercise, with perhaps 10 minutes of stretching after each workout (unless your body weight exercise includes stretching.) And when I say schedule the time, I mean it. Put it on your Google calendar, or whatever calendar app you use. If you happen to still use a paper calendar, write it down there, as long as you check it often enough for it to serve as a reminder. Then guard that time like it’s an appointment. You won’t have to do this anymore once it’s truly a habit (after about two or three months), but until then, you really do.
If you do not have any home gym equipment, do you have a walking or jogging or biking path near your home? Same rule applies for the cardio: schedule it.
If you have neither of these, there are lots of apps out there designed for every type of exercise, most of which require no equipment at all. My personal favorite cardio app is 7 Min Workout, which is mostly plyometrics (jumping). And who doesn’t have 7 minutes a day? There are others that are more challenging for cardio too, like the Nike workout app. For body weight exercise, I like Home Workout, which ranges from beginner to advanced, and you can choose any body system you might otherwise work out at a gym (arms, back, abs, chest). For a body weight and stretching combo, my favorites are Down Dog (a yoga app, ranging from beginner to advanced, from 5 min to 1.5 hours), and Barre, a ballet-based exercise with the same time range settings. You can even choose your favorite music — or I choose silence, and either use the time for meditation, or listen to audiobooks.
So really, there’s no excuse. 🙂 Just again—schedule it, or it won’t happen. And then guard that time.
Stress Management Techniques
The most relevant thing I can recommend across the board is to greatly limit social media and news consumption, or cut it out altogether. If you’re a news junkie, subscribe to your favorite news outlet on email, just read headlines, and then delete the rest unless there is something you absolutely must read about. If you get really emotionally involved in current events, I’d encourage a complete news and social media fast for a predetermined period of time.
The trick to any sort of fast is to plan in advance how you will fill that time instead, though. Why not pick up a new skill, or tackle your TBR (To Be Read) list? Or even better: renew your mind with scripture! God’s word always has the highest report. That’s far and away the best stress management technique I know, anyway.
I also highly recommend intentional silence. The world is loud. We’re used to constant stimulation, which rarely leaves time to allow our minds to rest. Intentional silence is meditation, essentially. At first the mind wants to flit from this to that, because it’s used to running a hundred miles a minute: this just indicates how badly you needed the silence. Once your mind settles a little, this time can very easily become prayer time. If you want to hear from God, rather than only talking at Him, this is really a prerequisite.
If you’re not used to silence, sometimes training wheels help at first. My favorite app for this is called Headspace. It’s just 10 minutes per day, and it teaches you to tune in to your breath, the ambient noise around you, and your body in space. It helps you learn that your thoughts are not you, and that you do, in fact, have control over them.
I like to combine exercise with silence, as mentioned above. This works well for me, as I find exercise to engage my mind just enough that it’s not easily distracted, and can otherwise benefit from the mental stillness.
Eat Real Food
Comfort food is definitely a kind of addiction. If this is you, I’d suggest breaking down what, specifically, the food is doing for you so that you brainstorm alternative behaviors that meet the same craving, without the associated hazards (for more on this, read here).
But for many of us, it’s more about convenience when life gets hectic. I get it that it’s easier to grab a TV dinner sometimes, a prepackaged snack, or fast food. Set yourself up for success in advance to avoid the impulse meals.
- Once a week, stock up on your fruits and veggies. Pull out the same calendar you used for your exercise, and write down when you will go to the store, and when you will chop your produce for the week so that when you feel like snacking, all you have to do is grab and go. But wait—make sure you always combine those fruits and veggies with some kind of protein to stabilize blood sugar (nuts, nut butters, cheese, and hummus make the most sense for this combo.)
- For meals, you can also prepare in advance. Consider making crock pot or Instant Pot meals in advance on the same day you chop your veggies, and then freezing them in individual portions—or else you can put all the ingredients into big freezer bags and dump them into the crock pot in the morning so that dinner will be done by evening. I also am a big fan of meal subscriptions such as Sun Basket, Home Chef, Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, etc: these require preparation but not a lot of thought, as they tell you exactly what to do when, they send you all the ingredients pre-measured. Also, everything is delicious and usually pretty healthy, depending on which meals you select!
- For lunches, learn to embrace salads: they’re quick to make, healthy, and can be made in individual servings in mason jars and stored in the fridge at the same time you’re chopping the rest of your veggies and fruits for the week. (Word to the wise though: if you’re doing mason jar salads, always put the dressing on the bottom, then all the toppings, and the greens on top; otherwise the greens get wilted. When it’s time to eat, flip it over on a plate and pull out the contents with your fork.) Just again, make sure you’ve added in some sort of protein to keep blood sugar stable. Nuts, cheese, shrimp, chicken, steak, seeds, eggs—these all work well.
- If you’re a breakfast person, smoothies are probably the quickest and healthiest options on the go. A basic, modifiable smoothie: about 1 cup water, a handful of greens, 1-2 pieces of fruit, a scoop of either Greek yogurt or nut butter for protein, or else a scoop of protein powder, and a handful of ice. Add these to a powerful blender like a Vitamix. Great additions here include ginger (you can just lop off about half an inch and scrape off the outer skin with a knife), mint leaves, raw cacao powder, etc. Play around and get creative.
I hope this helps to set you up for success in 2021. Here’s to a better year for all of us—cheers!