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15 Things to Do on New Year’s Day for a Healthy 2020

Kick off your New Year’s Day the healthy way, from trying a new workout class to volunteering for a good cause.


A new year can signify a fresh start, and for many of us, that’s a resolution to be more healthy. Filled with optimism, we sign up for gym memberships, pledge to change our eating habits, get more sleep, and the list goes on. But what about taking small steps on New Year’s Day? Rather than spending the day on the couch nursing a (possible) hangover or sleeping in, why not welcome the brand new year with a new activity with friends, family, or even alone?

Here are 15 things to do on New Year’s Day to kick off 2020—the healthy way.

AvocadoAnna Shepulova/Shutterstock

Host a healthy brunch

Let’s face it, brunch is fun and a natural fit for New Year’s Day. Friends, family, and food can feel like you are extending the festivities just a teeny bit longer. Bonus points if that brunch is both delicious and healthy (you can forgo the bottomless mimosas for alcohol-free champagne instead). What’s more, it’s a natural time to talk about your own goals. While the meal doesn’t have to be all about you, it’s not a bad time to get your friends and family on board if you’re trying to kickstart a healthier year. Why? Because you’re more likely to be successful. “Whenever you’re trying to make healthy food changes, you have to have the buy-in of your friends and your family, especially the people you live with,” explains Darria Long Gillespie, MD, clinical assistant professor at the University of Tennessee School of Medicine. “Because if you’re trying to cut the sugar out of your diet and your partner or your kids are going to sit there eating a bag of M&M’s in front of you, you’re making it impossible for yourself. So it’s really important to learn as a family.”

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Try a new workout class

Ever hear that the very best workout is the one you’ll actually do? Well, according to Dr. Gillespie, that’s true. “If you are a person who tries to white knuckle it to make yourself do the treadmill or you hate exercise, it probably just means you haven’t found a way that you like of moving,” she said. “Trying a new place, a new thing, lets you do that and maybe [help] find what your exercise is. [It’s] good to try something new because it challenges your muscles, your body, [and] your metabolism in a different way.”

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Try a meditation app

While guided meditation apps are a relatively new addition to the wellness world, the practice has of course been around for centuries. In a 2015 study published in PLoS One, researchers found that meditation helps to counter habituation—the tendency to stop paying attention to new information in our environment. Other studies have found that meditation can help relieve psychological distress and possibly improve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and pain. Give your brain a tune-up on New Year’s Day with an app like Headspace or Calm.

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Hit the sales for new workout gear

The shopping rush is real, and on New Year’s Day, use that power for good. “Our brain loves rewards. But most of us reward ourselves with food. So you need to replace that,” explains Dr. Gillespie. “Find other non-food ways to give yourself rewards. And that includes buying a new pair of shoes that are on sale. I say buy items that you can use for the new habit you want to do!”

low view of an anonymous woman walking a dog at a parkManuelfromMadrid/Shutterstock

Set a small goal you can do today

New Year’s Day is a great time to start a small new habit, says Dr. Gillespie, “Choose something so small that you will do it. Maybe I’m going to walk for five minutes. Say I’m going to do this every day, the moment I wake up, I’m going to walk around the neighborhood, or the minute after I wash the dishes and put the dishes away for the night. Figure out what the cue is or the trigger and then figure out your activity and make it small. And if you miss it, then the next day instead of beating yourself up about it, cut the activity in half. Make it small enough until you can do it every single day. That’s how you build a habit.”

Close-up of businesswoman making notes in personal organizer. Unrecognizable lady writing in diary. Planning time conceptMangostar/Shutterstock

Write a gratitude list

Dr. Gillespie admits she wasn’t a big believer in counting her blessings but has come around, saying, “The gratitude list starts to change your brain because now your brain realizes that tonight I’ve got to think of three new gratitude things. So your brain starts, your scanner turns from looking for threats to looking for items that you can use to populate your gratitude list. And you actually change the way you’re thinking.”

stocked kitchen pantry with food - jars and containers of cereals, jam, coffee, sugar, flour, oil, vinegar, riceMiroslav Pesek/Shutterstock

Change your environment

Start off the New Year right by taking some time to make healthy changes in your kitchen and pantry. Clear out the processed, sugar-packed foods. “Change your environment, change the foods you have in your house, change your habits, change your skillset and change your taste buds,” says Dr. Gillespie. “There’s tons of recipes and tons of ways to make food delicious and healthy and we don’t need to think that it’s either healthy or indulgence.”

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Treat yourself to a nap

While you might not think a few minutes of shut-eye in the afternoon will make much difference in your day, a 2015 study in Personality and Individual Differences found after 40 people were randomized to a nap and non-nap group, those who woke up from a 60-minute midday nap were less impulsive and had a greater tolerance for frustration compared with individuals who didn’t nap. Most of us can’t take a nap every day, but if you have the day off, it’s one of the easiest ways to indulge in a little self-care.

Fit young woman practice yoga with friends. Fitness female doing yoga meditation indoors in gym class.Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Get active with others

If you’re serious about getting healthy in 2020, set up an activity with family or friends that will get you all moving, because, “We know if your partner exercises, you are about two times or so more likely to be able to keep up the exercise habit than if your partner doesn’t and you try to start it solo,” says Dr. Gillespie. “Anytime you’re starting a new exercise activity, look to your partner if you can do it together. And if your partner won’t, then [reach out to] a friend or a buddy to have that kind of accountability buddy to keep you going.”

Unrecognizable female using fitness tracker after trainingArtem Varnitsin/Shutterstock

Try out your new fitness tracker

While the research is still out on whether these fitness trackers will help establish long-term healthier habits, some studies show that initial use does kickstart more movement, which is great for heart health. Fitness trackers can be a great tool for heart health according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. University researchers say that being more active and changing your habits is important, but it’s not always easy to do consistently and over the long term.  Having a clear goal and using a fitness tracker (either alone or in combination with other people with similar goals) may help. Why not start on New Year’s Day?


Make a healthy meal for your family

Get the whole family on board by cooking a healthy meal on New Year’s Day. Why? Because you could use their support to make lifestyle changes, if that’s one of your goals. “Here’s a crazy stat, your partner, your spouse, [and] your immediate best friends are a bigger predictor of [whether] you will be obese or not once you’re an adult, than your immediate siblings,” according to Dr. Gillespie. “Because genetics, yes, play a part, but especially once we get to be adults, what we’re eating, who we’re eating with, how active we are, drastically depends on and is hugely impacted by who we are surrounded by.”

Girl volunteer in the nursery for dogs. Shelter for stray dogs.David Tadevosian/Shutterstock

Volunteer for a good cause

If you’ve ever given back by volunteering through work, a religious organization, or other non-profits, you know how satisfying it can be. But did you know it actually has health benefits? A 2018 review in  BMC Public Health notes that volunteering is linked to better mental and physical health. It not only increases a sense of purpose, but it can alleviate symptoms of depression, reduce stress levels, and might even help you live longer.


Run—or walk—a road race

If the weather where you live permits, and you’re up for it, sign up for a New Year’s Day run or walk. Compared with non-runners, runners have a 30 percent and 45 percent lower adjusted risks of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, respectively, with a 3-year life expectancy benefit, according to a 2019 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Find a race, sign up, and make a commitment to yourself to stick to it.

Top view of spiralli pasta pattern.Flat lay raw spilled Italian pasta view from above on neutral background. Repetition concept.virtu studio/Shutterstock

Decide to cut out only one thing

Many of us wake up on New Year’s Day and resolve to totally overhaul our diet, cutting meat, gluten, sugar, and carbs. “If you’re going to cut something—do one thing,” says Dr. Gillespie. “Instead of saying I’m going to cut dairy and gluten and sugar and processed foods and all of these things, and you’re like, I know that’s not going to happen. Just stop.”

women friends

Hang with friends—without drinking

We all have those friends that we love, but we sometimes don’t make the healthiest choices when they’re around. “[If] you can’t party with that friend without them wanting to drink and do all these things,” says Dr. Gillespie, “find other activities that you can do to enjoy your friend’s company that are not at a place where you can get food or drink.” (Check out these tips for cutting back on alcohol and I Gave Up Alcohol for 21 Days, Here’s What Happened.)

  • Darria Long Gillespie, MD, clinical assistant professor at the University of Tennessee School of Medicine
  • PLOS One: "More Meditation, Less Habituation? The Effect of Mindfulness Practice on the Acoustic Startle Reflex"
  • JAMA Interal Medicine: Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis
  • Personality and Individual Differences: "Napping to modulate frustration and impulsivity: A pilot study"
  • Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Could a Fitness Tracker Boost Your Heart Health?"
  • BMC Public Health: Volunteering and health benefits in general adults: cumulative effects and forms
  • British Journal of Sports Medicine: "Is running associated with a lower risk of all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality, and is the more the better? A systematic review and meta-analysis"