How to Be a Healthier, Happier Human in 2020

The year is a blank slate. What will you do with it?. Nokuro/Shutterstock

It's that time again when a fresh, new year awaits with so many possibilities. You want to make resolutions, but you definitely don't want to fail. We can help with that.

Here are plenty of great ideas to make this year a healthier, happier one Pick one, two or several ideas. They're not monstrously big changes — but big enough that you'll feel better. And what better way to kick off a new decade?

Get moving in baby steps

There's a reason the gym is so packed in January. Many people make huge plans to hit the elliptical every day or attend regular aerobics classes. But when life starts to get in the way, attendance dwindles and the gym begins to look normal again.

The good news is that you don't have to do a serious workout to get the benefits of being active. Even 10 minutes of activity here and there adds up and gives you health benefits. Try pacing when you're on the phone, taking things up and down the stairs one at a time or dancing to a couple of your favorite songs. Or make a promise to walk your dog every day. You'll both love the exercise.

Change your diet a little

pot of vegetables
Sometimes cooking vegetables can add nutrients. Pinkyone/Shutterstock

Going on a diet is another common resolution. But if you try to overhaul your diet completely, chances are you'll default to old habits quickly. You'll have much better luck if you start small.

Try making gradual diet changes like adding one more fruit or vegetable to your daily diet. Or try eating less meat and sugar. Once you conquer one small change, see if you can add another.

Eat less, exercise more

Although diet and exercise are two of the most popular resolutions, they aren't equal if weight loss is your goal. Moving matters, but cutting calories counts more when you want to drop pounds. Ideally, the two should go hand in hand for a well-rounded, healthier you.

If you increase only your exercise regimen without changing your eating habits, you're unlikely to lose much weight. This "exercise paradox" might be because your body adapts or you make up for your workouts by being sedentary the rest of the day.

Go outside

Conservationists argue that plants aren't as appreciated as animals. Skumer/Shutterstock

Everyone knows that being in nature is good for your health. So make time to get outside. Just a simple walk in the woods boosts your well-being and has benefits from better sleep to lower stress. One study even found that walking in a park can give you the same feel-good sensations as Christmas.

If you don't have time to head to the park, try taking a walk at lunch. A lunchtime stroll can immediately improve your mood, increase relaxation and make you more enthusiastic about your work.

Tackle stress

Stress in small doses is a normal part of everyday life. But when you're overwhelmed at work or at home, your body can suffer. Too much stress can take a toll on your heart, your brain and your weight, leading to headaches and trouble sleeping, upset stomach and chest pain, reports WebMD.

It's hard to get rid of stress completely, but there are ways to tackle it when it comes barreling your way. Try a few moments of deep breathing, yoga or meditation to calm your brain and body. One recent study found that people who learned eight happiness strategies were more easily able to conquer stress and were happier. You can choose the skills that work for you, including writing in a gratitude journal, recognizing a positive event every day and practicing a small act of kindness daily.

Get a pet (or spend time with the one you have)

Photo: ABO PHOTOGRAPHY/Shutterstock

Dogs and cats are good for your health. If you have a pet, you know that great feeling when they crawl up in your lap or you go for a walk or play a game of fetch. Study after study shows how pets are good for everything from your heart health and longevity to your fitness and social life.

If you don't have a pet, consider getting one or at least maybe foster one or volunteer at a local shelter. If you do have a pet, dedicate yourself to spending more time with your four-legged pal.

Help someone out

You know you're helping others when you volunteer, but you will also reap the rewards of your kindness.

Studies have shown that people who volunteer for selfless reasons live longer than those who don't do charity work (or who do it because they have to). Other research has found that people who volunteer are less stressed and have lower blood pressure than those who don't help others in the community.

Get better sleep

woman trying to sleep
Getting a good sleep routine can mean less tossing and turning. Stock-Asso/Shutterstock

Just going to bed earlier or trying to sleep in longer doesn't count for getting better rest. You have to work on your sleep routine in order to wake up feeling amazing.

Make your bedroom inviting with comfortable sheets and no electronics. Have a nighttime ritual and go to bed and wake up at the same time — even on weekends. Don't nap during the day and watch your caffeine. Be smart about exercise late in the day and consider whether your pet should be sharing your space.

Clear the clutter

There are so many reasons to declutter in the new year. You can get rid of things you don't need and donate them to people who can use them instead.

But having piles of paper and loads of things all around you also can lead to anxiety and stress, according to WebMD. You can feel overwhelmed and become nonproductive when you have too much stuff. It can be bad for your mental health and your physical health because of the dust and mold that can collect.

Take your cluttering a little at a time. Tackle a drawer, a shelf, a closet or a room at a time. Divide items into things you can donate, throw away or keep.

Stand up

Photo: Juhan Sonin [CC by 2.0]/Flickr

If you sit at a desk most of the day, it's easy to forget to get up and take a break. But sedentary behavior like sitting at a computer or watching TV for hours on end is linked to a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes, among other problems.

Just because you exercise at the beginning or end of the day, that doesn't offset sitting for nearly eight or nine hours straight. The best thing to do is take lots of breaks throughout the day or consider a standing desk.

Fight the flu

If you didn't get your flu shot yet, you're not out of luck — or out of the woods. Ideally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests everyone get the flu shot by the end of October. Flu season is October through March, but peak activity is typically in February.

While you're at it, check to see if you're up to date on other vaccines. If you're over 50, for example, you're due for a shingles shot. And when was the last time you had a tetanus booster?