UB faculty experts offer tips on how to eat right, move more and stress less
By the University at Buffalo
Well, we’ve torn 2019 out of our calendars, which means we’ve resolved to make some changes to ensure that we’re happier and healthier in 2020.
Some of us are thinking about joining AA. Or maybe WW. Or perhaps we plan to saddle up on a brand-new Peloton. But as we all know, even the best-laid New Year’s plans can fall apart by Groundhog’s Day.
University at Buffalo faculty experts on health and wellness offered up some tips on how to make New Year’s resolutions stick this year.
“One reason why our good intentions and resolutions fail is that we try to do too much all at once,” said Anne B. Curtis, M.D., Charles and Mary Bauer Professor and chair of the department of medicine and SUNY distinguished professor in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “Do something small you can do regularly, if not every day, then gradually add to it,” she says.
Whether your goal is healthier eating, getting more exercise or being more in tune with your emotions, here’s their best advice.
1. You are what you eat. Improving eating habits doesn’t necessarily require joining a formal, and costly, program. It can be as simple as making a few small changes.
“I generally tell people to drink more water, eat mostly plants – this does not mean you have to be vegan or vegetarian if you don’t choose to be – and move more,” said Danielle Meyer, MS, RD, CSO, clinical director of the dietetic internship in the department of exercise and nutrition sciences, School of Public Health and Health Professions.
2. Banish the booze. After six weeks of excess, many people are embarking on a dry January – or maybe beyond.
One seldom-cited fact that might help that intention stick is that research has found some people get the “drunchies,” or drunk munchies.
“On top of consuming the calories from alcohol, which a typical beer has about 150 calories, you could also be consuming hundreds more while snacking,” said Jessica S. Kruger, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor of community health and health behavior in the School of Public Health and Health Professions.
“If you typically drink alcohol both nights of the weekend, make it one night or take a break from alcohol during the weekend nights,” suggested Catherine Cook-Cottone, professor of counseling, school and educational psychology in the Graduate School of Education. “Find creative nonalcoholic drinks that are fun and relaxing. End a hard day with a glass or two of herbal tea and see how much better you feel in the morning.”
3. Get a move on. Exercising more is probably the most common New Year’s resolution. And the one that most commonly fails fast.
One way to derail failure is, again, to start small.
“Resolving to get on a treadmill three times a week when one has never regularly exercised before is not likely to be sustainable for most people,” Curtis said. “Resolving to walk up two flights of stairs to the office instead of riding the elevator might be a better start.”
4. On the right track. Curtis also advised using a fitness tracker or app to track progress.
“I do think that fitness trackers and apps can be a boon to better fitness and health, especially because it is the way so many of us are wired to work today with electronic devices. Seeing a daily step count as you check the time naturally keeps your activity level in mind and encourages you to do more.”
5. Heavy metal. Pumping iron is another activity you will benefit from, even if you aren’t Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“Aerobic activity will help you live longer, but resistance training allows you to live better,” said Dave Hostler, chair of exercise and nutrition sciences in the School of Public Health and Health Professions. “Improving strength has many health benefits, including improved bone density and better balance, and it may prevent cognitive decline as we age. Resistance training helps manage Type 2 diabetes.”
6. Do this, not that. Chilling out can be a challenge for most of us. UB experts offered several ideas for better managing emotions.
Mark Seery, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, advised stressed-out people to control what they can, not what they can’t.
“Research shows that experiencing a sense of control is helpful when managing stressful situations,” he said. “Of course, it is never possible to control everything in a situation, so if you try for that impossible standard, you will always fall short and can feel out of control. Instead, look for what you can control around the edges.”
7. Talk to yourself. Seery also pointed out that, when thinking about stressful things, the point of view matters.
“It is normal to see the situation through our own eyes,” he said. “However, taking a third-person perspective – in other words, viewing yourself and the situation as though you were an outside observer or ‘fly on the wall’ – can create a more positive experience.
“Although it might seem odd at first, this can be accomplished by talking to yourself using pronouns like ‘he,’ ‘she’ and ‘you,’ or by referring to yourself by name, instead of thinking in terms of ‘I’ and ‘my.’ This doesn’t ignore your feelings, but it does help create a sense of psychological distance from them, which lessens their negative effects.”
8. All the feels. Michael J. Poulin, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, suggested separating yourself from the negative energy of other people.
“Remember that there's a difference between acknowledging their feelings versus taking on those feelings yourself,” he said. “While both approaches can lead us to act with kindness and generosity, the latter appears to lead to greater levels of stress that could be debilitating in the long run.”
9. Turn off the tube. During the winter, it can be easy to get sucked into a show on Netflix or another streaming service. But it isn’t necessarily the best way to relax.
“Try to avoid binge-watching, which is a sedentary behavior and can also be bad for your mental health,” Kruger said. “Studies have shown that people who self-identified as binge-watchers had higher self-reported rates of stress, anxiety and depression. Do yourself a favor for your physical and mental health by limiting the amount of shows you watch.”
10. One size does not fit all. The bottom line is that “There is no single recipe for ‘perfect’ coping,” Seery said.
He added, “Finding what works for you is key. That said, some things people do to cope with stress are harmful, like acting out in ways that hurt themselves or others. When choosing among beneficial options, it is OK to have different preferences for managing stress than other people. If one technique doesn’t work for you, try another – you aren’t doomed to be overwhelmed by stress.”