If you’re the kind of person who makes New Year’s resolutions every December 31st, then there’s one you should add to the list: keeping them. Once the holiday parties are over and the year comes to a close, many view the rebooting of the calendar as an opportunity to start anew and take a hard look at habits they should change. This may mean committing to broader, open-ended resolutions such as: “I’ll spend less money”, or “I’ll call my mother more often.” But for a large percentage of people, New Year’s resolutions involve changes to improve health. More often than not, they will focus on losing weight, exercising more, or buying a gym membership.
Most fitness trainers will tell you that gym memberships and personal training session sales spike in January, only to fall off by March. Is it because, after three months of diligent work-outs and loosening of waistbands, goals have been reached and folks feel that they can lighten up on their grueling exercise regimens? This is highly doubtful. When it comes to making changes to improve health and well-being, setting stringent “rules” is a system that is often destined for failure. A better strategy is to implement lifestyle changes that can be sustained throughout the year. Here are some approaches to consider:
Diets Don’t Work
- If losing weight is your goal, keep in mind that dramatic restrictions on eating can ultimately slow the process of weight loss. When the body is hungry, the metabolism will slow down in an effort to conserve fuel. Making healthy choices that provide nourishment and energy will lead to changes that can stick.
- The whole “good” versus “bad” mentality leaves no room for error and increases the chance of a total backfire. If making an unhealthy food choice causes you to label yourself as “bad”, the tendency is to think that you’ve “ruined” the whole plan. Unfortunately, the next step is often to make yet another unhealthy food choice.
- The body is a machine and, much like a car, needs good quality fuel to run properly. If you eat better, you will feel better and more energized.
- Improving health doesn’t necessarily require going to the gym every day or incorporating a rigorous workout into your daily routine. A mere 20 minutes of daily exercise can result in health benefits. Try parking your car further away or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. You can get a pedometer or a phone app that counts the steps you take in a day. Make a goal to move more, not saddle yourself with unreasonable exercise goals.
- If you want to implement a scheduled, daily exercise routine, then choose something that you LIKE to do. If you dread the idea of running, try a rigorous walk around your neighborhood instead. If you like to move to music but are uncomfortable with the idea of a Zumba class, turn up the volume at home and dance in your living room. There are countless exercise videos on YouTube. Here are a couple of examples:
You can also download apps such as Fitness Buddy, which provide a host of exercises and workout ideas right on your smartphone or tablet.
- Choosing high quality, fresh food to nourish your body works. Withholding food and trying to endure being hungry doesn’t. Make the bulk of your daily diet things that grow on something. At the grocery store, stick to the foods in the perimeter: fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats. Read labels so that you understand what you’re putting into your body. If you can’t pronounce it, avoid it. At each meal, try filling half of your plate with something green and leafy.
- Hydrate! Most people don’t drink enough water. Water is your body’s principal chemical component and makes up about 60 percent of body weight. Every system in your body depends on it, and it flushes toxins and carries nutrients to your cells. Dehydration can drain energy and make you tired. Cut down on coffee and keep a water bottle handy. Soda isn’t a good choice no matter how you slice it. Even the artificial sweeteners in diet sodas can trigger the brain to want more sweets, instead of “satisfying your sweet tooth”. While juices are a slight improvement, they contain a lot of sugar. Stick to water, and shoot for about eight, 8-ounce glasses a day. This can vary depending on your exercise level and general health, but it’s a good (and easy to remember) benchmark.
- Keep in mind that alcoholic beverages contain sugar and compromise hydration. A glass of wine here and there isn’t a big deal, but if you’re trying to make healthy changes in your diet, your alcohol intake shouldn’t be ignored.
- There is no place for smoking in a healthy lifestyle. If you smoke, quit. It isn’t an easy thing to do, so talk to your doctor about getting the help that you need. Many over-the-counter aids are available, and some companies provide confidential cessation programs.
- Stay out of the sun. There’s no such thing as a “healthy tan”. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. If you’re out in the sun for an extended period of time, reapply sunscreen every two hours (more if you swim or sweat). And get a skin check each year by a dermatologist to ensure that any moles or abnormal patches are not problematic.
It goes without saying that you should stay up-to-date on physicals and other checks and tests that your doctor recommends. And, as important as it is to eat well and move more, don’t overlook the body’s need for rest. Try to get eight hours of sleep a night, and make sleep hygiene a priority. Blue light stimulates the brain and can make it difficult to fall asleep. Turn off the TV, smart phone and other distractions and, instead, try reading or listening to nature sounds before bed. Take time to relax and give your body and brain, a break. Meditation can calm the nervous system and boost both your mood and immune system. Sit quietly and try to empty your mind of thoughts. It takes practice, but even as few as ten minutes can give the body a much needed breather.
Setting goals for the New Year is a good idea, but don’t bite off more than you can chew. These resolutions are not only sustainable but can have far reaching, positive effects on your life.