It's that time of year again - time to make all those resolutions with all those good intentions that go behind them.
Nearly half of Americans make New Year resolutions, but unfortunately studies show that many fall off after the first week, and nearly half of those resolutions are abandoned within a year.
You don't have to give up on your goals, if you set realistic expectations with achievable steps. Here we've given some of the best healthy goals to set for 2012, followed by many free and low-cost strategies from well-respected psychologists and doctors that can make it much easier to keep those resolutions. The trick is to incorporate them into your everyday life in a way that makes sense.
Exercising more is one of the top New Year resolutions of all. Gym memberships soar, though many give up quickly. Jeffrey Meyerhardt, MD, MPH, a gastrointestinal cancer specialist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, says that staying fit and healthy can be as simple as lacing up a pair of sneakers and going for a walk. Moderate to intensive aerobic exercise is heart-healthy and has been shown to reduce the risk of several cancers, including colon and breast cancer.
"You don't have to be a marathon runner, but the more you exercise, typically the greater the beneficial effect," says Dr. Meyerhardt. He offers these suggestions for inexpensive ways to work out, and reminds people to always consult their doctor before beginning a new fitness regimen, especially if you have been inactive up till now.
- Take the stairs rather than an elevator.
- Walk or ride a bike in place of driving.
- Take an exercise break or quick walk at work.
- Use a stationary bicycle or treadmill while watching TV.
Keep your Food Colorful
One easy, memorable habit to get into that will help you eat healthier is to look for colorful produce when grocery shopping. A diet low in processed sugars, red meat and calories, but high in fruits and vegetables and loaded with antioxidants, is one of the simplest ways to maintain a healthy weight and diet.
The brighter and richer the pigment, the higher the level of nutrients; look for things like pomegranates, tomatoes, eggplant, grapes, cherries, and turnips. Stephanie Meyers, MS, RD/LDN, and nutritionist at Dana-Farber, gives the rule of thumb that if it comes from the ground and would stain your shirt, it's good for you.
Limit Alcohol Intake and No Smoking
Lowering your consumption of alcoholic drinks may lower the risk of some cancers, and of course has the added benefit of saving money. Women in particular should consider the possible effects of alcohol on breast cancer risk; research has found that in some women, even one alcoholic drink a day might increase their risk of breast cancer.
Many other studies have shown a link between light or moderate drinking and health benefits, particularly red wine and in relation to lowering the risk of heart disease and strokes. These benefits may be most applicable to older adults or those with high cholesterol or existing heart disease risk factors. The Mayo Clinic advises that when it comes to drinking alcohol, only light to moderate intake is key. But it may be safest to avoid alcohol altogether, as the possible benefits don't appear to outweigh the risks.
In this day and age, it may seem to go without saying that everyone should avoid tobacco use completely. Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the United States, and causes more than 80 percent of all lung cancer as well as increasing the risk of oral, throat, pancreatic, uterine, bladder and kidney cancers.
Even if you have smoked for 10 or 20 years, quitting now can cut your risk of developing lung cancer by half. Dana-Farber doctors give the following tips for kicking the habit:
- Plan the quit day
- Follow the four D's: Deep breaths, Drink lots of water, Do something to avoid focusing on cravings, Delay reaching for a cigarette – the urge will pass.
- Avoid triggers: Get rid of cigarettes, lighters, matches, and ashtrays.
Protect your Skin
Sunblock isn't just for summertime. Skin can be exposed to harmful rays all year long, including when it's cloudy, raining or snowing. Some experts say that winter sports enthusiasts face just as much risk of sun damage as summer sunbathers. Sunblock with an SPF of 15 or higher should be used every day, and you should avoid excessive sun exposure, especially between the peak hours of 10 am to 4 pm. Lip balm, hats, UV-blocking eye protection and sunglasses round out tools to use in the battle against sun damage.
Visit the Dentist
Good oral care at home and regular dental examinations are the front line for avoiding mouth cancers and other serious oral conditions. Patients should see their regular dentist for routine teeth cleaning and examinations, once or twice per year. At a routine dental exam, the dentist will examine the teeth and gums for signs of tooth decay, gum disease or other health problems. Sometimes X-rays will be taken. The dental hygienist will perform a thorough cleaning, which sometimes includes sealants or fluoride solution.
If the dentist notices any gum or bone changes, he or she may refer the patient to a periodontist for evaluation, especially if they appear severe or problematic. “Some general dentists try to perform some initial treatments such as root planing or deep cleaning of the teeth,” says Jeff Dalin, DDS. “If things do not respond the way they like, they may then choose to refer to the periodontist.”
Making a Resolution Action Plan
So, now that you have some goals, how do you make sure they stick? E.J. Masicampo, a psychologist at Wake Forest University, says that committing to a specific plan for when, where and how you are going to accomplish each goal will make it more likely that you succeed. Having a plan also frees your mind to concentrate on other things, so that your new resolutions don't take up so much time and planning.
“Once a plan is made, we can stop thinking about that one goal,” says Masicampo, who conducted comprehensive research to study goal setting and willpower. “This frees our minds to focus on other tasks or simply enjoy the current moment.” Keeping resolutions is all about setting new habits, and creating a practical plan helps entrench those habits.
In his model of a successful goal-reaching plan, he includes four essential elements:
1. Specify exactly what you’re going to do and in what situation (where and when)
2. Make sure your plan is under your control and not dependent on someone else’s actions
3. Include specific opportunities to meet the goal in situations that are likely to occur
4. Focus on a goal you are motivated to accomplish
Most importantly, Masicampo says that visualization is key; you have to picture yourself carrying out your plan. In his research, Masicampo found that allowing participants to formulate specific plans for their unfulfilled goals eliminated intrusive, interfering thoughts that such unmet goals produce - the internal nagging. His studies found that making a plan, and thus ridding themselves of the nagging, intrusive thoughts about their goals, actually helped participants attain their goals much better. The participants who most eliminated intrusive thoughts through planning were the ones who ultimately executed their goals.
The Monday Campaign
A cool nonprofit initiative between Columbia, Johns Hopkins and Syracuse Universities has come up with a simple strategy to help people make all sorts of healthy changes, from better diets to quitting smoking. Using Monday as a starter day of renewal, The Monday Campaigns makes Monday the day to recommit to your resolution, evaluate progress and set goals for the upcoming week.
Going week by week, with an evaluation each Monday, is much more manageable for most people that taking on the entire year at once. Sid Lerner, founder and chairman of The Monday Campaigns, says that Monday is like the January of the week. “It’s a call to action built into every calendar, giving you 52 chances for success.”
Indeed, Monday may be the most important day of the week. FGI Research conducted a nationwide survey for The Monday Campaigns, and found that most people view Monday as the day for a fresh start; it's when they are most likely to quit smoking, start a new diet or begin a fitness routine. 74 percent of people thought a Monday start would help them follow through on their health intentions for the week.
The Monday Campaigns offer 52 Healthy Monday tips from leading public health experts. You can sign up for the tips via email, Twitter or Facebook; visit the website at www.mondaycampaigns.org for more information.
“We hope people take advantage of the program by checking in each week, sharing their progress and inviting their friends, family and co-workers to join in,” Lerner says. “Together we can have a better 2012 by making Monday the day all health breaks loose!”