Is the New Year Time for a New You?
By Wendy Beckman, MS, RD, CDN
Well, it's finally a new year! We have had many challenges this year, and I'm happy to have a clean slate this January. New Year's resolutions remain popular - there is something irresistible about the blank slate of a new calendar.
That being said - there is mixed research about sticking to New Year's resolutions. Studies have shown that less than 25% of people stay committed to their resolutions after 30 days. Only 8% of people who make New Year's resolutions accomplish them. Other studies show that people who write down their resolutions are 42% more likely to attain their goals than people who don't. So, what should we make of these contradictory statements? Should you make a New Year's resolution or not? The answer is: it depends on what works best for you.
If you think New Year's is the right time to make healthy changes in your life, I think it's important to focus on a few key concepts.
Make your resolutions specific and measurable
"I'm going to exercise more often." is not as specific or measurable as "I am going to go for a walk after dinner three times a week, after dinner." The second version explicitly lays out what you're going to do, how often, and when. These are all things you can keep track of by writing them down in a notebook or on your smartphone. I find keeping track of my progress very motivating to keep going!
Make small changes over time
Let's imagine it has been a while since you last exercised, but you decide you want to train for a marathon. Perhaps, instead, you could set other physical activities goals that might be more achievable:
Start a Couch to 5k program that slowly trains you for a shorter race, like a 5K. (Always consult with your physician before starting a new physical fitness regimen.)
Consider improving your strength and stamina by setting a goal to walk a certain number of times a week.
Commit to increasing your balance and flexibility by resolving to practice yoga for a set number of minutes throughout the week.
If your goal is improving your nutrition, a drastic, overnight change to your diet might not result in success. That might just result in a cranky person who is craving their nightly dessert! Fortunately, there are ways you can still have dessert, but make it healthier:
Cut down on the portion size of your dessert by sharing it with a partner or friend.
Substitute a piece of fruit instead of a piece of cake – even just a few nights of the week.
Be flexible and start slowly
In the example above about exercise, I was specific about how often I planned to exercise – three days a week. Especially when starting out, you want to start out slowly and don't overdo it. Building flexibility into your resolution ensures that if you can't get to your walk on Monday night, you can just go for a walk on Tuesday. You will still have 5 days to get two more walking sessions in before the new week.
You can slowly increase your exercise as you get stronger. If you overdo it when you just start out, you may injure yourself, sidelining your efforts.
Be prepared to mess up
Inevitably, you won't always make choices that align with your goals. If your goal is to lose weight, there may be times when you aren't able to stick with a restricted calorie intake, and you will overeat. When that happens, it's OK to give yourself permission to reset. Just because you went over your calorie limit today doesn't mean that all your efforts are ruined. Weight is lost and gained over time. Don't throw in the towel if you eat too many cookies on any given day. Just remember that tomorrow is another day. It is another chance to do better than today and the day before. Over time, those changes will make a difference. They are not made or broken in any one day.
Aim for consistency, not perfection
This is something that I struggle with. I know that I need to exercise every week. I know that for me to be as healthy as I can be, for as long as I can be, I must consistently get myself out there and move. When I exercise regularly, I feel better, I sleep better, and I have more energy. But some days are better than others. Some weeks are better than others. Sometimes life happens, and I get sick, or I am busy at work, and I just don't get in the amount of exercise that I should. I have learned that I need to be kind to myself. I need to acknowledge that I make mistakes, and I am not perfect, and I never will be.
A few years ago, I decided to start a couch to 5K program because I needed more physical activity. In the middle of the program, I had my annual visit with my primary care doctor, who asked me about exercise. I told her that I was jogging three miles, three times a week. She mentioned that if I could increase that, "that would be good." My only takeaway from that conversation was that I was not doing enough. Then I told myself it wasn't enough, and since I really couldn't do more at that time, so I just quit. In hindsight, it would have been so much healthier if I had just realized that three days a week was better than zero, and I could increase to more days a week when my schedule allowed it. Instead, I quit, because I told myself that I was not doing enough, and I was a failure, so why even keep trying? Let's stop doing that to ourselves. Embrace and celebrate your successes instead of emphasizing your perceived failures. I would be much farther ahead today if I had kept jogging three days each week instead of focusing on how I was a loser for not doing more.
As many as 50% of the adults in the United States make New Year's resolutions. So, go ahead and make that resolution, or don't. Just remember that good health happens over time. It is never too late to adopt habits that will make you healthier now and in the future. And remember - if you fall off the wagon, you can always climb back on anytime you are ready. Whether it's in January or July, good health is something achieved over time, with a healthy dose of forgiveness and kindness toward ourselves.
To learn more about SNAP-Ed and the many ways we can support you in achieving a healthy lifestyle, visit us on line at www.snapedny.org.
Wendy Beckman, MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian with the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA). She has over 13 years working as a Registered Dietitian in long term care and acute care settings and currently oversees the NYSOFA SNAP-Ed Nutrition Education program for older adults in New York State.
This material was funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This institution is an equal opportunity provider. For more information on how to save time, save money and eat healthy, visit www.snapedny.org