Article at a glance
- A personal health goal supports a healthier lifestyle and sometimes prevents certain health conditions.
- There are eight aspects of wellness, and it’s possible to set health goals for multiple instead of focusing solely on physical health.
- When setting health goals, there are strategies to make them easier to achieve.
Many of us have a love-hate relationship with goal setting. Creating health goals can inspire us and allow us to visualize a healthier lifestyle, but sticking to goals can sometimes be frustrating and stressful.
Fortunately, there are easier ways to set (and accomplish) health goals. In this article, we share five strategies to set better ones, as well as different areas of wellness to consider and specific health goal examples.
What Is a Health Goal?
When we think of health goals, some stereotypical ones probably come to mind. Maybe someone’s goal is to lose weight or stick to the Mediterranean diet. While these are both great goals, they don’t encompass all types of health goals.
A health goal is any milestone that, if accomplished, could improve overall well-being. By that definition, the losing weight and gym examples count as health goals, but health is much more than weight gain or loss. It encompasses how we feel in all aspects of life.
Developing holistic health goals matters since they allow us to:
- Live longer, healthier
- Improve or maintain mobility
- Boost overall mood
- Prevent or control certain chronic conditions, such as diabetes or arthritis
- Lower risk of certain diseases, such as heart disease, and mental health problems like depression
Types of Wellness Goals
For a healthy lifestyle and to achieve optimal health, it’s important to consider all areas of wellness. A visual tool that reflects the components of good health is the wheel of wellness. Developed by Australian researchers in the 1990s, it defines eight facets of health:
Note: You can learn more about these dimensions here. To understand personal health goals for each category, keep reading.
The first type of wellness encompasses our physical fitness. Three common goals under this umbrella include:
- Getting regular exercise: according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, adults should aim for 150 minutes of aerobic activity and 2 muscle-strengthening activities each week. Those who do moderate and vigorous activity may not need to do as much aerobic activity.
- Aiming for adequate sleep: for adults, 7–8 hours of sleep is recommended. Learn more about healthy sleep habits here.
- Eating a balanced diet: federal guidelines on nutrition vary depending on someone’s age, height, weight, fitness level, and gender. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a tool to determine a personal food plan here.
Note: these are all general guidelines and should be adapted to the individual. Consult with your provider to find parameters that work for you.
If someone wants to improve their physical health, it may be beneficial to create a more specific goal than the ones above. Examples include:
- Finding a fitness class that suits one’s activity level. If someone has limited mobility, they may enjoy these eight healthy living activities.
- Going on daily walks to improve cardiovascular health.
- Eating breakfast regularly.
- Adding more lean meats and whole foods to one’s plate.
- Trying a diet for better heart health.
- Working with a personal trainer to stay healthy.
- Starting a food journal to track meals.
Social health refers to one’s satisfaction with their relationships and community. Often, it’s measured by the number of healthy relationships and meaningful connections someone has. Bad social health is often marked by loneliness, which may increase the risk of premature death by 25%. Good social health supports a fulfilling life and builds emotional resilience.
To improve social health, someone might set a health goal such as:
- Joining a club around a specific interest
- Meeting up with a friend for a walk as part of their morning routine
- Taking a class at a community center, such as an art or acting class
Emotional and Mental Health
Emotional health, sometimes referred to as mental health, covers how we feel internally. It relates to our awareness and ability to cope with emotional reactions to life’s challenges.
To strengthen emotional health, consider goals such as:
- Developing a meditation routine to learn to live in the present moment
- Trying different deep breathing exercises
- Starting a self-love or gratitude journal
- Finding support groups for specific challenges someone faces, stress management, self-confidence, or experiencing grief
Mental Health Resources
There are also resources to help you or a loved one who needs emotional support. These include:
- National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- 988 Lifeline
Therapy may also be effective. To find a therapist, visit:
Environmental health has two possible definitions: how comfortable we feel in our home and how much time we spend outside. Both are valid and can have a long-lasting impact on overall health.
Some environmental health goals include:
- Sprucing up the decor in one’s home
- Spending more time in nature
- Becoming involved in a supportive community, such as joining a social club at work or volunteering at the local library
For some, spiritual wellness relates to religion, but being religious is not a prerequisite for good spiritual health. The term refers to the inner peace and feeling one’s life is purposeful.
Some of the most effective spiritual health goals, such as developing a meditation routine or spending more time in nature, overlap with other health areas.
Occupational health refers to how comfortable someone is with their work life. For someone with a job, an occupational health goal may look like applying to new jobs or taking on a passion project outside of work.
If retired, an occupational health goal may be:
- Pursuing a hobby
- Mentoring a younger professional in someone’s field.
- Maintaining existing relationships from someone’s last job
Financial wellness isn’t what comes to mind when we think of health, but our finances can have an impact on overall well-being. A 2022 study suggested that financial capability (financial literacy education and access to financial resources) expands healthcare access, promotes relaxation, and reduces stress.
Some financial wellness goals may be:
- Learning more about how to budget
- Exploring how to qualify for Medicare and Medicaid
- Developing a daily spending tracker
Intellectual health refers to providing stimulation and rest for the brain. It’s an important facet to prevent memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, and other conditions that impact cognitive health and overall wellness.
Intellectual health goals include:
- Learning a new language or new skills, such as photography or coding
- Playing brain training games
- Reading a book a week
5 Ways to Set Better Health Goals
No matter what areas of health someone chooses to focus on, there are strategies to make better goals and stay motivated while achieving them. Here are five of the most effective ways to set and stick to better health goals.
1. Make Them Realistic
To achieve a goal, it has to be realistic. Aiming to run a marathon in 2024 may be a good goal in theory, but it’s not ideal for someone who has never run before and has no plan to start running. Instead of creating ambitious goals, set SMART health goals.
SMART is an acronym that stands for:
- Specific: what is the exact goal and how are you going to achieve it? For example, losing five pounds is a health goal, but walking every day for one hour to lose five pounds is a specific one.
- Measurable: how will you measure progress? If someone’s goal is to learn a new language, they may measure progress through a habit tracker to count how often they practice.
- Achievable: how will you achieve this goal? Someone who has a goal to improve their social health may achieve this goal by joining three new clubs.
- Relevant: why do you care about achieving this goal? If someone wants to spend more time in nature, they may first journal about why that goal matters to them.
- Time-bound: when are you going to accomplish this goal and how much time can you devote to it? Let’s say the goal is to meditate as part of a bedtime routine. Try it for one month, instead of indefinitely, to make it easier to achieve.
For more on developing realistic goals for great health, click here.
2. Create a Specific Action Plan
Once a realistic goal has been set, it’s time to create a healthy living plan. This often means breaking a bigger goal down into weekly or daily habits.
For example, if someone wants to eat healthier, they may break that goal into healthy habits, such as:
- Prepping meals on Sunday and Wednesday
- Spending a few minutes writing a grocery list before shopping
- Reducing their sugar intake
- Practicing mindful eating at each meal
- Tracking how much water they drink for adequate hydration
- Trying a new meal each week with plenty of healthy fats and protein
3. Make Goals Enjoyable
When setting health goals, consider how to make them more fun and fulfilling. Research suggests that we stay motivated and have a positive mindset when goals feel meaningful or enjoyable to us.
For example, if someone knows they need to increase their physical activity but doesn’t enjoy walking, a daily walk may not be the right goal. Instead, that person can ask themselves what physical activity they enjoy. If it’s gardening, they can make a goal to garden daily instead.
4. Find Accountability
Accountability is key to achieving health goals. Telling friends and family about a goal provides a supportive community when obstacles arise.
For even more accountability, consider finding a friend with a similar goal who can be an accountability partner. Accountability buddies regularly check on each other’s progress and provide motivation.
A doctor can also be a valuable resource when setting health goals. They can help tailor a goal to accommodate an individual’s health issues and provide strategies to make it more likely to achieve one’s health goal. A healthcare professional’s insight is especially useful for difficult milestones to achieve in someone’s health journey, such as achieving a healthy weight, strengthening the immune system, or living a more active lifestyle.
5. Add Goals to a Daily Routine
Health goals shouldn’t be abstract ideals. They should be part of daily life. To add health goals to a daily routine, consider habit stacking them with tasks you already do. Habit stacking is the concept of adding a new habit between two things you are used to doing.
If someone’s goal is to journal, for example, they might do so after making their morning tea. To walk daily, someone may add it to their lunchtime routine before cooking a nutritious meal.
What are the 3 types of health goals?
There are many types of health goals. Three of the most popular are exercise, nutrition, and mental health goals. Exercise goals relate to how often or the intensity of physical movement. Nutrition goals focus on what someone eats while mental health goals are related to developing habits for better mental health, like meditation or self-compassion journaling.
What are some SMART goals for health?
SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Some research suggests SMART goals are easier to achieve.
If someone’s goal is to “workout more,” that is vague and difficult to accomplish. A SMART version of that goal would be to lift weights and walk one mile on a treadmill twice a week for the next three months.
What is a wellness goal?
A wellness goal is any goal that improves overall physical health and mental wellness. When creating these goals, reflect on the eight areas of wellness and where the most growth is needed. Those eight areas include physical, social, emotional, environmental, spiritual, occupational, financial, and intellectual wellness.