December 21, 2023

Monstera plant

As health reporters and editors, we know what’s good for us. But that doesn’t mean we always do it.

This year, each of us took at least one thing we’ve learned covering health and applied it to our own lives. Here’s what stuck.

Collecting houseplants

Last year at this time, I had a modest couple of shelves of houseplants. Now, I live in a jungle. I started collecting rare aroids—a family of plants that includes philodendrons, monsteras, and alocasias—and my new hobby transformed the trajectory of my year. Tending to my plants keeps me busy, so I have less time to scroll social media or get lost in my thoughts, and being surrounded by lush green is calming. I’ve traveled to new cities to attend plant events, and I’m constantly researching and learning how to be a better plant parent. Plus, the joy of discovering new growth, like an emerging leaf, lifts my mood and ensures I always have something to look forward to. Angela Haupt

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Massaging my face

During the depths of the pandemic, when I spent most of my time frowning at screens, I started looking for ways to get rid of headaches and facial tension. My searches led me to self-guided facial massage, a practice to which I have become very dedicated over the past year. My favorite YouTube facial masseuse talks a lot about lymphatic drainage, which is apparently supposed to reduce puffiness, make your skin look better, and flush toxins. Though I don’t fully believe these claims, I don’t care. As someone who struggles with meditation, these little massages have become my favorite way to unwind. I use a nice-smelling oil, sometimes light a candle, and just zone out for a few minutes. It’s relaxing and helps me sleep, and even if it does absolutely nothing else, that’s enough. Jamie Ducharme

Rage biking

During the early days of the pandemic, when I craved fresh air, I dusted off my old bicycle and hit the road—thrilled to rediscover how quickly it delivered new scenery and a healthy dose of exercise. This year, I got more regimented about biking 10 miles per week, usually on Sunday afternoons. I also took up what I call rage biking: peddling wildly, as fast as my legs can go, whenever I’m stressed or upset. Within minutes of being outside, the wind whips my worries away. —A.H.

Making one friend

Having a baby while moving to a new area is exciting and stressful. Neither leaves a lot of time for self care and building relationships. But I’m glad I prioritized one of my desires this year: to make a real-life, local pal. I found her through Peanut, an app for moms to connect with one another. Now, we text each other daily and meet for baby walks in the park, and it’s been life-changing. Mandy Oaklander

Sunning myself

Earlier this year, I profiled science podcaster Andrew Huberman, who often talks about health habits that will help listeners “optimize” their lives. Many of his suggestions, like taking cold showers and popping supplements, are not for me. But one stuck with me: the idea that you should see sunlight shortly after waking in the morning to regulate your circadian rhythms and improve energy and attention. Admittedly, I do not succeed at this every day. (I also wrote a recent article about why snoozing your alarm isn’t so bad for you, and sometimes that one ends up being more persuasive.) But I’ve tried to incorporate more short morning walks into my routine, and find that I’m usually more alert and focused when I get outside first thing. —J.D.

Tracking my sleep

As a chronic night owl, I’ve never bothered to track my sleep before—mainly, because I knew it wouldn’t be good news—but this was the year I got curious after upgrading the GPS watch I  take hiking to something that’s lightweight and long-lasting enough to double as a daily fitness tracker  The tech that watches use to measure sleep is rudimentary, but mine has turned out to be fairly accurate at tallying my total time asleep. 

Here’s what I’ve learned: When sleep experts tell you that losing shut-eye affects your mood, energy, and more, they really mean it. Bummer, I know. I’d always thought of myself as someone who could function just as well on 6 hours of sleep as I could on 8, but I can’t deny that my demeanor on any given day makes a lot more sense when I look at the previous few nights. It’s been a hard pill to swallow, but I’m committed to change—In 2024, I’m ending my nighttime scrolling routine. Haley Weiss

Taking my blood pressure 

About a year ago, after several months feeling abnormally short of breath almost all the time, I finally went to see a doctor. As anyone who has ever gotten a regular checkup knows, one of the first things that happens is they check your blood pressure. “Um,” said the nurse who took mine, “you know your blood pressure is at emergency levels?” No, I did not. They ran all the tests and found nothing else wrong, so put me on statins and told me to take my blood pressure regularly to see what happened. Despite my frustration at not knowing the underlying cause, it was still extremely rewarding seeing my daily readings drop back into if not an ideal at least a relatively healthy range.

Then I started playing around. I’d check my blood pressure before and after I took my dog for her morning walk; I took it at various times throughout the work day; I took it on weekends after sleeping in late, or when I came home after seeing a weekday evening movie. The patterns are probably unsurprising, but still—seeing a physical manifestation of how your stress levels change based on your habits really hammers home how lifestyle can directly impact your health. Elijah Wolfson

Eating more ice cream

The health habit I picked up this year is somewhat counterintuitive. I began eating ice cream—in moderation. The extreme feeling of indulgence keeps me away from other sweets and lowers my sugar intake overall. Jeffrey Kluger

Creating a work-from-home zone

When the pandemic started, I didn’t own a desk. But then work-from-home days became every day, and rotating between my couch, round dining table, and bedroom floor wasn’t cutting it. Still, the longer I managed without a dedicated workspace, the less it seemed worth putting in the money and effort.

When I moved in 2023, the very first thing I did in my new apartment was designate an office zone. Now I’ve got it all: the desk, the chair, the monitor, and even a mini tabletop bookshelf. Not only is my neck grateful, but my ability to focus has skyrocketed. Having a clear delineation between where I work and where I relax has been a simple change, but a much-needed one. —H.W.

Quitting Twitter

Like many journalists, I used to spend way too much time on Twitter (now X), scrolling through the news of the day and getting sucked into niche internet dramas. Though I still have an account and use it sometimes for work, I have drastically cut down on the amount of time I spend on there and haven’t posted in months. I feel so free. I guess all those researchers and psychologists were right when they told me in interviews that spending less time on social media is good for your mental health. —J.D.


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