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How To Keep Your Healthy New Year’s Resolutions

Health is usually near the top of the list when we make those annual wish lists every January.

The most common desire? Increasing the amount of exercise, chosen by 37 percent of those in an online survey conducted by the University of Washington’s Addictive Behaviors Research Center.

If you’re on track with your plans to work out more, eat better or drop 10 pounds, we salute you. But if you could use some tips and tricks to help meet your goals as the year wears on, this report can help.

Goal-Setting For Success
Psychologists say some of the most common New Year’s resolutions — like “I want to lose weight” or “I’m going to start working out again” — are actually lousy goals. Why? Because they’re not specific and measurable.

The more precise your goals, the better you can gauge progress.

“I will lose two inches from my waistline in the next three months” or “I will walk at least 30 minutes three days a week” are much better resolutions. You’ll be able to monitor your accomplishment weekly and see whether you’re on schedule.

Goals should present at least a modest challenge but must be attainable. So if you’re facing a high school reunion in six weeks, shoot for a reasonable weight loss of one to two pounds a week, not an impossible 30 pounds total.

Once you formulate your resolutions, share them with someone supportive. You and a friend can reinforce each other by regularly discussing your progress.

Don’t beat yourself up when you backslide. So you ate five pieces of pizza at lunch instead of two. That doesn’t mean your entire diet is blown. Dump the guilt and get back on track with your next meal. Those who succeed at their goals aren’t people who never mess up; they’re people who don’t give up.

Set A Time Frame
The larger your goals, the more important it is to break them up by what you can accomplish in the short, medium and long term.

Short-term goals you can meet in just a few weeks provide a motivating quick start — like dropping the first few pounds or beginning and sticking to any kind of exercise program.

Medium-term goals can be three to six months out.

Long-term goals might be those you expect to take a year or more to accomplish.

Using a time frame builds in opportunities to reward yourself for small successes. And experiencing success increases what psychologists call self-efficacy: your belief that you are capable of accomplishing a desired task. Studies show that people higher in self-efficacy are more likely to succeed in changing their behavior.

Rewards needn’t be expensive. Buy yourself a paperback book or see a movie with a friend for every five pounds lost or every eight hours of exercise completed.

Exercise Resolutions That Work
When choosing a form of exercise, begin with what appeals to you:

  • Is there a program you’ve followed in the past and enjoyed?
  • Do you want to work out alone, with a buddy or in a class?
  • Are you looking for something fun, relaxing, challenging or competitive?
  • Do you want to sweat in the great outdoors, at home or in a gym?
Try an activity that meets these needs and is suited to your fitness level. If you give it a good try — six to 12 weeks — and hate it, you’ve learned something. Don’t be discouraged; just try something else.

Fitness experts stress the value of an exercise journal. You’ll know at a glance how much you’re doing each week and whether your current program is giving you the results you want.

The journal can be quite simple: a pocket notebook in which you note what you did, for how long and on what day. Or you can find journal pages to copy in “Be Active Your Way: A Guide for Adults.” This booklet is based on the government’s 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. It’s available at www.health.gov.

Many people do better with an exercise buddy or a class because of the increased accountability. You may not feel like walking, but if you’re meeting a friend, you’re more likely to do it anyway.

A Proven Strategy: 10,000 Steps
If the idea of a full-blown exercise program is overwhelming, start smaller. Gradually increasing your activity level is a perfectly respectable goal.

Consider buying a pedometer and working toward 10,000 steps a day, a level of activity that brings significant health benefits.

A review of studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2007 indicated that those who wear pedometers walk about a mile a day more than those who don’t. Wearers also significantly decrease their body mass index (an estimate of body fat based on height and weight) and improve their blood pressure.

You don’t need to reach 10,000 steps immediately. Wear the pedometer for several days and note your total steps at the end of the day. Strive to increase the number each week by 500 or 1,000 steps.

Bottom line: Every bit of activity enhances your health. Try these ideas:
  • Park father away when you shop
  • Take stairs rather than elevators
  • Stand more and sit less
  • Walk while on the phone
  • Get off the bus or subway a few minutes’ walk from your destination
Coping With Slip-Ups
Life happens: Illness, injuries, busy spells at work, you name it. Exercise psychologists say lapsing occasionally from your exercise plan is normal and common. So don’t beat yourself up. Guilty feelings can make you less confident about your ability to exercise.

Think about the reasons you skip workouts and how you can address each one.

Weather too bad to walk outdoors? Work out inside with a DVD instead. Too tired after a day in the office? Brainstorm ways to get some exercise before work or to take a fitness break during lunch. Getting bored with the routine? Try something different or enlist a buddy.

Identify negative self talk and substitute positive messages. For example, when you’re thinking, “I’m too tired today; I’ll exercise tomorrow,” tell yourself, “It’s true, I am tired — but I always feel better after I walk” or “I’ll give it 10 minutes. If I want to quit after that, it’s OK.”

Keep in mind the reasons you want to be more active. At least once a week review your short-, medium-, and long-term exercise goals. If your initial resolutions were too ambitious, adjust the timeline as needed.

If you’ve been sick or sidelined with an injury, start back slowly, at reduced intensity. Check with your doctor if you have any concerns about your capabilities.

Healthy-Eating Goals That Work
We’re a nation of dieters — dropping pounds with the latest best-selling diet book, then putting it back on, often with interest.

If dieting leaves a bad taste in your mouth, try a slower, steadier approach. Rather than focus on foods you shouldn’t eat, create resolutions for better health.

Take it slow. Think about changing one thing every week or two. Here are tips to enhance your nutrition and/or reduce calories painlessly:
  • If you drink a 20-ounce soft drink per day, switch to a 12-ounce serving.
  • Buy whole-grain bread instead of white.
  • Cook one more day a week rather than eat convenience food or visit a restaurant.
  • Eat breakfast every day. You’ll consume fewer calories overall.
  • Use smaller plates.
  • Substitute low-fat or fat-free dairy products for their full-fat counterparts.
  • Eat more slowly so you can enjoy your food more.
  • Learn to monitor hunger on a scale from one to five, with one for starving and five for stuffed. Don’t wait until you reach level one to have a meal. While you eat, pay attention to how you feel. Once you get to three (satisfied), stop eating.
  • Pack a healthy lunch rather than eat out on one additional day per week.
  • Fill up on vegetables and reduce servings of meat or fatty foods.
  • Two or three days a week, have an additional serving of fruit or vegetables.
  • Start lunch or dinner with a large salad or a cup of broth-based soup. You’ll eat less.
  • Choose fruit for dessert.
  • Once a week, try a fruit or vegetable you’ve never had before.
Helping Employees Keep Their Resolutions
By creating a healthier work environment, you can help yourself and employees accomplish goals.
  • Bring fruit or bagels, not doughnuts, to breakfast meetings.
  • Order sandwiches or salads for lunch gatherings rather than pizza.
  • Give employees a pedometer and award a small prize each month for the staffer who logs the most steps.
  • Hold walking meetings.
  • Encourage employees to communicate with you and one another by strolling down the hall rather than phoning or e-mailing.
  • Invite a representative from the American Cancer Society or other local health-related organization to give a talk at an employee luncheon.
  • Participate in a local health fair or help sponsor a community fun run.
  • Enroll your company in America on the Move’s free STEPtember Challenge. Members receive daily e-mail tips on nutrition and physical activity. Find out more at www.americaonthemove.org.
For More Information
Get more help in meeting your heath goals by visiting these Web sites.

USDA MyPyramid
Personalized eating plans, nutrition information and opportunities to track physical activity.
www.choosemyplate.gov

Keys to Exercise Success
Online resource for goal-setting and fitness information, developed in partnership with the American College of Sports Medicine.
www.myexerciseplan.com

Shape Up America!
Offers information on exercise and nutrition, including the “Shape Up & Drop 10” program
www.shapeup.org