best new year's resolutions
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The new year has many of us thinking of potential new year’s resolutions to improve ourselves and our quality of life. While there are good intentions behind this act, research shows that only 46% of people follow through with their new year’s resolutions for the entire year.

However, we believe that our list of new year’s resolutions will improve more than just your quality of life, but it will also improve your brain and overall health. We recommend practicing these new year’s resolutions for a longer period of time for a happier and healthier life. The studies below go into depth of just how you can make a positive and long-lasting impact on your mental and physical health with your new year’s resolutions.

1. Spend more time in nature

In times of high stress or anxiety this year, spending time in nature may help you relax. The American Heart Association (AMA) suggests that simple activities in nature such as riding a bike trail instead of using an exercise bike at the gym and will not only allow you to experience the awe of nature but also help you reduce stress and anxiety.

Recent studies have also shown that the increasing incidence of chronic stress in the workplace has led to burnout and exhaustion, accompanied by symptoms of depression or anxiety. A study published in BMJ Open found that green spaces allow greater opportunities for social contact, physical activity, and space to recover from their work stressors. In turn, these increased opportunities led to decreased stress levels.

Another study published in PLOS One found that more access to nature leads to less impulsive decision making. While the study did not find out exactly how this process occurs, it shows us that leaving urban spaces to reconnect with nature can be a phenomenal stress reliever and may help us make better decisions. Spending more time in nature should be a priority on everybody’s New Year’s resolutions.

top new year’s resolutions

2. Immerse yourself in music

Music has shown great promise in positively impacting our brain and improving our wellbeing. Though the effects of positive impacts were subjective among adults of various age groups, a study showed that music reduced feelings of anxiety and improved mood, purpose, and well-being. It even helped individuals cope with chronic health problems.

Music also helps boost creativity levels in problem-solving. In one study, participants listened to a piece of music while performing tasks that highlighted convergent or divergent thinking, with the control group performing the same tasks in silence. The study showed that happy music actually fostered greater creativity in divergent thinking, thus displaying some of the benefits music has on our brain.

Another study published by the Annals of New York Academy of Sciences on bilingual musicians found that those who were bilingual and played an instrument showed a better working memory and increased stimulation of brain areas linked to speech comprehension compared to monolingual musicians. Researchers believed the ability of bilingualism, coupled with identifying and localizing sounds, helped shape neural networks that led to these benefits. It was also shown that the bilingual musicians required fewer brain resources to complete the same tasks.

Music is a great New Year’s resolution that has great benefits on the brain. Consider giving those piano lessons another try this year!

best new year's resolutions

3. Reset your sleep schedule

With the recent technological boom, our lives are constantly revolving around a screen, whether it is a TV, phone, or computer. This, unfortunately, also includes our time in bed. Trying to fall asleep while looking at a screen directly affects our melatonin hormone levels, which is responsible for making us feel sleepy. German researchers took this knowledge one step further and assessed the sleep duration with those who had high-speed internet. The results showed that these individuals actually slept 25 minutes less than the average and were more likely to sleep less than the recommended seven to nine hours.

Building off of this, another study was done using the Sleep Regularity Index (SRI) to examine the relationship between irregular sleep patterns and health outcomes. The SRI metric examines how consistent an individual’s sleeping patterns are, without accounting for sleep duration. Those with a higher SRI score had delayed sleep timing, reduced physical activity, and increased daytime sleepiness. Not only was it found that a higher SRI increased the risk of cardiovascular complications (obesity, high fasting sugar levels, and atherosclerotic disease), but those with pre-existing hypertension and other metabolic diseases displayed more irregular sleeping patterns.

Poor sleeping patterns have also been linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A study done in Thailand and the USA utilized pre-diabetic people’s body mass index (BMI) and their preference of mornings or evenings. It was shown that those who preferred the evenings had a higher BMI and a direct increase in BMI was shown with those who transitioned in preference from mornings to evenings. The increase in BMI strongly suggests that there is a higher risk of weight gain and consequently, also a higher risk of type 2 diabetes among people who often stay up late.

Play an active role in your health by putting away the technology before going to bed. This new year’s resolution aims to not only help you get a better night’s sleep but also reduce your risk of future chronic diseases.

best new year's resolutions

4. Get moving

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report that only one in three adults receive the recommended amount of physical activity each week. This sedentary lifestyle has shown to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by 12%, cardiovascular events by 147%, cardiovascular mortality by 90%, and all-cause mortality by 49%. In a five-year study, researchers examined the potential relationship between food consumption while watching TV and body mass index (BMI).

While individuals who did not change their habits over five years had no statistically significant change in their BMI, those who increased their TV-related food consumption experienced an increase in BMI. On the other hand, those who decreased their TV and food consumption habits experienced a decrease in BMI. Changing something as simple as watching less TV or eating less while watching TV can have a positive impact on your health in the long run.

As we all try to aim to be better and healthier in the New Year, exercise is on many resolutions lists. This is no surprise as there are so many studies supporting the physical and mental benefits that exercise can have on an individual. Aerobic exercise, or cardio, has been shown to lower the long-term risk of mortality regardless of age, sex, or pre-existing health conditions. Compared to those with low aerobic fitness, patients 70 years or older showed nearly a 30% lower risk of mortality. With higher cardiorespiratory fitness, researchers found that the incidence of diabetes, stroke, cancer, hypertension, and coronary artery disease decreases.

A recent study done in 2018 also showed that aerobic exercises have significant antidepressant effects when compared to psychological therapy or antidepressant medication. The greatest effects were seen in short-term interventions, lasting about four weeks.

best new year's resolutions

5. Practice gratitude

The phrase “money can’t buy happiness” has been scientifically proven by researchers in Great Britain. Carried out over an overall of 21 years, observations showed that the possession of durable goods had no impact on general health questionnaire scores. However, perceived future financial status showed a significant impact on the psychological well-being of individuals. Positive projections were most likely found with participants in a stable marital and job status and positive relationships with their family. In short, stability and positive relationships generally make people feel healthier and happier.

Expressing gratitude is often overlooked and underestimated by many people on their new year’s resolutions list. In a four-part experiment with college students writing letters expressing gratitude, gratefulness, and warmth, researchers found that the students who wrote the letters reported being in a more positive mood and were happier for thinking of a recipient for the letter. Despite some letters not even being written, it was concluded that the value of the expressed gratitude was always greater than expected.

In the search for longer life, data has shown that people with higher happiness scores are less likely to die than those with lower scores. Though we cannot directly correlate happiness to decreased mortality due to the limitations of the study, we can believe that happiness and expressing gratitude has a positive effect on an individual’s social well being. As indicated by the research listed above as well as supporting evidence from other studies, focusing on the positive should definitely be on every new year’s resolutions list.

best new year's resolutions

There is no time like the fresh slate of a new year to start building these healthy habits. We hope that these tips will find their way onto everybody’s new year’s resolutions list this 2019!


Written by Stephanie C. Tsang

References:

  1. Fernandez S. Can more green spaces lower chronic job stress? – Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research [Internet]. Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research. 2018 [cited 21 December 2018]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/green-spaces-chronic-job-stress/
  2. Fernandez S. Health benefits of nature include less impulsive decision-making – Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research [Internet]. Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research. 2018 [cited 21 December 2018]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/health-benefits-nature-decision-making/
  3. Tetlow N. What are the Benefits of Music on Mental Well-being? – Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research [Internet]. Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research. 2018 [cited 21 December 2018]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/benefits-of-music-mental-wellbeing/
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  15. Gilmour, J. (2017, December 29). Your New Year’s resolution will likely fail. Here’s why you should make one anyway, researchers say. Retrieved from https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article192079809.html
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