New Year’s resolutions are a widespread phenomenon. They’re a common tradition among the population and frequently take the form of trying for a physical or lifestyle change.
Out of 531 U.S. adults, 44% said their top resolution for 2021 was to exercise more, while 42% said theirs was to eat healthier, according to a November 2020 Statista Global Consumer survey.
But in 2021, accomplishing these resolutions may look a little different than in years past.
Americans are at home in higher numbers, and mask ordinances and social distancing regulations are in place in many cities. While people in years past could sign up for a gym membership or attend an exercise class, improving health and wellness isn’t exactly as easy as it used to be.
“Stressors of the pandemic in general have challenged the way people normally navigate fitness and nutrition,” Emma Laing, director of the dietetics program at the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia, said. “People have had disruptions in their daily routines, or have had extended periods of social isolation.”
Disruptions have caused changes in people’s eating, sleeping and exercising habits. Out of 157 college students, 33% reported gaining weight during the pandemic, according to a November 2020 study done by Grand Canyon University. This pandemic weight gain has coined the name “quarantine 15.”
Though “quarantine 15” has played a part in the pursuit of weight loss and exercise in the new year, health professionals and college students alike have also used the new year to focus on a different kind of health — mental health.
“I think mental health is step one,” Giulia Carlton, ambassador of CHAARG at UGA, said. “You have to nurture your mind first in order to have that energy and that inspiration and motivation to even move your body and take care of your physical health.”
For college students, reimagining health as something besides a physical goal can open up the path to wellness.
“It’s not about the number on a scale, it’s about how you feel and a healthy lifestyle,” Carlton said.
CHAARG is a widespread wellness community that aims to ignite a passion for movement in college women. Carlton and her team encourage women to acknowledge that exercise and health can be as simple as doing leisurely activities with loved ones — rather than a chore or a means to an end.
For Carlton, New Year’s resolutions also involve different forms of self care, such as journaling and meditation. Nutrition education coordinator at the UGA Health Center Beth Kindamo sees self care as a major way students can cope with changes from COVID-19. She lists gentle exercise, mindfulness practice and satisfying meals as different ways college students can practice self care.
Satisfying meals and mindfulness practice can be practiced at home, but exercise is a bit more difficult during COVID-19. Safety concerns keep many from attending gyms or exercise classes, and many college students live in dorms or apartments with little space to work out.
Despite these restrictions, there are other ways to practice mindful fitness. One choice is outdoor activities, like walking and hiking on Athens trails, or bike riding on the Oconee Rivers Greenway System. These kinds of outdoor practices can also benefit mental health as well.
“Tune in to what makes you tick; what foods are satisfying to you and what movement feels good to you,” Kindamo said.