Now is when good intentions for the new year can start to wane. It’s no secret it can be challenging to maintain your resolutions to eat healthy and stay fit.
To keep on track, choose simple, specific strategies and make gradual changes, said Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD, chief of nutrition in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Then, build on those accomplishments to expand your healthy efforts.
Rather than: “I plan to lose ten pounds by spring break.”
Try: “I will eat an apple each day during that afternoon slump, rather than those chips.”
Or: “I will walk 15 minutes coming and leaving from work.”
“Be successful all year,” Van Horn said in advocating a slow-and-steady approach. The changes can lead you to a longer, more active and healthier life.
Setting realistic, attainable goals, rather than relying on vague ideas about changing your behavior, more often leads to New Year’s resolution success, research has shown.
Keeping it simple
Pick one habit that’s easy to achieve –literally the “low-hanging fruit” – such as adding one serving of a fruit or vegetable to your diet each day, Van Horn said. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, fiber, and other nutrients that provide a variety of health benefits.
Select one or two that you like and keep those fruits or vegetables handy, so you can grab them on the go. It can become a daily habit, and one you soon may miss if you don’t follow through.
Next, select another new behavior. For example, start reading nutrition labels on foods at the grocery store to find a low-sugar yogurt, a high fiber cereal, or a low-sodium soup.
“Reading labels is another habit that, once in place, you find yourself checking these facts whenever you are considering a new processed food,” Van Horn said.
Other potential healthy changes: Designate a “vegetarian day” or “fish day” each week. Add more steps to your day to increase physical fitness. Try getting an extra hour or even half an hour of sleep. Each new behavior can contribute to your healthier lifestyle and add confidence in your own ability to change for the better.
Building on your foundation
After adopting new habits to kick-start your resolutions, consider moving to another level with additional identifiable health goals – either later in the year, or even as another new year approaches.
“The next set of changes will get easier,” Van Horn said.
Elevating your healthy routine can include reducing and ultimately eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages. Instead, drink plenty of water or black coffee, tea or skim milk. Sugary drinks are the leading sources of added sugars in the American diet and are associated with weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions.
Parents can expand family health goals by including children in the selection, preparation, and clean-up of foods and meals, Van Horn said.
“Be the role model and then watch them hold you accountable for sticking with a healthy eating plan,” she said. “They are never too young to start, and you have the greatest potential to shape their future eating behavior – as well your own.”
Boosting your budget
Remember that sticking with your new year’s goals can also contribute to improved finances, yet another incentive for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Cooking at home gives you more control over the foods, ingredients and preparation, which can result in healthier eating, and it can keep your household budget in line by reducing restaurant bills.
If your cooking skills are lacking, look for a healthy cooking class at a community center, a specialty food or kitchen store or even online. “They are everywhere,” Van Horn said. The American Heart Association offers healthy recipes and cooking skills videos on its website.
As you strive to increase physical activity, keep in mind regular moderate exercise not only helps combat heart disease, stroke, and other health problems, but it can keep your healthcare costs down.
One group of researchers examining surveys of more than 26,000 American adults found that the average healthcare costs for those who regularly exercised was more than $2,500 less than those who didn’t. Physical activity doesn’t have to mean joining a gym. You can get outdoors and exercise for free at a local park or walking trail.
A separate study examined the effects of specific healthy behaviors on medical costs. For instance, quitting smoking can save $1,000 a year or more for pack-a-day smokers. So, consider taking advantage of a low-cost smoking cessation program offered through your healthcare plan.
Remember that keeping a watch on your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol numbers, which are part of the American Heart Association’s Life Simple 7, contribute to your overall health and usually isn’t expensive. Most of these screenings are part of preventive exams in healthcare plans.
Things to Consider:
- Use simple, identifiable health goals to help you stick with your New Year’s resolutions.
- Keep in mind the incentive that maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help you live a longer, higher quality life while also reducing health care costs.
- Take advantage of affordable preventive care offerings in your health plan.
This article was prepared by the American Heart Association (AHA). Transamerica is not affiliated with the AHA and does not control, guarantee or endorse the information. This information does not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911, or call for emergency medical help immediately.