If you’re like me, you thought you understood stress — until last year. Whether it was ensuring kids engage in Zoom school, caring for an elderly parent, shifting to a home (or closet) office, or simply figuring out how to source toilet paper during a pandemic, 2020 threw us all for a loop. The good news? The annus horribilis is officially in the rearview mirror. And while 2021 can’t magically zap away our stressors, the new year tees up the perfect opportunity to test out or recommit to healthy routines to get us feeling our best.
Tracy Moran, Deputy Editor
Granola Is So 2020
1. Give Your Oatmeal a Makeover
We all know that oatmeal is great for cutting cholesterol and aiding digestion. The problem? Kids and even many adults find it kinda dull. But you don’t have to resort to raisins to spike your oatmeal with flavor. Layer in a dab of nut butter, spice (try ground ginger) and fruit (sliced bananas are a particular favorite). Miss the taste of blueberry muffins in the mornings, enjoyed when you were a kid and ingredients didn’t matter? Try crumbling a Larabar blueberry muffin flavor atop your bowl of oats — same sweet flavor minus the guilt. Buy these and other Larabars at Walmart.com.
2. Spice Up Your Smoothies
Blended smoothies serve two purposes: They’re fast and a sneaky way to slip kale and carrots into my children’s diets. Shh, don’t tell. Start with whatever fruit you have on hand (I make sure there’s always a bag of frozen berries at the ready) and add in some veg. No kale? Try spinach, celery or even beet greens. Go light on sugary fruit juice, opting instead for water and low-calorie yogurt.
3. Snacks on the Run
My children are into water sports, so I need a supply of on-the-go snacks that please swimmers and rowers. I used to pack peanut-butter-filled pretzels until the day the bag spilled open in my purse. Sticky disaster. Now my go-to snack for growing athletes is bars made with 100 percent real ingredients: My crew kid prefers the lemon-flavored Larabar, while my youngest, the swimmer, will eat every flavor except the lemon (and insists that the chocolate peanut butter cup makes her swim faster). Buy these and other Larabars at Walmart.com.
1. Some Like It Hot
Stress raises cortisol, which impacts our blood sugar levels, our ability to maintain a healthy weight and, eventually, our overall well-being. One great remedy? A hot tub. Set the temperature to 100 degrees (slightly higher in winter), and soothe your tired muscles in the burbling water. You could also light an aromatic candle and play some music while your cares literally melt away. An hour of soaking can even burn calories, but mostly it’ll help you relax and get a better night’s sleep. Permanent hot tub not in your budget? Perhaps try the hanging hammock tub, or keep it basic by settling into a long, hot soak in your bathtub — just don’t forget the lavender salts.
2. The Essence of Eucalyptus
‘Tis the season for dry sinuses and the headaches they can cause, so now’s the time to add moisture to your living space with humidifiers — and if you add in some eucalyptus essential oil, you’ll find yourself breathing more easily and feeling oh so relaxed. When it comes to the shower, the steam helps release the beneficial compounds in eucalyptus, so treat your sinuses by tying some eucalyptus branches behind your shower head. No more nasal congestion, and your bathroom will look and smell like a swanky spa.
3. Just Breathe
You don’t need goat yoga or a fancy gym membership to reap the benefits of stress-relieving breathing techniques. The best tip, according to breathing expert James Nestor? Simply inhale and exhale, deliberately and through the nose. Here’s how: Inhale through the nose for five to six seconds and then exhale through the nose for five to six seconds. This, Nestor says, “will put your respiratory system in a state of harmony and synchrony with the rest of your body and allow you to do more with less breath.” Another great trick? Humming, which boosts nitric oxide 15-fold, he says, improving circulation, immune function and weight control — not to mention your mood.
Think of all the things you do each day that take five minutes or less: picking out clothes, tidying up a room, booking a hair appointment. Many of us make excuses for not being able to fit a workout into our daily routines: We’re too busy with work, too tired, just can’t find the time. But who doesn’t have a spare five minutes every day? And that’s all it takes to try any number of exercises — all of which can be done in a small space without equipment, from situps and jumping jacks to planks and headstands. Just think: In the amount of time it took you to read this paragraph (and we’re so glad you did), you could have completed your mini-workout. What are you waiting for?
2. AI, Anyone?
You’ve heard of Peloton and the mirror that doubles as a screen that streams fitness classes — but that’s just the start of the brave new road to health and self-improvement. Artificial intelligence is increasingly becoming the force that’s designing your workout and monitoring your progress. Gone are the days when your only (high-price) option was hiring a personal trainer to come to your home for an expert-led workout. Now, AI is making it possible to have a virtual trainer on demand whenever — and wherever — you need one.
If you’re the person who loves hitting the gym and using a range of equipment to reach maximum fitness, the pandemic may have upended your workout regimen in recent months. Fear not. OZY’s resident martial artist and editor-at-large Eugene S. Robinson was just like you — a faithful gym rat — but COVID-19 forced him to get creative and to devise a home workout. What’s it look like? Well, it starts with kettlebells, something he scoffed at the first time someone suggested he try it. Now? He’s a believer, and he’ll make you one too.