In a recent TV interview, actor Amitabh Bachchan was asked about his New Year resolution. The 73-year-old replied: “Why wait till the New Year to make one? If you really want to do something, or quit something, do it today...waiting for a certain date only shows lack of resolve."

How true that is! Most New Year resolutions start out strong but fizzle out within a month or two. Why not skip the ritual? Instead, let’s make a commitment to simply live better this year.

Here are some ways you can do that.

Give up soda

Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, liver damage, osteoporosis, acid reflux...the list of health conditions linked to soda consumption is unending.

Consumption of soda leads to an increase in dopamine production in the body, stimulating the brain’s pleasure centres. That is also what happens when you consume recreational drugs.

So swap your fizzy drinks for healthier beverages like green or herbal tea, organic black coffee, fresh lime water, even sparkling water.

Get 8 hours of sleep every night

Sleep deprivation has the same effect on the immune system as physical stress or illness. Let’s look at some alarming facts: Sleeping less than 6 hours a night more than triples your risk of high blood pressure. Women who get less than 4 hours of sleep a night double their chances of dying from heart attack.

If you’re trying to lose weight, make sure you get enough shut-eye. Lack of sleep decreases the level of the fat-regulating hormone leptin, while increasing the hunger hormone ghrelin.

Apps such as Sleep Time, Sleep Cycle and MotionX 24/7 can now help you track the number of hours you actually sleep, not just lie on the bed. The Sleep Cycle app, for instance, uses sound analysis to identify sleep states by tracking movements in bed. It uses a wake-up phase (30 minutes by default) that ends at your desired alarm time. During this phase, Sleep Cycle will monitor signals from your body to wake you up softly, when you are in the lightest possible sleep state.

Have a high-fibre diet

A diet high in fibre can help prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

You can increase fibre intake by eating more vegetables, fruits and nuts. Psyllium husk is a good source of fibre; so are flax, hemp and chia seeds. Among fruits, apples, papaya and berries have high fibre content.

Eat fermented vegetables

Cultured dairy like yogurt and kefir, and vegetables like pickled cucumbers, sauerkraut and kimchi, contain much higher levels of good bacteria than probiotic supplements, making them ideal for optimizing your gut flora. They may also play a role in controlling acne, preventing obesity, even reducing the risk of cancer.

This beneficial flora tends to get washed out with the excessive use of antibiotics and excess intake of sugar, so try and keep a check on these.

Eat good-quality protein

Protein is the main building block for muscles and bones. For optimal health, an average adult needs about 1g of protein per kilogram of lean body mass, not total body weight. In this formula, you must first determine your lean body mass. To do that, subtract your percentage body fat from 100. For example, if you have 40% body fat (which can be determined by doing a complete body fat analysis test), then you have 60% lean body mass.

Then multiply that percentage (in this case 0.6) by your current weight to get your lean body mass in pounds.

Meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, nuts, hemp and chia seeds, spirulina and sprouts are good sources of protein.

Stay active

Setting a goal of taking 7,000-10,000 steps a day (about 6-8km) can go a long way in increasing movement. You can use a pedometer or any fitness watch to count your steps.

Also, if you have a desk job, stand up for at least 5 minutes in an hour and stretch. Make it a point to gain flexibility, which is important to age well and with less injury. Pilates and yoga are some good options to help increase flexibility.

Meditate

Back pain, insomnia, acid reflux and hypertension are some of the many stress-related health issues. A simple way to incorporate relaxation techniques into your life is to meditate first thing in the morning.

Check vitamin D levels

Low levels of vitamin D can increase your risk of multiple sclerosis, depression, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Dementia and several types of cancer are also directly linked to low vitamin D levels. So do get your vitamin D levels tested.

Sunlight is the best way to get this sunshine vitamin, but there are some food sources, like egg yolk and fish. Food sources, however, are not enough, so supplements in the form of capsules and injections may be required—take them only after consulting your doctor.

This year, try making a simple commitment to live healthier by making small, long-term changes. After all, it’s about living a little bit differently, a little bit better, than you’ve done so far.

Vishakha Shivdasani is a Mumbai-based medical doctor with a fellowship in nutrition. She specializes in controlling diabetes, cholesterol and obesity.

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