Pennington Biomedical Scientists Share Small Shifts You Can Make in the New Year

December 21, 2023 · Baton Rouge, LA


BATON ROUGE –  When the calendar flips to from December to January, many people set goals and resolutions for the upcoming year. A number of those resolutions involve nutrition, exercise and mental health. While drastic lifestyle changes can be overwhelming and difficult to maintain, research conducted at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center shows that subtle adjustments to habits and choices are easier to adopt, integrate into your life, and stick with over the long term. These small shifts can have a lasting effect on health and wellbeing.

The following are tips and advice provided by the researchers at Pennington Biomedical on ways to make subtle lifestyle choices that can make an impact in 2024:

John Kirwan, Pennington Biomedical Executive Director:  When we think about small steps, we’re thinking about things like taking the stairs instead of taking the elevator. It’s about parking your car a distance from where your destination is.

If you are going to the supermarket, park farther away from the door – literally small steps. It gets you out in the air; it has an impact on your emotional wellbeing; it has impact on your mental health; and it has impact on your physical health. The concept of small steps is one of the most effective ways to bring about change – both at an individual level and at a society level.

Cathy Champagne, Professor of Dietary Assessment and Nutrition Counseling Nutritional Epidemiology:  In the same way that one starts to increase physical activity levels by starting small, diet is much the same. As dietitians, we suggest that you start by looking at what might need to change in your diet to make it fit into a healthier lifestyle. Start small by making a small change initially that can be sustained long term; then focus on the next change, doing the same. Think of it this way ‘small changes, big rewards.’

Robert Newton Jr., Professor of Physical Activity & Ethnic Minority Health:  When starting a new exercise routine, remember to start slow. A couple of days of exercise at a light effort is a great way to start. Gradually increase the number of days, amount of time, and the intensity of your exercise over a month or more. This will help to prevent soreness and help you set reasonable goals that you can achieve.

Candida Rebello, Assistant Professor in Clinical Science and Director of the Nutrition and Chronic Disease Program:  Prior to a busy week, plan your meals and snacks for each day and shop accordingly. If you indulge or overeat on occasion, it’s okay. Just make sure the meals that follow are good for your health.

Prachi Singh, Director of the Sleep and Cardiometabolic Health Laboratory:  Sleep is free! It’s the easiest thing you can do to improve your health. If you focus on improving sleep, then depression and anxiety levels go down. You’re able to feel happier and see an improved quality of life. 

Steven Heymsfield, Professor of Metabolism & Body Composition:  If you are planning to lose weight in the new year, make sure you eat a healthy diet with enough protein included, and keep up a good exercise program. 

Angelique Litsey, Exercise Testing Core Manager:  People think, ‘I have to go jog around the University Lakes to really be exercising,’ but just getting your heart rate up by walking your dog or doing a wall sit in your office will make you feel better. An easy place to start is by parking your car in the farthest possible space.

Jacob Mey, Assistant Professor – Research, Integrated Physiology and Molecular Medicine Laboratory:  Practice eating mindfully, or just slow down your eating habits. A great, simple way to do this is to put down your fork between bites and have a conversation with friends and family that you have at your dinner table. 

Michael Salbaum, Genomics Professor:  I call this the 'Day 3 Blues': Day 1: ‘I can do this! Let's go!’; Day 2: ‘I did it yesterday! I can do it again!’; Day 3: ‘This Is bad! Why am I doing this again? I'm sure there are other things I have to do now.’; and Day 4: ‘I didn't do it yesterday, and I still don't feel good. Maybe this was a bad idea.’

My solution for preventing the 'Day 3 Blues' is to reduce the workout load on Day 3 by 20 percent. Instead of 10 repetitions per each individual exercise, try eight reps, but still complete the workout. That'll make it easier to finish and will still provide a sense of accomplishment. Come back on Day 4 to do the full workout and use the fact that you were able to continue the day before and not break the routine will help build up toward higher efforts. Incorporate the 20 percent effort drop workout on future days when your body perhaps doesn't feel great but keep the exercise going. 

Alyssa Button, Postdoc in Pediatric Obesity and Health Behavior Laboratory:  Be kind to yourself when things don’t go as planned. Guilt and discouragement can’t undo what’s been done. Instead, regroup and identify achievable steps to move forward.

Tiffany Stewart, Dudley & Beverly Coates Endowed Professor; Director, Behavior Technology Lab: Health, Performance, & Resilience; and Director, Pennington Biomedical Diabetes Clinic:  We can’t have “whole health” without mental health and wellness. Our multitasking culture demands that we tolerate stress. Technology, for example, enables us to be everywhere all at once, and yet, actually really present nowhere. We have to counter that stress by being in the moment and doing one thing at a time.

Practicing mindfulness daily, e.g. deep breathing, paying attention on purpose in the moment, gives our brains a break, helps to calm our nervous system, reduces stress and anxiety, and improves our focus and mood. Schedule a brief period of time each day for a mental optimization “practice.” This can include anything that works for you. Start or end your day by setting a timer, practicing deep breathing for 5-10 minutes, and jotting down reflections and a few things you are grateful for. This type of practice allows us not just to move through our lives but broadens our overall perspective on our lives and invites joy and thriving. 

For more information contact:

Joe Coussan, Media Relations Manager, joe.coussan@pbrc.edu, 225-763-3049 or Ernie Ballard, Senior Director of Communications & Marketing, ernie.ballard@pbrc.edu, 225-263-2677.

About the Pennington Biomedical Research Center

The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. The Center conducts basic, clinical, and population research, and is a campus of the LSU System. The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes over 480 employees within a network of 40 clinics and research laboratories, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Its scientists and physician/scientists are supported by research trainees, lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and other support personnel. Pennington Biomedical a state-of-the-art research facility on a 222-acre campus in Baton Rouge. For more information, see www.pbrc.edu.

Pennington Biomedical Research Center
6400 Perkins Road
Baton Rouge, LA 70808