10 ways to improve your life in 2016

January can be an exciting time. With New Year's resolutions still fresh, many people are looking forward to a better, healthier year ahead. However, as many can attest, it's easy for resolutions to quickly fall to the wayside.

But that doesn't mean people should be hopeless for change or forego annual personal goals altogether. Rather, small adjustments in day-to-day life are the most effective way to help New Year's resolutions stick.

Here are 10 ways to improve your life in 2016.

1. Create a realistic exercise regimen. Most New Year's resolutions include some variation of "exercise more" or "work out regularly." These are great ideas, but maintaining them throughout the year will be difficult unless people adopt a certain mindset — there is time to exercise if you make it a priority.

For busy executives and professionals, the biggest obstacle to a regular exercise regimen is the perceived lack of time. However, despite long hours at work, it is possible to make exercise a regular part of the day.

"You have to make it a priority and schedule it — just as you would schedule a board meeting or quarterly earnings call," says Jessica Cole, president and CEO of Becker's Healthcare. Ms. Cole, who has run in four full marathons and numerous half marathons, says her daily routine begins with a 5:50 a.m. workout five days per week.

Additionally, she says exercise does not necessarily mean going to the gym for an hour workout. She suggests starting small and building intensity. Using opportunities for exercise throughout the workday, such as taking the stairs or holding walking meetings with your team, can make a difference.

"Exercising regularly is healthy for a number of reasons, such as weight management, focus, energy, better sleep — the list can go on and on," says Ms. Cole. "Personally, when I get my morning workout in, I am much more focused and have more energy throughout the whole day. It's nice to know that you woke up and did something for yourself to make you a better you that day and its not even 7 a.m."

2. Swap sweets for fruit. We crave sugar and sweets, which often steers us to candy. In all forms, sugar is a carbohydrate that the body converts to glucose and uses for energy. However, different types of sugars affect one's health in different ways.

Refined sugar, which is usually found as sucrose, is in candy, baked goods, cereal, yogurt, salad dressing, soda and many non-fat foods. Refined sugar, though it may be satisfying to taste, has little to no nutritional value. You can get the same satisfying sweet tastes by subbing candy for fruit, which contain vitamins and fiber. While the body breaks down refined sugars fast, causing insulin and blood sugar levels to surge, the fiber and sugars in fruit are digested more slowly, helping you stay full longer. The lower calorie count in fruit can also help you stave off weight gain.

3. Drink your coffee black. Coffee has several health benefits, including protecting against Parkinson's disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease, including liver cancer. It also appears to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression, according to Mayo Clinic.

Although drinking coffee can be healthy, the excess calories, sugar and fat from added cream and sugar or other sweeteners can lead to weight gain, especially for people who enjoy multiple cups a day. To get the most out of coffee, try slowly weening off the add-ins.

4. Prepare your own meals. A recent study published in Health Psychology found people like healthy food more if they make it themselves. In the study, 120 women tested healthy, low-calories raspberry milkshakes and unhealthy chocolate milkshakes that either they prepared themselves or someone else prepared for them. Ultimately, the researchers found the women were more likely to enjoy the healthier milkshake if they made it themselves. They concluded, "Self-preparation increases the health salience of foods, because when people prepare foods, they become more aware of the ingredients that constitute a food," according to the report.

In addition to making healthy food more enjoyable, preparing your own meals — opposed to ordering in or going out — will boost savings and help you avoid easy ways to break a healthy diet.

5. Embrace avocados. An oft-lauded superfood, avocados are chock full of fiber, which is important for regulating your digestive system and weight loss, according tothe National Institutes of Health. The high levels of potassium in the fruit support muscle control, nerve function and maintaining proper levels of electrolytes. One study suggested avocado consumers have higher HDL-cholesterol, lower risk of metabolic syndrome, and lower weight, body mass index and waist circumference than people who don't eat avocados, according to the report. Avocados also help regulate blood sugar, improve nutrient absorption, promote healthy bones, strengthen the immune system and nourish skin.

To incorporate more of the fruit into your diet, try spreading mashed avocados over whole grain bread instead of butter, using them as a base in salad dressings or adding them to smoothies.

6. Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water throughout the day is not just important for athletes, though an individual's level of daily physical activity does impact how much water he or she should consume.

Water makes up about 60 percent of the average person's body weight, according to Mayo Clinic. It flushes out toxins from vital organs, carries nutrients to your cells and keeps tissue in the ears, nose and throat moist. Not drinking enough water can lead to dehydration, which can drain your energy, make you feel tired and even sick. The Mayo Clinic and the Institute of Medicine recommend an "8 by 8" rule: to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid a day, noting that all fluids count toward the daily total, not just water.

To make sure you remember to drink enough water, consider buying a large, reusable bottle and keep track of how many times you refill it each day. Doing so can also help reduce the number of plastic disposable water bottles that end up getting thrown out.

7. Meditate. Those who meditate regularly cultivate improved physical and emotional responses to stress, stronger immune systems, enhanced concentration and increased optimism, according to Mayo Clinic. These benefits can transcend all aspects of life — work, interpersonal and personal growth.

8. Make sleep a priority. Getting a good night's rest is essential to maintaining good health and wellbeing, according to the National Sleep Foundation. While everyone's individual sleep needs vary, the American Psychological Association says most people need about eight hours of sleep per night, but others might require as few as six or as many as 10. Not getting enough rest at night could significantly impair energy, mood and mental clarity during the day, which can affect work performance.

To ensure you get enough sleep, consider the following suggestions from the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Follow a consistent sleep schedule, even on the weekends
  • Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual, such as reading a book or listening to calming music
  • Avoid looking at your phone or computer screen and checking emails before bedtime
  • Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable, cool temperature
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine consumption a few hours before bedtime

9. Nourish your close relationships. Working hard sometimes requires investing longer hours at the office or bringing work home on the evenings or weekends. However, it is important not to lose track of or fail to tend to our relationships. Nothing beats celebrating success with the love of family and friends, or is quite as comforting as seeking their support during periods of adversity. For a happier new year, spend quality time with those you love and let them know how much you appreciate them.

10. Invest in a hobby. Discovering another interest or passion outside of work is extremely rewarding. According to an article in The Washington Post by Joyce E. Russell, an executive career coach, people who have hobbies are generally healthier, have a lower risk of depression and dementia, have better control over blood pressure and can better manage their temper. Overall, hobbies put you in a better frame of mind, which ultimately translates to an improved quality of life, family and work time, according to Ms. Russell.

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