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Emotional Health

Why Routines Are Better Than Resolutions

How They Keep Your Health in Check

Your to-do list keeps growing, and you have no idea where to start. Sound familiar? You’re certainly not alone. According to one study, 41 percent of to-do list items never get done.

Your habits, from eating breakfast daily to attending weekly yoga class, create a routine. Unlike a resolution, a routine can help provide the structure you need to help you achieve your goals.

Routines Not Resolutions

A new year can bring with it lofty goals. According to one statistic, though, up to 80 percent of people betray their New Year’s resolutions by February. Research suggests this is a combination of not seeing results or setting overly ambitious goals.

Routines provide a structured environment that lays the groundwork for tangible steps towards your goals on a reoccurring basis. While resolutions may be temporary, a routine will help you modify your habits over time, setting the stage for long-term success.

A Routine Provides Structure

“We all need structure to know what the day will bring and plan accordingly,” says Gretchen Weigel, case therapist at Northwestern Medicine Behavioral Health Services. “A job, school and activities provide that structure. Sometimes the busier we are, the more we are able to get done because of forced structure.”

For the most part, these factors shape when you wake up, eat and get home. However, there are things you can control. How do you spend your free time? Does your current routine help support you and your goals?

Daily routines can be modified to help you succeed. For example, if you’re looking to lose weight, try planning healthier meals throughout your day. If you’re looking to become more productive, schedule 10 minutes to clean your desk. These types of changes help form small steps towards larger goals.

When the to-do list seems overwhelming, just take it one task at a time. “Most of us have no idea where to start, so just focus on one task at a time,” suggests Weigel. “Generally, it takes 30 to 40 days to start a habit. Write out 2 to 3 things each day and start there.” You can also enlist the help of a friend or family member to help keep you accountable.

Make Time for You

When creating your new daily routine, make sure it includes time for yourself. While it might not feel like it’s advancing you towards your goals, self-care is important in reducing your overall stress and managing your health. There’s a strong connection between stress and cardiovascular disease because stress impacts blood pressure and cholesterol.

“Your routine should have some time for leisure activity. I suggest powering off the electronics, scheduling some time with your family and going outside,” says Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital Physician John E. Anderson, DO.

So whether you prefer a bubble bath or a massage, put your mind at ease and make time for yourself that is far removed from your to-do list.

Get Moving

Another important thing that can provide a host of benefits to help you achieve your goals? Exercise. The Department of Health and Human Services suggests adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic physical activity every week for optimal health.

Exercise is not just about improving metabolic health or losing weight; it tends to improve overall well-being. “It’s a powerful medicine,” says Dr. Anderson. “It offers the heart protection, releases endorphins that ward off depression and reduces your risk for chronic disease. I always tell my patients to start with 5 to 10 minutes, and increase the time every week. Over time, you’ll notice your endurance and exercise capacity will grow.”

For busy families, Dr. Anderson suggests making active family time part of your weekly routine. Go for a walk together or start a sport you can enjoy together. Not only will exercise work to reduce stress, it gives your brain a boost to help you come back to your to-do list refreshed.

When It Becomes Too Much

Weigel also suggests working on being mindful. “When we are worrying, we worry about the future,” she explains. “Mindfulness helps you be in the present. You tend to be focus on your job and everyone else. Find work-life balance for you.”

A number of mobile apps can help with meditation. You can also download the MyNM app at the App Store or Google Play for more healthy tips.

If the stress is getting to be too much, consult your physician to see if additional help might be appropriate for you.

Behavioral Health