Step-by-step instructions for a better year

Step-by-step instructions for a better year.

For many of us in 2024, improving our health is important, but we also know that making a bunch of changes all at once in January is probably not going to work.

It’s actually more likely that we’ll be successful if we make one change at a time and remember that some things work better at certain times of the year than others.

Our health chart shows you which month of the year is best for starting new habits that will improve your physical and mental health.

January: Don’t drink as much

January: Don't drink as much
January: Don’t drink as much

A lot of people—up to nine million last year, according to the organization Alcohol Change—don’t drink or do drugs this month. And there are good reasons why January is the best month to cut back on or stop drinking alcohol. We’re not spending much time with other people because it’s cold, and we may be looking forward to a fresh start after a period of overindulging.

Rosamund Dean, who wrote Mindful Drinking: How Cutting Down Can Change Your Life, says that people should go without alcohol for a month, even if their long-term goal is balance instead of abstinence, to get used to the idea of handling life’s ups and downs without it. She says, “Once you see the benefits, you might not want to go back.”

Among the more than 6,000 people who took part in Dry January in 2019, 81% felt like they had more control over their drinking, 70% slept better, and 65% were healthier in general. And these effects can last. Six months after Dry January, 70% of people who took part in a study by the University of Sussex were still drinking less unhealthy alcohol.

February: Get out in the cold and work out

Even though it might be scary, working out outside in the cold might be better for you than going to the gym. In 2018, the Sanford Burnham Prebys medical research center in California did a study that found that moving in cold temperatures turns on a peptide called sarcolipin. Sarcolipin helps us burn fat.

When it’s cold, fitness trainer and founder of Tej-Fit Tej Patel says that plyometric training is the best way to get your body warm fast. This type of training includes short, intense bursts of activity like sprints, jumping squats, and lunges.

February: Get out in the cold and work out
February: Get out in the cold and work out

Even a fast 20-minute walk through a nearby park in the middle of February could be good for you in more ways than one. During the winter, it’s important to get outside into fresh air and natural light to keep our circadian rhythms in balance and protect our mental health from seasonal affective disorder, which experts think is linked to the way the natural sleep/wake cycle is thrown off at this time. Finnish people work out outside two to three times a week, all year long. The country is thought to be the happiest in the world.

The month of March To get rid of hay fever, eat.

Over 49% of people in the UK have experienced the signs of hay fever, which include itchy eyes, stuffy nose, and tiredness in the spring. Few people know that what they eat can help protect them, especially if they start making changes a few months before their signs usually show up.

When our immune system makes histamine, we get hay fever. “Food can help us lower our output of histamine quite effectively,” says Laura Southern of London Food Therapy. “Eat less aged cheeses, fermented foods, legumes, and alcoholic drinks like cask-aged wines and whiskies. These foods and drinks are high in histamine.”

The month of March To get rid of hay fever, eat.
The month of March To get rid of hay fever, eat.

More fresh fruits and veggies, fresh meat, fish, and eggs are low in histamine. You can also eat foods that help the body get rid of extra histamine. Quercetin, a plant substance that can be found in apples, onions, and fresh berries, does this. Before hay fever season starts, taking pills with quercetin and vitamin C can also help lessen its effects.   

April: Start running

A study released in the International Journal of Environmental Research & Public Health in 2023 found that running for just 75 minutes a week can add an amazing 12 years to your life. That’s a great reason to put on your running shoes and give Couch to 5k a try.

April: Start running
April: Start running

It’s much better to start running in the spring, when the weather is starting to get warmer, than in January as a new year’s goal. Tej Patel says, “The London Marathon is held in April for a good reason: the mild weather is perfect for long runs.” More sunshine makes you feel better and gives you more energy, which makes starting a new running routine more appealing. It stays lighter longer, which is great if you’re a woman who doesn’t like running at night. You should start seeing changes in how you look and feel by the holiday season if you start now.

May — Start working out with weights

Our bodies need strength training, and it’s even more important as we get older. As we age, our muscle mass naturally decreases. Keeping it up is important for bone structure, heart health, brain power, and insulin sensitivity. Aside from that, the best way to lose fat is to build muscle.

May — Start working out with weights
May — Start working out with weights

Personal trainer Mandy Wong Oultram says, “I’m really excited about resistance training and how it can help fight the bad effects of getting older.” Like when we run, taking advantage of the fact that we naturally have more energy and drive in the spring will help us stick to our plans. She says, “It’s a type of exercise that can be done inside on machines at the gym or outside with bands, weights, or bodyweight moves like squats.” “You will notice a big difference in two or three months if you work out two or three times a week to get your body ready for summer.”

June: Make your brain stronger

Brain stimulation can help stop cognitive loss and make people less likely to get dementia, which kills 900,000 people in Britain every year and is the leading cause of death in the country. A study by the University of Exeter and King’s College London looked at 19,000 people and found that people who regularly did word and number puzzles like Sudoku, Wordle, and crosswords did better “across a range of tasks assessing memory, attention, and reasoning.”

June: Make your brain stronger
June: Make your brain stronger

Researchers at the University of Liege in Belgium found that brain activity changes with the seasons. They found that performance on tasks that require sustained attention was best around the summer solstice, which this year falls on June 20. This is the best time to start brain training.

“If you’re already doing puzzles, keep doing them. Do more, do different ones, and do ones that are more difficult,” says Dr. Tim Beanland, head of knowledge at the Alzheimer’s Society. His book Mind Games has more than 150 puzzles that are designed to work on different parts of the brain.

July: Quit using your phone too much

The comparison website Uswitch did a study last year that found the average person scrolls through 43ft 3in of information on their phone every day, which is the same as walking three miles a year. But the bad effects can include headaches, neck and back pain, trouble sleeping, sadness, anxiety, and trouble focusing.

July: Stop being hooked on your phone
July: Stop being hooked on your phone

It might be a good idea to try to end a bad relationship with your phone in July, especially if you’re going on vacation. Hilda Burke, a psychotherapist and author of The Phone Addiction Workbook, says, “The contextual side of habits is very strong.” “Getting our phones first thing in the morning is something we do without thinking; it’s like muscle memory.” Getting out of our normal routine and into a new place is a great way to start new habits. You should be more aware of your choices now. For example, don’t let your phone into your bedroom and only check it at certain times.

“We can see the benefits of not being hooked to the screen: we feel calmer and less stressed. People are more motivated by prizes than by punishments, so getting the benefits makes us more likely to keep going when we get home.

August: Begin to meditate

New York University psychologists did research that showed doing mindfulness meditation for just 13 minutes a day can help with things like improving sleep and happiness, lowering stress and anxiety, and making you smarter.

August: Begin to meditate
August: Begin to meditate

In August, when things tend to move more slowly, it’s a great time to start adding a few minutes to your daily routine. An expert in health and wellness, Donna Noble, says, “September usually brings a new set of work deadlines, commitments, and activities with the kids. It’s great to use August as a way to avoid that stress.” “Being ready for the busy fall months will help you handle anything that comes your way.”

Noble says that people should go outside when it’s warm and sunny outside. “Go to a park or your garden and find a quiet spot. Let the sounds of nature calm you down,” she says. “The Happy Place app by Fearne Cotton has a number of exercises that can help you concentrate and breathe. It works best for me to do it first thing in the morning, when it’s calm and quiet. When I’m done, I feel calmer and more ready to face the day.

September: Get your gut health back on track

Researchers have found that the health of the bacteria, fungus, and viruses that live in our guts affects all of our health, from our immune systems to our mental health, says Laura Southern. Improving your gut health in early fall is the best way to avoid bugs and the winter blues over the next few months.

September: Get your gut health back on track
September: Get your gut health back on track

She says that the first thing you should do is cut back on as much ultra-processed food and sugar as you can, since these foods make more “bad” germs. She says, “The more diverse your gut microbiome is, the better your resistance to infection. To do this, try to eat a variety of plants, eat more whole grains for fiber, eat fermented foods like kimchi and live yogurt, and think about taking a probiotic supplement as well.”

October — Vit D should be taken.

A functional medicine specialist at Optimise Health, Dr. Melanie Angelova, says that vitamin D is important for our bones, teeth, muscles, immune systems, and even our happiness. Vitamin D is made when direct sunshine hits the skin. But in Britain in the fall and winter, there isn’t enough sunlight, so it’s important to take supplements.

October — Vit D should be taken.
October — Vit D should be taken.

It’s something Dr. Angelova says you can take all year long: “The best time to start increasing your dose would be from October all the way through April.” She also says that you should add these other supplements: It is said that vitamin C is a very strong antioxidant that can help keep you from getting sick. Zinc is an important part of many enzyme processes in the immune system. It can also help keep you from getting sick and speed up your recovery. Curcumin is a powerful molecule that reduces inflammation and can help your defense system. This herb can be taken as a pill or mixed with ginger to make a juice that is great for the winter.  

November: Start doing yoga

People have known for thousands of years that this practice has health benefits, such as making bones stronger, lowering depression, improving brain health, and, according to a new study from the University of Rochester, even lowering the risk of cancer.

November: Start doing yoga
November: Start doing yoga

It can be hard to work out outside in the winter, so taking a 15-minute Yoga with Adrienne class online at home or going to a studio near you for a lesson could be especially helpful. Donna Noble says, “Mindful breathing and gentle stretches help the lymphatic system work better. The lymphatic system is an important part of your immune system and helps you fight off winter bugs.” Flowing patterns and changing poses are also good for circulation.

It’s common for muscles and joints to feel stiff and hurt in the winter. Yoga can help by relaxing and strengthening the body. Also, being more flexible can help keep you from getting hurt, which happens more often in the winter, especially to older people.

December: Get to bed earlier

Even though December is party season, it’s still a good idea to put sleep first on nights when we’re at home. The sleep center at St. Hedwig Hospital in Berlin recently did a study that found people slept an hour longer in December than in June. REM sleep, which is the most active stage of sleep when we dream and our heart rate rises, lasted 30 minutes longer in winter than in summer. This might be because the days are getting shorter, which makes our bodies make more melatonin. Our metabolism speeds up when it’s cold, which is another reason why we need more sleep and are often hungry.

December: Get to bed earlier
December: Get to bed earlier

“Our study shows they will be missing out on one to two hours of sleep each night during the winter,” said Dieter Kunz, one of the study’s lead authors. “Most people keep the same sleep schedule all year.” Heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and sadness are all more likely to happen if you don’t get enough sleep. Instead, the study said we should try to get to bed earlier in the winter to meet our higher needs.