For many, resolutions and health goals are connected in some way or another to a desire for weight loss. But true health is about so much more than a number on the scale. If you’re going after a change, whether tied to fat loss or not, there are four universal areas I suggest prioritizing focusing on in order to see real, lasting progress — “the four Ms of health.”
These groupings are inspired by the “4 M” framework by Jade Teta, ND, CSCS, but I added my own twist on them based on what I’ve seen be most effective for clients. (The “M” alliteration also makes it a little more fun and easier to remember!) Check them out and consider how you’re doing with your habits in each area.
In my experience, this element is the most important of the four, as it serves as the foundation for all of your other health goals. I like to break it down even further into three influential areas:
- Social: Who do you surround yourself with? What are you intaking through social media or TV? Think about how you can adjust your habits and routines to better support your mental health. For example, you might unfollow people who make you feel self-conscious or judgmental, or start a new podcast you enjoy versus binge-watching a mindless show on Netflix.
- Stress: Are you intentionally managing your stress? Can you identify signs of stress as they come on? Simply getting outside can be a great stress-relief technique, as can breathwork and meditation. Life Time has meditations to try in our on demand classes, while there are also apps such as Calm and Headspace that can help guide you.
- Sleep: How much sleep do you average a night? How do you feel after a good versus poor night’s sleep? Shoot for seven to eight hours of rest each night and begin preparing your body for sleep about two hours before bedtime. This includes limiting screen time, dimming lights, and doing something to relax.
Human beings are meant to move! Aim for 8,000 to 10,000 steps per day to make sure you’re not too sedentary. Whether you use an Apple Watch or pedometer, there are a lot of options for trackers to help you monitor this goal.
The more you can do your movement outside, the better. Nature provides all sorts of benefits for physical and mental health. If walking isn’t your thing, there are lots of other creative ways to move. I have a friend who jumps on a mini trampoline in the mornings, or as silly as it sounds, you could do a TikTok dance challenge. Even if you don’t nail the dance, you’re still moving your body!
Nutrition can be a real challenge for a lot of people: Many feel like they need to follow a certain diet or jump on the latest food fad. And while I’m all for things that work for your body, you do want to question if your approach is sustainable. When the diet is over, what’s the next part of your plan?
I encourage my clients to keep it simple. Look at your plate: Does it contain mostly vegetables? Do you have ample protein? Once those staples are there, fill in the rest with healthy fats and quality carbohydrates. It may not be sexy, but it works.
You also want to make sure you’re staying well-hydrated, as well as moderating your consumption of alcohol and caffeine and limiting processed foods and added sugars.
Oftentimes, weight-loss goals stem from wanting to look “lean” or “toned” — attributes that are the result of building and maintaining lean muscle mass. While increasing muscle may change your physique and boost your confidence, it’s also important for many other aspects of health, including supporting longevity as we age.
If you’re not currently weight training, a good starting point is to aim for two to three sessions per week. You can begin by using your own body weight as resistance; from there add equipment such as resistance bands, dumbbells, and kettlebells.
There are many strength-training workout options: Connect with a trainer, take a group fitness class, or use a virtual program. My advice is to try anything and everything until you find a style of training you enjoy doing consistently — that is what’s going to drive results.
As you look ahead to the rest of the year, think about each of these four areas. Start by focusing on just one goal in one of the areas — preferably the one that will make the biggest difference in your life — for about three months. Once you get there, keep progressing! By the end of 2021, you’ll have achieved so much more than just losing a few pounds.