New Year's Resolutions - December 28, 2010 Newsletter
New Year's Resolutions
EHE Newsletter, Volume 10, Number 51
December 28, 2010
Another New Year’s Day is on the horizon and millions of Americans are reflecting on the personal changes that they want (or need) to make in the coming year. Common New Year’s resolutions include commitments to healthy eating, physical activity, weight loss, stress reduction and smoking cessation. These and other health–related goals are popular New Year’s resolutions, yet many people find it difficult to stick to them. To increase the odds of success, individuals need to develop strategies to turn changes into habits and, thus, a part of daily life.
According to a March 2010 American Psychological Association (APA) poll conducted by Harris Interactive, about three–quarters of those who made health–related resolutions said that significant obstacles blocked them from making progress toward their goals. These obstacles include lack of willpower (33 percent), difficulty in making changes alone (24 percent) and stress (20 percent). The APA reports, however, that with the right support, individuals can learn how to make lasting lifestyle and behavior changes regardless of perceived obstacles. The APA recommends that individuals who are making resolutions talk about lifestyle and behavior goals with friends, family and/or professionals such as psychologists who can help individuals navigate their feelings and gain the skills necessary to implement successful behavior change. With this help, individuals can develop willpower and stay on track with their health–related resolutions.
To truly change, an individual must first identify the changes that he or she wants to make. From there, he or she can set specific, measurable and realistic goals, develop an action plan and set it in to motion.
Changing one’s diet to include healthier foods is of the most important steps that an individual can take toward a healthy lifestyle. Most Americans consume more calories than they need without meeting the recommended intakes for many foods (i.e., fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc.) and many important nutrients (e.g., fiber). A healthy eating pattern is fundamental to the maintenance of good health and well–being. To eat healthier, individuals can:
- Eat a variety of plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes. These foods — which are available in many different forms — contain fiber and other essential nutrients and can reduce an individual’s risk of developing many chronic diseases.
- Avoid foods and drinks that are high in refined carbohydrates, added sugar and fat (energy–dense foods). By avoiding these foods, individuals can avoid overweight and obesity and reduce the risks of developing many chronic diseases.
- Choose lean proteins such as beans, peas, lentils, lean meat, fish and poultry; limit consumption of red meats such as beef, pork and lamb; and avoid processed meats.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, physical activity is safe for almost everyone, and the health benefits of physical activity far outweigh the risks. Research shows that regular physical activity can help to reduce the risks of developing several diseases and health conditions, improve overall quality of life and help to maintain the functional independence of older adults. Additionally, it can help an individual achieve and maintain a healthy weight, relieve stress and provide an overall feeling of well–being. Despite these many benefits, New Year’s resolutions involving increased physical activity have proven to be difficult commitments to keep.
Physical activity should not be looked at primarily as a chore. It is important for individuals to find activities that interest them; activities that are seen as enjoyable are more likely to be maintained long term. Additionally, changing routines and trying new things can help prevent common obstacles such as boredom.
There are many new fad diets out there today that are all promising weight loss. Information on them is readily available on the internet, TV and radio advertisements, books, etc. The reality is that fad diets do not work over the long term to help individuals lose weight and keep it off. This year, rather than beginning another fad diet, it is much more effective for individuals to resolve to focus on healthy eating patterns by including healthier foods in their diets as discussed above.
Weight loss requires a commitment to lifestyle changes. The two resolutions above (healthy eating and physical activity) provide a great starting point. It is important to remember that, in order to lose weight, individuals need to consume fewer calories than they burn. Research has shown that an individual’s health can be greatly improved by a loss of just five percent of his or her starting weight. An initial goal of five percent is, therefore, both a realistic and valuable goal.
By maintaining a healthy weight, an individual will not only feel better, but will also reduce his or her risks of developing many common chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke and cancer.
Making the resolution to reduce and manage stress is the first step in a life–long process in which an individual can live a healthier and happier life. According to the APA, Americans generally recognize that their stress levels remain high and exceed what is typically considered to be healthy. The majority of adults also seem to understand the importance of managing stress levels by eating healthy, getting enough sleep and exercising, but they experience challenges (e.g., a lack of motivation, energy and time) in practicing these healthy behaviors.
Tips for reducing and managing stress include:
- Avoiding or changing stressful situations when possible
- Altering reactions if avoidance or change is not possible
- Taking care of oneself
- Making time for proper rest and relaxation
No single method for managing or reducing stress works for everyone or in every situation. Individuals may need to experiment with different techniques and strategies with the aim of achieving feelings of calmness and control.
Making and sticking to this New Year’s resolution can be life–changing. According to the US Surgeon General, smoking cessation represents the single most important step that smokers can take to enhance the length and quality of their lives. Individuals who quit smoking develop fewer illnesses such as colds and the flu, they have lower rates of bronchitis and pneumonia and generally feel healthier than people who still smoke. People who stop smoking before age 50 cut their risks of dying in the next 15 years in half compared with those who continue to smoke.
Despite all of the benefits that are gained from quitting smoking, the resolution to quit is never easy for anyone. According to the American Cancer Society, while there is no one "right" way to quit, there are four key elements that help smokers do so successfully:
- Making the decision to quit
- Setting a quit date and choosing a quit plan
- Dealing with withdrawal
- Staying quit (maintenance)
To have the best chance of quitting and staying quit, an individual needs to know what his or her options are and where to go for help. By partnering with a physician, an individual can explore the many available options and determine the most effective method.
Whatever your New Year’s resolutions are this year, remember that there are different ways to go about achieving your goals. Several attempts using several different methods may be needed in order for you to reach your goals. For many people, this trial and error is often discouraging, causing them to give up. It is, therefore, important to continue moving toward your goal, to try new techniques and find ways to stay motivated. Set small, attainable goals and reward yourself appropriately when achieving each one. Experts say that setting up a reward system is an excellent strategy to help you stick to a long–term goal. Most importantly, only make New Year’s resolutions that are truly important to you and that you will be motivated to achieve. Making a lasting change in behavior is rarely a simple process and will likely entail a substantial commitment of time, effort and emotion.
MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: The information is not intended to constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for consultation with a physician or other healthcare provider. Individuals with specific complaints should seek immediate consultation from their personal physicians.