By Kim Painter, AARP
It’s time to think about New Year’s resolutions. More than 4 in 10 U.S. adults make at least one, surveys say. Health resolutions are popular. So are resolutions about saving money. That might be especially true this year, due to inflation and an uncertain economy.
What if you combine your desire to get healthier with your determination to stretch your dollars in 2023? You might try some of these ideas:
Resolution #1: Walk more, drive less
If you are lucky enough to live within walking distance of your favorite stores and gathering places, resolve to walk to them more often. You’ll save money on gas and reap the health benefits of walking. Those include lower risks of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, stronger muscles and bones, easier weight maintenance and a better mood, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Not sure you are up to walking through your errands? Start with shorter jaunts: Research suggests every minute matters. If you need some help getting going, in some communities you can find walks led by health professionals, through the Walk With a Doc program (AARP is a sponsor).
Resolution #2: Lower your thermostat for better sleep
You can take a bite out of your winter heating bills and sleep better by setting your nighttime temperature lower than most people do, research suggests. The Sleep Foundation suggests a range of 60 to 67 degrees, with a sweet spot around 65 degrees.
But Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and sleep specialist, says that range is too low for many people, including those who sleep nude or with minimal bedding. Also, he says, we tend to feel colder with age, because we lose fat directly beneath our skin, which acts “like a long underwear layer of insulation.”
The best idea, he says, is to experiment with lower temps. If you are younger than 65, he suggests trying 65 degrees to start; people over 65 might start at 70 degrees, he says.
Resolution #3: Drink more water, from fewer bottles
Water is the perfect health drink. But bottled water is much more expensive than tap water, with no health advantages in places where tap water is safe, as it is in most of the United States. If you don’t like the taste of your tap water, are worried about its quality or like fizziness or added flavor, there are simple, inexpensive solutions.
First, you can put a filter on your faucet or under your sink or use a filtered pitcher to remove chlorine, lead and other substances that might affect taste or safety. A pitcher, for less than $40, is the most affordable option, according to Consumer Reports.
For fizzy water, get a soda-making kit, starting for less than $60. Though you can buy flavor packs for soda makers, you can more cheaply add your own fruit juice, herbs or other mixers.
Resolution #4: Rediscover the library
Reading is good for your brain: Studies suggest it can slow memory decline and, if you read fiction, increase your sense of empathy. But buying books and magazines can get expensive.
Luckily, in most U.S. towns and cities, there’s a place where the books are free and plentiful: the library. If you haven’t been to one lately, give it a try, in person or online. The library is a great source of printed books (including large-print versions), and you can also borrow electronic and audiobooks.
Resolution #5: Cook with less meat and more beans
“Extend meat dishes by replacing a portion of the meat with canned beans, like black beans, kidney beans or pinto beans,” suggests Christine Rosenbloom, a registered dietitian nutritionist who is the coauthor of Food & Fitness After 50 and a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University.
Beans are cheaper protein than meat, and they are full of fiber and other nutrients, Rosenbloom says. To cut the sodium in canned beans, she says, rinse them before use.
Resolution #6: Find free or low-cost exercise classes
In part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, online choices have exploded, and some are free or low-cost, says Cedric Bryant, president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise. For example, at Fitness Blender, you can find hundreds of cardio, strength, yoga and other workouts for free (with advertisements). Other sites offer free trials. The best sites, Bryant says, offer classes at varying fitness levels and let you adjust the level if you find a class too hard or too easy.
In-person classes at community recreation centers can also be a bargain, Bryant says. Some people 65 or older qualify for free online and in-person classes through their Medicare Advantage plans. Some insurance companies give discounts on gym memberships, so check with yours.
Want to try some online classes? AARP’s Staying Fit section has a selection of on-demand exercise videos. Senior Planet from AARP has free online fitness and wellness sessions on weekdays and AARP’s Virtual Community Center also has live exercise and wellness classes.
Resolution #7: Find the best bets in the center grocery aisles
Nutrition gurus have often told us to focus on the outer edges of the grocery store, where the fresh produce, meats and fish are found. But fresh is not always better, when it comes to price or nutrition, Rosenbloom says. Fish is a great example. “Fish at the fish counter is often frozen fish that has been thawed,” she says, “and it’s more expensive than what’s in the frozen aisle.” Canned tuna and salmon are other affordable options.
Frozen veggies are also great because they cut down on waste. Rosenbloom says: “You only use what you need (and then) reseal the bag and put it back in the freezer for the next meal.”
Resolution #8: Volunteer at a theater or concert hall
If the sound of an orchestra tuning up makes you smile, but a glance at ticket prices at your local theater or concert hall gives you pause, consider volunteering as a ticket-taker or usher. You’ll get to enjoy the performances and a mental health boost, from both the cultural experience and the volunteer work, studies suggest.
If you don’t have time to volunteer, research shows that simple acts of kindness toward others have multiple health benefits.
Resolution #9: Try pickleball
If you haven’t tried it, consider this wildly popular sport to get your heart beating and have some fun with friends. One reason for the craze: The game is easy to learn and costs little to pick up, compared with sports such as tennis and golf, Bryant says. All you need is a paddle, a few people to play with and a court — increasingly available year-round in many gyms and community centers, he says.
In many places, Bryant says, you can play for an hour for $8 to $12. Want to give it a try? Here are some tips about how to get started with pickleball.
Resolution #10: Find your entertainment in nature
Instead of spending a pricey afternoon at the movies or in the mall, go to a park. Soaking up some nature can lower your blood pressure and heart rate, reduce stress and improve memory, studies suggest. While you are out there, look and listen for birds: One study found that seeing and hearing birds boosted mental well-being, even in people with depression.
Resolution #11: Plan and grow a garden
Creating your own natural oasis by planting flowers or food can give you a boost. People who garden see reductions in depression, anxiety and body mass index, and increases in life satisfaction, quality of life and sense of community, research shows.
Those who grow food probably save money, too. On average, home gardens produce about $677 in fruits and vegetables, after subtracting $238 spent on seeds, soil, watering and other costs (but not labor), according to research from Oregon State University. Here are some tips on how to get started gardening.
Resolution #12: Practice more gratitude
Feeling thankful can improve sleep and immunity and reduce depression, anxiety and pain, according to the Mayo Clinic. There’s an obvious way in which gratitude might improve financial health — by reducing urges to spend money on things that don’t make you happy.
“The more grateful we are, the more content we tend to be with what we have,” says Kristi Nelson, executive director of A Network for Grateful Living and author of Wake Up Grateful.
One thing she suggests: When you wake, think immediately of a few things that make you grateful. You might focus, she says, on the parts of your body that work well or the fact that you slept or “that the sun is rising, no matter where you are.”