January is a time for new beginnings, and a time for promises to ourselves that this year will be better, happier and healthier than the last. But why are we so often right back where we started by the time February rolls around?
“Research shows that about 50 percent of the population makes resolutions, and of those people about 50 percent or less stick with them,” says Robert Graham, MD, director of Integrative Health & Wellness at Northwell Health (formerly North Shore-LIJ Health System). “So, at best, only about 25 percent of us are making lasting changes.”
Often, that’s because we make resolutions that are unreasonable. “If you don’t have a realistic target, it’s going to be that much harder to achieve it, and frustrating when you fall short,” he says. So in the spirit of “New Year, New You,” here are three common mistakes not to make when thinking about resolutions -- and a few simple tweaks that will make your goals more attainable.
Wrong resolution: “I want to lose 50 pounds in three months.”
Make it right: Aim for 5 to 10 percent of your body weight.
A restrictive diet may help you shed pounds quickly at first, but is it something you can stick with for several months -- let alone the rest of your life? If not, you may find yourself gaining the weight back before you know it. Instead of making such a drastic change, says Graham, aim to lose 5 percent of your body weight within 6 to 8 weeks, and 10 percent within three months.
That may not be the dramatic makeover you’ve been dreaming about, but research shows that losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can lower your risk for heart disease and other chronic conditions. What’s more, a slow-but-steady approach is one you can keep up all year, allowing you to continue to lose.
Graham also recommends enlisting the help of nutritionist and/or a personal trainer, especially if you want to lose more than a few pounds. “It can be hard to do on your own, especially when you’re trying to create lasting change.”
Wrong resolution: “I want to finally get in shape … by jumping into a super-challenging workout program.”
Make it right: Start with 30 minutes of (any) exercise a day.
“So many patients tell me, ‘I’m going to start this crazy P90X workout’ or ‘I’m going to run a marathon in two months,’ when they were a total couch potato all year,” says Graham. “That’s great, but as we learned from being a kid: You need to learn how to crawl, then walk, then run.” If you start an exercise program that’s too challenging or that moves too quickly, you could quickly fall behind—or, worse, injure yourself.
It’s fine to have a lofty goal, like completing a race or becoming expert in a trendy new approach to exercise. But if you’re starting from scratch, set your sights lower to start: Just pledge to get 30 minutes of aerobic activity at least five days a week. That activity can include brisk walking and other forms of moderate exercise.
If you can keep that up for a few months and are feeling good, you may want to start increasing the duration or intensity of your workouts, says Graham. But always talk to your doctor before starting a new program that’s physically demanding.
Wrong resolution: “I smoked my last cigarette December 31.”
Make it right: Make a plan, set a date and make yourself accountable.
The decision to quit smoking is a big one, and it’s one of the best things you can do for your health. (So congrats!) Now you’ve got to actually make it happen. If you know you want to quit smoking in 2016 but haven’t given much thought to the specifics of how you’re going to do it, going cold turkey may not give you the best chance at success.
First, talk with your doctor about strategies that might make quitting easier; he or she may recommend nicotine patches, gum, or medicines that can reduce your urge to smoke. Northwell Health also hosts support groups, workshops and educational programs for people who want to quit; the Center for Tobacco Control in Great Neck, for example, has one of the highest success rates in the country for smoking cessation.