Give yourself two to four weeks to establish one healthy habit, then pick a second goal to build on your success
Heavy holiday eating and stress inspire many people to commit to ambitious New Year’s resolutions. Lose weight, eat better, and exercise regularly usually top the list, but only 5 to 10% of folks keep it up beyond a month or two. What adds up to success? Try these tricks to turn your vows into habits.
According to research out of the University of Scranton, the most popular New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. However, history shows that most people are more likely to achieve weight loss if instead they focus on changing their habits, using a SMART roadmap. SMART behavior changes are
Make SMART food choices
It’s tough to maintain a healthy body weight without good nutrition but “eating right” is too vague for most people. To eat right, try a SMART goal: For example, your health goals require a healthy diet. You may decide to try a Mediterranean diet—eating primarily fresh, whole, foods, including vegetables, fruit, beans and lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and olive oil—which is known to foster a healthier weight and to ward off chronic diseases.
Then choose one or more of these SMART options:
Eat a handful of almonds or walnuts and fruit for a snack.
Switch to olive oil for cooking, and as a healthier sandwich condiment than butter or mayonnaise.
Enjoy a “vegetarian night,” by featuring a bean-based main dish for dinner.
To make these goals time-bound, plan for change: Commit to grocery shopping on the weekend to ensure you’re stocked up—fruit, vegetables, hummus for dip, nuts for snacking, and whole grain pasta for a quick dinner—for the upcoming week.
If you aren’t ready for an entire diet overhaul, SMART goals still work in your favor. Simply replacing one unhealthy nutrition habit will put you on the path to reaching your health goals.
Tip: Commit to one goal, on a timeline. Give yourself two to four weeks to establish one healthy habit. (Try keeping fruit and nuts on hand to stay ahead of salty/sugary cravings.) At the end of that time, pick a second goal to build on your success.
No New Year’s resolution would be complete without exercise. As with diet changes, the most successful long-term exercisers employ SMART techniques:
Specific. What type of activity do you plan to undertake? Are you social? Try walking with an exercise buddy or friend. Enjoy competition? Join a basketball league. Struggling with joint pain? Try swimming or water aerobics for pain-free options.
Measurable. How many times a week, and for how long, is realistic for you to exercise? Then choose your units: if you don’t want to track time, try an inexpensive pedometer and choose a goal, such as 10,000 steps per day.
Attainable. If you’re new to exercise, pick reasonable goals—walking three days a week for 20 minutes the first week, 30 minutes the second week, and gradually increasing from there. Set a final exercise goal, give yourself a deadline, and work toward it.
Relevant. How is exercise relevant to you? Do you have kids or grandkids you’d like to keep up with? Can you work it into your commute somehow? Is lowering your blood pressure important? Will your chronic pain be more manageable if your move your joints more?
Time-bound. If you commit to exercising three times per week, and you’ve hit Wednesday without exercising once, reevaluate. What barriers are you facing? Is it too hard to get up in the morning? Try walking on your lunch-break. Or split your exercise into three short bouts of 15 minutes each during the day. Be creative and you can surmount any challenge.
Get smart about supplement support
Don’t forget about supporting your body with the right nutrients. When people make diet changes, they may end up short-changing certain nutrients. Here are five pointers for expanding a safe and sensible supplement routine:
Find balance. Consider a balanced multivitamin that provides 100 to 200% of the daily value for most nutrients.
Make the most of minerals. Consider a calcium supplement; and one that provides magnesium as well is a good choice. Aim for 1,000 mg of calcium per day from a combination of food and supplements.
Supplement the season. You may benefit from vitamin D—try 600 IU per day—especially during dark winter months, when sunshine is in short supply.
Stoke your stamina. Consider a B-complex vitamin, which some health experts note may improve energy and boost mood.
Feast on fiber. Fiber supplements can help you feel full longer, and some studies show fiber boosts weight loss during dieting.
Get started, get moving, conquer setbacks
If you haven’t exercised in years, talk to your doctor or a knowledgeable exercise trainer about a manageable plan that fits your needs and budget. Consider current exercise trends, and whether they are right for you. CrossFit or military-style boot camps may be all the rage, but they aren’t always kind to mature bodies. If you’re not a fitness buff already, don’t start with activities more likely to strain a muscle or stress a joint because of the new movements in an intense environment.
According to Dr. John M. Grohol, PsyD, it helps to “remember that we're all human, we all make mistakes. It does no good to get depressed or disillusioned by setbacks in trying to reach your goals. It's a part of the process and means nothing more than a temporary setback. Putting such temporary setbacks into their proper perspective can help you move beyond them and put them behind you.”
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.