New Year's resolutions — so easy to make, but so much EASIER to break. Why is it so hard to make the healthy changes that we know can help us feel better and live longer? And why is it so hard to make them last?
Scientists are learning more about how we can make healthy changes and, even more important, how we can sustain them. Let's start off with the good news: we are never too out-of-shape, too overweight, or too old to make healthy changes.
Some of the most common New Year's resolutions are losing weight, getting more physical activity, eating more nutritious foods, quitting cigarettes, cutting back on alcohol, reducing stress and sleeping better. But no matter which healthy resolutions we choose, research suggests that some common strategies can boost your chance of making the change a habit — a part of your daily lifestyle.
One of the biggest challenges with New Year's resolutions is that we often set unrealistic goals which can quickly lead to frustration and defeat.
One major key to making any resolution work is to break up your resolution into smaller goals that are definable and accompanied by a solid plan. For instance, a resolution to lose 30 pounds may seem overwhelming. But if you set a smaller goal of losing 5 pounds a month for 6 months, it seems much more feasible. We have to train our minds to take 'baby steps' rather than giant leaps.
Next, develop an action plan. For example, you might:
- Decide to walk a half hour each day to burn calories
- Stop buying vending machine snacks
- Limit and keep track of your daily calories.
Each of these options are specific behaviors that can help you meet your overall goal (resolution) of losing 30 pounds. To make a long-lasting change in your life, prepare yourself for the challenges you might face. Think about why you want to make the change: is it important to you, or is it mostly influenced by others like your doctor, your spouse or a friend? Research suggests that if it's something you really want for yourself — if it's meaningful to you, then you will be more likely to stick to it.
Think of exactly how the change will enhance your life. For instance, if your resolution is to stop smoking, think about the benefits: your risk plummets for cancer, heart disease, stroke and early death. Likewise, reducing stress might cut your risk for heart disease and help you fight off germs. Even small improvements in physical activity, weight or nutrition may help reduce the risk of disease and lengthen your life. In one study, overweight or obese people who lost just 7% of their body weight slashed their risk for diabetes by nearly 60%. Keeping facts like this in mind can help you maintain your focus over the long haul.
Setting up a supportive environment is another step toward success. Think about the physical support you'll need, like the right equipment for exercise, appropriate clothing and the right kinds of foods to have at home. Remove items that might trip up your efforts. For example, if you choose to quit smoking, throw away your ashtrays and lighters. To improve your nutrition, put unhealthy (but tempting) foods on a hard-to-reach shelf, or get rid of them altogether.
Social support is also key.
Research shows that people's health behaviors — like smoking, drinking, or weight gain — tend to mirror those of their friends, family and spouses. Enlist friends and family to help you eat better, to go on walks (or bike rides) with you, to remind you to stay on track.
Find things that are fun to do together and you'll be more likely to stick with it. Get connected to a group where lifestyle change like weight loss is a joint goal. People learn from each other and reinforce each other when everyone is working toward the same goal.
While making a change is one thing, sticking to it is something else.
Maintaining a change requires continued commitment until the change becomes a part of your life, like brushing your teeth or washing your hair.
Studies show people who can maintain or engage in efforts to change their behavior for 6 to 8 weeks, are more likely to be able to support that effort longer term. In these studies, self-monitoring and tracking seem to be a critical aspect of almost every sort of long-term behavior change. If you are making a resolution to lose weight, jotting down the foods you eat, keeping an exercise diary, or making a record of your sleeping patterns would be examples of ways to self-monitor.
It might feel like a burden at first, but it's one of the best predictors of successful change. Think about how you can make tracking more convenient, so it fits naturally into your life. For example, it might mean keeping a pad of paper in a purse or pocket, or downloading a mobile app or computer program. It's equally as vital to have a plan to get back on track if you start to slip. If your motivation starts waning, remind yourself why the change was important to you in the first place. Recalling personal motives for making the changes can encourage you to get back on track.
Of course, we don't need a new year to make healthy changes; we can make them any time of the year. But New Year's has traditionally been a popular opportunity to think about improvements you'd like to make and then take concrete steps to achieve them.
Set realistic goals, develop an action plan and set it in motion. Make your new year a healthy one.
Summit Medical Group's care providers can work with you to develop short- and long-term health goals as part of your overall care plan. If you need a primary care provider or would like more information about steps to make your healthy New Year's resolutions a success, visit us at www.summitmedical.com.