Most of us make resolutions to be healthier in the coming year than we were in the one we’re leaving behind. And 2024 will be no different. To help us reach that goal, we asked Theresa Nutt, director of health and wellness coaching at UCI’s Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute, for three tips on greater well-being during the new year.
The Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute is part of UCI Health, Orange County’s healthcare leader. It provides individualized, patient-centered care and hosts community outreach, events and classes for obtaining optimal health.
Nutt says that before incorporating her tips, there’s something more important we need to do first. “Make space for yourself on your own priority list,” she says. “That’s what people always miss. First and foremost, make time for yourself and your well-being. Because if you don’t do that, reaching your goals will be difficult.”
Start your day with mindfulness
Mindfulness is a therapeutic technique in which you focus your awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations.
Nutt recommends starting your day gently with mindfulness. What does this mean?
“It can start by taking two deep breaths,” she says. “It can start by not getting on your devices right away. Most people wake up and start scrolling on their phones, which gets them instantly distracted from what’s happening in themselves.”
Nutt says this morning routine can be formal, like taking a yoga or tai chi class, or as simple as stretching or sitting quietly for five minutes in meditation. Whatever you choose, she says, it’s important to start your day relaxed so that you can set your intentions for the day and prepare to see them through.
Mindfulness has been shown to provide great health benefits, such as reducing anxiety and depression, lowering blood pressure, improving sleep, and significantly decreasing chronic pain. The Samueli Institute offers a host of mindfulness activities and workshops – even tai chi classes, “which you can join with a supportive community and then take what you learned home for your morning mindfulness routine,” Nutt says.
Motion is the potion
Simply put, move! Nutt says it’s vital to get more activity in our day. “It can be simple things like parking farther away, taking the stairs at work, standing up every hour or just at least stretching your body so it’s not in the bent-over, hunched position,” she says. “That’s where a lot of pain comes from.”
Nutt’s advice is to find walking buddies at work or home so that it becomes a social activity. “I think a lot of times, especially now, we’re all working more remotely or in a hybrid way, and it’s pretty easy to be disconnected,” she says. “A gym membership would be helpful, but that may or may not be your thing. So it can be as simple as meeting up with somebody to go walking at the end of your workday or taking your partner or your children with you.”
Overall, Nutt notes, we should be getting at least half an hour of exercise five days a week.
Studies show that walking, for instance, 30 minutes a day for five days a week can reduce the risk of heart disease, lessen joint pain, boost energy and improve your mood.
Nutt says that if you struggle to find opportunities to move, health and wellness coaches at the Samueli Institute can evaluate your daily habits and guide you in turning small changes into a daily routine.
And if you’re recovering from a heart attack, the institute’s cardiac rehabilitation program can help you improve your physical fitness in a safe way that protects and strengthens your heart.
Cook more meals at home
With fast-paced lives, many of us opt to eat out and consume meals that are convenient and fast. Nutt says the healthier option is to prepare and eat meals at home as much as possible.
“The reason being that most every time you eat out, you will get more sodium, sugars, fat and calories than you would if you would make the very same thing at home,” she says. “Even just one or two meals a week that are made at home can make a big difference.”
Nutt advocates prepping for meals ahead of time: “We know everyone’s really busy, so maybe spend a day on the weekend to create your recipes and to cut up your vegetables so that they’re good to go when you need them.”
She says that making our own meals gives us more control over the amount of sodium, fat and calories we consume. Plus, cooking and eating together can help families connect more, and – best of all – it saves money!
“We know that choosing healthy ingredients and learning to cook them yourself can be overwhelming, and this can be a huge barrier for people,” Nutt says. “But nutritional education can really help with this.”
One great feature of the Samueli Institute is the Mussallem Nutritional Education Center, where executive chef Jessica VanRoo runs culinary programs in a state-of-the-art kitchen with eight cooking stations, each equipped with an oven, stove top, microwave oven and plenty of chopping space.
VanRoo and her instructors teach community members the nutrition and cooking skills they need to take back control of their kitchens. The classes include sharing healthy, immune-boosting recipes that are easy to prepare; meal prep tips; and tantalizing cooking lessons, such as in the ever-popular stir fry course, where you can learn to make tasty, healthy sauces for your meal.
Nutt says that if you need more personalized help with your food choices, registered dietitians at the Samueli Institute can help you develop a unique plan for your health needs that can guide you as you choose recipes and ingredients for your home-cooked meals. And if you’re struggling to lose weight, there’s the Integrative Healthy Weight Medical Group to offer you clinical and peer support for your journey to improved health and well-being, along with access to integrative treatment modalities that foster weight loss.