After the chaos of the last few weeks building up to Dec. 25, the week in between Christmas and New Years can seem almost surreal. The old year, with all of its issues, is not quite over and the new year, with all of its promise, has not yet begun. But that doesn't mean you need to put off your plan for a healthier lifestyle until Jan. 1.
This week is the perfect time to tie up the loose ends of this year and make a plan for healthy new beginnings. Here are 11 great ways to get started.
1. Pick a date to get rid of the leftovers. If you're like me, your kitchen is stocked after the holidays with the remains of the huge meals as well as countless breads, cookies, candies and pies that you received as gifts. But if your plan for the new year is to eat healthier, you don't want to start with a kitchen full of junk. So pick a date after the holidays when you will give away, freeze or toss (or compost!) all of those rich holiday goodies so that they are not staring you in the face on Jan. 1.
2. Stock up on the good stuff. Now that you have more room in your fridge, stock it up with healthy stuff like fruits, veggies, lean meats, whole grains and quick and healthy snacks.
3. Make moving your body a priority. Daily exercise is good, but 30 minutes on the treadmill does not erase eight (or more) hours of sitting for the rest of the day. To that end, look for ways to incorporate more movement into your day. Take your dogs for a morning or evening walk, park a little further from the store entrance, take the stairs instead of the elevator or do some jumping jacks during the commercial breaks of your favorite show.
4. Catch up on your zzz's. All year long you have dashed around in the mornings getting your kids ready for school and yourself ready for work, errands and whatever else was facing you that day. So use this week — when the kids are out of school and things are likely much slower at work — to sleep in when you can or get to bed a little earlier each night. Studies show that sleep is as good for your mind as it is for your body.
5. Try a healthy new meal. Use this week to find and perfect one go-to healthy meal that you can turn to when the chaos returns in the new year. Whether it's an easy homemade granola for breakfast or one of these inexpensive and easy vegetarian meals, find a dish or two that you can slip into your weekly rotation.
6. Make a plan. Is your goal for the new year to lose weight? Exercise more? Eat less red meat? Don't just say the words, make a plan for getting it done. For example, if you plan to exercise more, figure out what exercises you will do and when you will do them. Schedule the first week of workouts into your calendar so they don't get overlooked. If you want to eat less meat, make a list of recipes for meat-free meals you will make in place of your usual dinners. If you have a plan, you're much more likely to put it into action and make it happen in the new year.
7. Practice saying no. Now that the holidays, with all of their requisite parties and festivities, are behind you, focus on boosting your mental health by learning how to say "No" to activities that add stress to your life. It's okay to help out when you can, but when your life becomes a series of committees and commitments, it may be time to reevaluate.
8. Take time to read. Use the lull between Christmas and New Year's to finish up that book you've been reading all year or start (and finish) a new one. Whether you want to learn something new or just find a way to tune out, reading can recharge your mental health and help your focus in other areas of your life.
9. Volunteer. Boost your mental and physical health by volunteering in a way that gets you up and moving. Try picking up trash at your local park, cleaning up graffiti at the playground or taking the dogs at your local animal shelter for a walk.
10. Get dirty. Make it a point to get outside for at least 30 minutes every day this week. Research shows that there are a slew of health benefits associated with spending time in nature such as boosted levels of vitamin D, reduced stress, improved vision, and lowered blood pressure.
11. Make an appointment. With your healthcare provider that is. The new year is a great time to get a head-to-toe evaluation to make sure things like your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, blood sugar and dental health are on track. You may not be able to get in until 2017, but just taking the time to now to make the appointment will be one less thing on your to-do list next year.
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in December 2015.