Make This Year Your Healthiest Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan

Use these easy strategies to help get your health on track — and keep it there.

Elizabeth Millard
Male doctor working at his laptop

The calendar doesn’t need to say January 1 in order for you to embrace the invigorating energy of a fresh start. Whether you’re trying to eat better, move more, manage your stress or strengthen your sense of well-being, the key to real — and long-lasting — success is to take it step by step. 

Ready to make this your healthiest year yet? These five simple strategies are the perfect place to start.

Step #1: Set “Micro-Goals”

A broad goal to “be healthier” can be tricky to accomplish, because it’s not specific enough to give you the sense that you’re making progress, says Michelle Ogunwole, M.D., a Johns Hopkins research fellow in internal medicine in Baltimore.

Instead, chop your big, sweeping goals into bite-sized pieces — that is, clear, doable targets. For example, “eat healthy,” a general goal, could become “try a new recipe with more vegetables this week.” With your eyes on the prize, you can block out a list of realistic steps to tackle week by week. To build on this same nutrition target, your list might include something as small as “make a sandwich using whole-grain bread,” or a task that’s a bit larger, like “meet with a nutritionist for help finding healthy foods on a budget.”

Dr. Ogunwole says you can apply this kind of micro-targeting to any number of health-related aims. If you take medication to help manage high cholesterol or diabetes, for example, your micro-goal might be to meet with your provider to discuss a plan to gradually reduce the dose. If you’re bothered by a stiff shoulder, you might focus on seeing a physical therapist.

“Your health goals are unique to you, and they should be personal and meaningful,” says Dr. Ogunwole. “Working toward them, especially with your health care team, can be hugely satisfying.”

Your health plan can help, too. Renew by UnitedHealthcare®1 is full of resources and activities that can help you take those small steps to feel better and help stay well. (Renew is available on most, but not all, UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage plans.) Try new at-home workouts and brain games, take an online learning course or find a new favorite recipe — all at no additional cost. To get started, sign in to your plan website and click on Health & Wellness.

Step #2: Stay on Top of Your Health Screenings

That old saying about an ounce of prevention still holds true. Identifying potential issues at their early stages is a key way to maintain health, says Scott Kaiser, M.D., a geriatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

That’s where your Annual Physical and Wellness Visit comes into play. During this important checkup, you and your provider have a chance to talk about your overall well-being and explore your personal risk factors for certain health conditions. Plus, you can work together on a preventive care plan that’s tailored to your health needs as well as those micro-goals you’ve set for yourself.

“Even if you don’t have a specific health concern, don’t skip those annual physicals and wellness visits,” says Dr. Kaiser. “Those can be great conversations around your health in general, and which screenings are most appropriate for you.”

Remember, your UnitedHealthcare® Medicare Advantage plan includes an Annual Physical and Wellness Visit at no cost with a network provider (if your plan has a network). And some plans also include UnitedHealthcare HouseCalls2, a yearly in-home visit with a member of our licensed medical staff. Check your plan website for details. 

Download Your 2021 Annual Care Checklist

Nothing is more important than your health. Take this checklist with you to your next doctor’s appointment. Find your copy by signing in to your plan website and going to Health & Wellness. Then type Annual Care Checklist into the search bar. Not a member? Learn more here

Step #3: Make Your Health a Team Effort

Your goals may be personal, but that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone to reach them, says Dr. Kaiser. Adopt a team mindset. From your health care providers to your closest friends and family, you likely have plenty of candidates you could add to your health team, Dr. Kaiser says.

“Any kind of health effort you make is often more successful when you have the accountability and motivation that comes with being part of a group,” he says. 

Look for different opportunities to involve your close friends and family in your wellness journey. Some suggestions:

  • Challenge a pal to match you step for step in a given week or month. Remember to reward yourselves (or a favorite charity) for hitting different milestones. 
  • Invite an out-of-town relative to join you by phone while you both stroll or cook a healthy meal.
  • Brainstorm a handful of new relaxation techniques to try this month and share the results on your social media account or in a group text chat.

“Whatever you’re doing, find ways to connect with others, because that makes a big difference in quality of life,” Dr. Kaiser says. 

Step #4: Start a Walking Habit

You’ve heard the advice to sit less and move more. Not only is your body designed for action, but your health tends to respond well when you’re on the move. Case in point: In a recent study presented by the American Heart Association (AHA), researchers found that older women who walked 2,100 to 4,500 steps a day cut their risk of heart attack and stroke by 38%, compared to more sedentary people. Among the heart-healthy benefits of walking, the AHA notes, is that it helps bring high blood pressure down and keep normal blood pressure in line.

“Walking is a terrific way to get you closer to a goal of being more active,” says Kourtney Thomas, a certified personal trainer and running coach based in St. Louis. “Even walking just a few minutes a day can make a difference to your balance, feeling good and being more stable,” she says.

Beyond those pluses, walking has also been shown to support the immune system, help improve muscle strength and boost joint mobility, even for people who already have arthritis, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports. Lacing up can also help you maintain cognitive function as you age, according to a study in the journal Psychology of Aging. Plus, if you’re going outside for that daily walk, you’ll get the benefit of fresh air and green space.

Here’s how you can make walking part of your daily routine: Let’s go back to the practice of setting micro-goals. A goal to “walk more” now becomes “walk 10 minutes every day this week.” At the end of the week, give your goal another look and decide if you want to tweak it — “add in two 15-minute walks this week.” Who knows, by the end of the year you may be run-walking a 5K.

Get Moving With Renew Active™

If your plan includes Renew Active3, you’ll have access to a free gym membership, an online brain health program from AARP® Staying Sharp® and more. Renew Active has something for everyone, at every fitness level. Sign in to MyUHCMedicare.com, go to Health & Wellness and look for Renew Active to get started and receive your confirmation code.

Step #5: Get Your Sleep

Much like walking, sleep is enormously valuable for helping prevent health issues. The NIH reports that getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep can help…

  • Prevent heart disease
  • Improve your mood
  • Reduce stress
  • Maintain a healthy blood pressure
  • Optimize brain function
  • Keep your weight in check
  • Regulate blood sugar

Hitting the pillow does all that and helps give you steady energy to conquer those health goals you’ve set.

The catch? As we get older, sleep difficulties are more likely, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). But they don’t need to be inevitable. To make this your year of healthy sleep habits, the NSF suggests going to bed and waking up on the same schedule every day. Also try to limit screen time for an hour before sleep, and consider adding a mindfulness practice or some deep breathing to your evening routine. 

As you put this handful of strategies into place, you’re likely to see a ripple effect — one or two healthy habits often lead to more, says Dr. Ogunwole. “I do think goal setting, and meeting your small goals, can give you a sense of purpose that can be very fulfilling, and give you something to look forward to each day.”

Take Advantage of Your Plan’s Health and Wellness Resources

Online learning courses that cover helping with sleep problems and many other health topics. Meditation tips and tools. Relaxing music playlists. It’s all part of Renew by UnitedHealthcare®, which is included with most (but not all) plans. Sign in to MyUHCMedicare.com and click on Health & Wellness to get started. 

This information is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for the advice of a provider. Consult your provider prior to beginning an exercise program or making changes to your lifestyle or health care routine.

1. Renew by UnitedHealthcare is not available with all plans.
2. HouseCalls may not be available in all areas.
3. Participation in the Renew Active™ program is voluntary. Consult your doctor prior to beginning an exercise program or making changes to your lifestyle or health care routine. Renew Active includes standard fitness membership. Equipment, classes, personalized fitness plans, and events may vary by location.
Certain services, classes and events are provided by affiliates of UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company or other third parties not affiliated with UnitedHealthcare. Participation in AARP® Staying Sharp and the Fitbit® Community for Renew Active is subject to your acceptance of their respective terms and policies. UnitedHealthcare is not responsible for the services or information provided by third parties. The information provided through these services is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for the advice of a doctor. The Renew Active program varies by plan/area. Access to gym and fitness location network may vary by location and plan. Renew Active premium gym and fitness location network only available with certain plans.