January Health Challenge: 31 Inspiring Wellness Goals for a Healthy Year

One simple (achievable) step each day can set you on the path to health and wellness all year long

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Data suggest eight out of ten people who make New Year’s resolutions give up on their goals by…February 1st. And only 8% manage to sustain their new habit all year long.

One big reason for this, says Haley Perlus, PhD, a doctor of sport and exercise psychology, is that people don’t have a way to hold themselves accountable when things get tough—and unfortunately, it isn’t enough to simply want to change.

“Big changes and lofty goals do not occur like magic,” Dr. Perlus tells The Healthy @Reader’s Digest. “They take a lot of work, but it’s hard to do that on our own because change takes us out of our comfort zone and habits.” She adds: “The larger the goals, the more critical it is to have some outside structure and accountability, especially as time goes by after the ‘honeymoon’ phase of the excitement wanes and the challenges arise.”

How to make your health goals stick this year

One of the things that smart people know about making New Year’s resolutions is that successful change starts by making clear, specific goals, and then coming up with steps to achieve them. Dr. Perlus says in psychology, there is a core principle: “If you can measure it, you can change it.” This means tracking your goals provides inspiration to start, motivation to keep going, and a sense of accomplishment as you progress.

Sound overwhelming? We’ve got you! We combed through a year’s worth of advice from our experts and curated a one-month plan to help you improve your health in five critical areas:

  • Hydration and nutrition
  • Movement
  • Reducing stress and maximizing sleep
  • Mental health and relationships
  • Fortifying your brain

We’ve designed the plan to be no-fail: each day you get one totally doable activity, along with the scientific reason why it’s good for you and what benefits you can expect to see. So recruit all your friends (studies show it’s easier to stick to goals when you share them with others!), print out our challenge and start checking the days off. In one month, you’ll feel like a new person!

For wellness inspiration all year long, subscribe to The Healthy @Reader’s Digest newsletter

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Week One

Sunday, 1/1: Drink your body weight in ounces of water

Use our calculator to figure out exactly how much water you need to be drinking in a day. Then get your favorite water bottle (or buy a new one!), figure out how many times you need to be emptying it, and get drinking.

Pro tip: set a timer on your phone to remind you to drink up.

Cheerful women doing push-ups on retaining wall at park
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Monday, 1/2: Try five minutes of mobility exercises

Strong exercise days are great, but exercise doesn’t have to mean running a marathon or killing it in a Crossfit gym. In fact, increasing your range of motion and flexibility with mobility exercises is one of the best ways to stay functionally fit throughout your life. One orthopedic doctor told us there’s a chance that doing mobility exercises may even help you live longer.

Improve your mobility for the long run with these four simple mobility exercises from a personal trainer (five minutes is all you need!).

Ailing Woman Rests in Bed
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Tuesday, 1/3: Try magnesium for better sleep

Magnesium offers potent sleep benefits. It can promote relaxation, reduce tightness in your muscles, and help you drift off faster. One holistic nutritionist told us magnesium is a best-kept secret for sleep—for many people can deliver an even greater effect than melatonin.

Add more of these magnesium-rich foods to your diet, or check out our team’s favorite magnesium supplement as the first product featured on this list.

right ear to neck stretch
Courtesy Mackenzie Williams

Wednesday, 1/4: Stretch for five minutes, three times today

A quick stretching break every few hours can energize you, improve focus, increase flexibility, and is a great way to reduce the stress that can creep up during your day. Today, create three small windows of time to dedicate a few minutes to these stretching exercises for stress relief.

affectionate couple at home together
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Thursday, 1/5: Call a loved one

Science has shown over and over again that the thing that has the most powerful effect on your health and happiness is having meaningful healthy relationships. Take a moment today to call a loved one you haven’t spoken to in awhile and catch up. Take it from a mom of five: family doesn’t take up time—they are the reason we have time.

pouring coffee into a mug with a heart on it
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Friday, 1/6: Swap out one alcoholic beverage

This weekend, give your liver a break by skipping cocktails and sipping one of the best drinks for your liver.

happy man kayaking down a river
Ippei Naoi/getty images

Saturday, 1/7: Do a brain exercise for 15 minutes

It’s not just your body that needs exercise to stay healthy—your brain also benefits from workouts, both of the physical and mental variety. Pick one of these intriguing brain exercises likely to make you sharper.

woman looking at calendar in the kitchen, holding a mug
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Week Two

Sunday, 1/8: Prepare for a good week

Do you get the “Sunday scaries“? Having a plan for your week will help reduce stress so take some time today to go through your schedule and figure out what you need, including noting big projects, items you need from the store, and social activities.

close up on hands of anonymous Woman Using Iphone with blurred city background
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Monday, 1/9: Turn off your phone after dinner

Our phones are an essential part of our daily lives but too much phone use can turn into addiction and cause depression. Make sure you’re taking regular tech breaks to protect your sanity. Turn off your phone and other screens after dinner and instead play a boardgame with a friend, read a book, or go to bed early.

inside a Oncologist's refrigerator
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Tuesday, 1/10: Add a cancer-fighting fruit or vegetable to your meal

Having good nutrition isn’t just about avoiding unhealthy foods, but also about adding in nutrients you might be short on. Pick one of the best foods to fight cancer (all recommended by an oncology dietitian) to work into a meal today.

Directly above of two men, embracing and cuddling in bed at home, in the morning, face to face
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Wednesday, 1/11: Address your snoring

About half of adults snore sometimes, and 25% snore chronically. This takes a serious toll on your nightly sleep, as well as how you feel during the day.

If you snore, take time today to try a snoring relief product or call a sleep apnea doctor for a full sleep evaluation. Or, try what a sleep doctor says is the best position to sleep in if you snore.

Young woman looking away while exercising with resistance band at home
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Thursday, 1/12: Do a 20-minute resistance-training routine

Strength training is essential for good health, especially as you age, but you don’t have to have a gym membership or fancy home gym to work your muscles. Try our resistance band program for a strength workout you can do anywhere, anytime.

Married couple embracing on sofa
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Friday, 1/13: Plan a cozy night in

Too many of us are overscheduled and under-rested. You’ve heard of a “mental health day”—now, ease your mind by scheduling a “mental health night.” Clear your schedule tonight or a night this weekend. Instead, stay in and pamper yourself.

Shot of a senior couple warming up before a run outside
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Saturday, 1/14: Find a workout buddy

One of the best ways to stay motivated and stick to your exercise goals is to exercise with a friend. Today’s goal is to reach out to a friend, coworker, significant other, or relative and set up a time to go for a walk together.

Barbecued salmon, fried potatoes and vegetables on wooden background
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Week Three

Sunday, 1/15: Eat for your brain

No, zombies, we didn’t say “eat brains.” Rather, there are some foods that have powerful brain boosting benefits, from reducing cognitive decline to improving creativity and memory. Try a new recipe for dinner today, like this recipe for a sharper mind from beloved TV chef, Alton Brown, that uses salmon, kale, and quinoa—all brain-healthy ingredients.

Mother doing yoga at home surrounded by children
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Monday, 1/16: Take a yoga lunch break

Did you know that yoga can improve your gut health? Whether you’re new to yoga or a seasoned vet, this simple 10-minute yoga workout is perfect for sneaking in a quick yoga break during lunch. You don’t even need a mat!

Milk bubbles, extreme close-up
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Tuesday, 1/17: Try one new hydrating beverage

Water isn’t the only way to hydrate and everything you drink counts toward your hydration goals! Check out our list of ultra-hydrating beverages that aren’t water and choose one to try today.

mature man lying on his bed and sleeping
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Wednesday, 1/18: Treat yourself to a new blanket or sleep aid

When it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, the little things can make a big difference. Skip these sleep aids that make insomnia worse and invest in a new blanket. In fact, science suggests weighted blankets are more powerful to beat insomnia than even melatonin supplements.

Senior father and adult son having a good time on beach at sunset
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Thursday, 1/19: Write a thank-you note

Counting your blessings and expressing gratitude to people around you benefits you mentally and physically. Take five minutes today to write a text—or even better, a handwritten card—to tell someone how much you appreciate them. It will make your day, as well as theirs.

High angle view of Southeast Asian person holding fried chicken wings
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Friday, 1/20: Replace one processed food or snack with a whole option

Eating ultra processed food is linked with increased risk of disease and premature death. Thankfully, just a few simple swaps will reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer and will lengthen your life. Start by choosing one of these heart-healthy foods cardiologists stock in their fridges.

Woman knitting while sitting by plant on chair
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Saturday, 1/21: Try a new hobby

Fun fact: scientists have identified knitting as the most relaxing hobby. In fact, Broadway star Sutton Foster swears by crocheting and cross-stitching as her favorite way to decompress. But even if you’re not a fan of needlecrafts, there are plenty of fun new hobbies to try.

Mid adult man with closed eyes taking a nap on deck chair at porch
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Week Four

Sunday, 1/22: Take a nap

A Sunday afternoon nap is one of life’s best little luxuries! Here’s how to take the most refreshing nap. (It can even reset your brain, says a neuroscientist.)

three people walking outside with yoga mats for bone strengthening yoga
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Monday, 1/23: Do yoga for 15 minutes

Yoga is powerful medicine for your body, mind, and soul! It also happens to be one of the most accessible forms of exercise—you can find programs for any age, health, stage of life, and ability level. Start with these 12 best yoga poses to strengthen your bones.

Oh—and here’s here’s how long you should hold a yoga pose, according to a sports medicine doctor who’s been practicing yoga for 50 years!

Hard Boiled Egg cut in half with some sprinkled pepper on a marble countertop surface
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Tuesday, 1/24: Eat a serving of protein at every meal

Eating more protein can help you reduce sugar cravings, feel more satiated throughout the day, and help you lose weight. Start off your day right with these healthy high-protein breakfast ideas.

(Worried about eating too much protein? Here’s what you need to know about protein and kidney health.)

First morning sunlight
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Wednesday, 1/25: Meditate for 3 minutes

Meditation is one of the simplest, yet most powerful, ways we have to reduce stress and anxiety—yet that simplicity can be why so many of us forget to do it (or put it off intentionally).

But meditation doesn’t have to be boring! Today, do one of our mini-meditations for stress relief. Supplement it with these herbs that can help relieve stress.

Full Length Of Couple Dancing On Sidewalk Against Yellow Wall
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Thursday, 1/26: Practice these brain-healthy habits

Make brain health a priority just like you do your physical and social health. Start by trying one of these nine clever memory exercises.

Group of dancers sitting on floor talking and rest
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Friday, 1/27: Try a free day at a local gym

January is peak time for gyms, and many are offering New Year’s specials and freebies, including a free workout or free day pass. Take advantage of the offers and try a free day at gym nearby to find one you like.

To feel safer and more confident, follow the post-pandemic gym hygiene rules and avoid these common workout mistakes.

close up of bowl of Porridge oatmeal with banana blueberries and walnuts
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Saturday, 1/28: Eat oatmeal for breakfast

Eating oatmeal for breakfast will help you stay fuller longer, have healthier gut bacteria, and can prevent weight gain and heart disease. Try these fun recipes to eat oatmeal every day of the week.

Young man with Down syndrome sitting and embracing with his tutor after painting indoors at home, homeschooling.
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Week Five

Sunday, 1/29: Do a good deed

Volunteering has numerous health benefits, and research shows helping others is one of the best ways to feel instantly happier.

Thankfully, there are just about a million different ways to make a positive difference in someone’s life—like these 110 tiny acts of random kindness that make the world a nicer place.

Women hand squeezes lemon juice in glass with soda water on marble table background
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Monday, 1/30: Add something fun to your water

You’ll want to drink more water if it tastes good—so today, experiment with adding fruit or veggie slices, frozen fruit, fresh mint, or a healthy flavored drink mix. We recommend starting with lemon. Why? Lemon water has some amazing health benefits.

smiling Woman Walking down the sidewalk along a brick building
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Tuesday, 1/31: Go for a 15-minute walk.

Walking is one of the most accessible and fun ways to get moving. It also has a host of health benefits, including helping to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Lace up a pair of podiatrist-recommended walking shoes and hit the sidewalk or stay indoors on one of the best small treadmills.

CONGRATULATIONS! You are part of the 20% who made it through January sticking to your health goals. You’re off to a great start this year and we hope you’ll let us keep your healthy living momentum going.

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Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, MS, is an award-winning journalist, author, and ghostwriter who for nearly two decades has covered health, fitness, parenting, relationships, and other wellness and lifestyle topics for major outlets, including Reader’s Digest, O, The Oprah Magazine, Women’s Health, and many more. Charlotte has made appearances with television news outlets such as CBS, NBC, and FOX. She is a certified group fitness instructor in Denver, where she lives with her husband and their five children.