This year, resolve to be good to yourself, one habit at a time

January, a time of resolutions, clean slates and fresh starts. This year, the Albert Lea Blue Zones Leadership Team encourages you to be good to yourself. Treat yourself kindly. Be gentle with yourself. Take small steps that will add up to bigger and better health impacts.

Discard the diets. Forget about a certain weight or size. Instead, build habits that are good to you and for you. To start your journey to living longer and better, take the online True Vitality Test.

This test is part of the national Blue Zones project, a healthy lifestyle initiative. It consists of 12 questions and takes only 3 -5 minutes to complete. No family health history needed. No fee required. The True Vitality Test calculates your life expectancy and how long you’ll stay healthy. Blue Zones then sends you personalized recommendations for getting the most good years out of life. Your submissions and results are kept private.

You will need to register at the end of the test, with an email address and password, in order to receive your results. The test is also available in Spanish.

The results may recommend changes in diet, such as eating more greens and less meat, or strategies for managing stress. It all depends on your current habits.

As you implement healthy changes, note these key messages from “The Blue Zones” by Dan Buettner, a best-selling author, world explorer and renowned researcher.

The most important thing to do: Focus on changing your environment and not your behavior.

“We are where we live. Shape your surroundings, because your surroundings shape you,” Buettner advises.

Let’s repeat that: Change your surroundings. Changes in behavior will follow. This concept can be hard to wrap your mind around. It’s all about setting yourself up for success. Here are two examples:

    • Stock your kitchen with fruits, vegetables and nuts. Send junk food into exile. If there are no cookies in the pantry, then you can’t binge on cookies. By replacing the junk food with healthy options, you change your environment and a change in behavior – healthy eating – will follow.
    • Add an exercise bike or treadmill to the TV room, and then use it while watching TV. By using the exercise equipment instead of sitting on the couch, you change your surroundings and a change in behavior – more movement – will follow.

Please note that the expectation is not to eliminate all junk food and couch surfing. Savoring an occasional slice of red velvet cake or weekend binge of Netflix can boost your mental well-being. The key is “occasional.” Again, it’s about changing your environment to develop healthy habits.

A few more tips:

    • Give yourself time. It takes 5 – 12 weeks for changes in behavior to become habits.
    • Start with low-hanging fruit: What are the easiest changes you can make at first? For example, if one suggestion is to eat more vegetables, start by adding one vegetable to one meal a day.
    • Do not make more than three changes at a time. Start with a few, hone them into habits, and then add more changes.
    • Include a relative or friend for accountability. If you make plans to walk with a friend, you’re much more likely to do it. If you make a pact with your spouse to stop stocking cookies, then you both have a higher chance of succeeding.
    • Reward yourself. Before heading straight for the bakery, think beyond food rewards. How about a massage or new golf clubs instead?

More information and ideas:

    • Check out a Blue Zones book from the Albert Lea Public Library.
    • Register for the Journey to Wellness, a bundle of key information and tools for healthy living, from Mayo Clinic Health System.
    • Sign up for the Blue Zones checklists for setting up your home.
    • Move the fun way with Pickleball Play or the Rock Wall through Albert Lea Community Education. Cooking, fitness, experiential education opportunities and many more classes also offered.
    • Join the Albert Lea Family YMCA for aquatics, fitness classes and sports.
    • Walk the Blue Zones Walkway around Fountain Lake.
    • Listen to the Happiness Lab podcast about a “self-talk workout.”

Coming next month:

  • Learn about the importance of belonging and how you can develop that in Albert Lea.