Health Features

Resolve to Achieve Better Health

Most of us make New Year’s resolutions, especially when it comes to improving our health and wellness. Dieting, exercising, eating more vegetables, building in more ‘me’ time—these are among the most common goals people set for themselves come Jan. 1.

Promises like these are easy to make but a lot harder to keep, especially when you are dealing with daily demands and distractions like family, work, school and maintaining a home. Most people start out with grand plans for a healthier lifestyle in the new year, but as the weeks pass, those good intentions frequently get lost in the shuffle.

We can’t add more hours to the day or more dates to the calendar, but we can build small, realistic and more achievable goals into our schedules on a regular basis. Health resolutions don’t have to be highly disruptive or time-consuming; as the saying goes, every little bit helps, and the cumulative effect is definitely worth the effort. Here are some practical, manageable tips for success with your health goals in the year ahead.

physical health

Quit smoking. Giving up tobacco can be difficult and frustrating, but health professionals advise sticking with it even if the effort requires several tries. To stay motivated, think about the benefits of quitting, such as lower risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer and the potential of a longer life and more time with your family and friends.

  • First, meet with your health care provider to decide on a quitting program that is right for you. Then, get rid of items that make it easy for you to smoke, like ashtrays, matches and lighters. Spend time outdoors, exercise, visit friends and engage in other pleasant activities that can help divert your thoughts from using tobacco. Keep a journal if you find it helpful, and write down key developments as they occur: Are you feeling more energetic? Coughing less? Sleeping better? Experiencing less shortness of breath?
  • However many tries it takes you to quit, don’t forget that it’s important to be kind to yourself. If you fall off the wagon, climb back on and try again. Most things that are worth doing require some trial and error!

Lose weight. A resolution to drop 30 or 40 pounds can seem so daunting that it ends up hampering your progress. Instead, set smaller goals in more manageable increments, like aiming to lose five pounds a month over six months or taking two shorter walks each day in place of a long one. Losing weight will lessen your risk of diabetes, heart disease and other serious health problems.

  • First, meet with your health care provider for advice, and write down what is motivating you to take off the pounds. Is it a desire to feel healthier? Be more active? Move more comfortably? Improve your chances of living longer? Keep this list of reasons at hand so you can refer to it when you need some extra motivation.
  • Next, write down an action plan. It can include simple steps like these:
    • Track calories with a smartphone app
    • Join an employer-sponsored weight loss program or support group
    • Add more steps and movement to your daily activities
    • Cut out fast food and vending machine purchases like soda and candy
    • Replace sweet and salty snacks with vegetables or fruit
    • Walk half an hour each day
    • Play with your kids or dog in the yard
    • Team up with a friend or neighbor who also wants to lose weight
    • Keep a daily journal to record progress
    • Offer yourself small rewards for goals achieved (like playing your favorite song when you reach 5,000 steps)
  • Eat smart and exercise more. There are all kinds of trained professionals who can help you achieve better health through proper nutrition and exercise. Reach out to a dietitian, fitness trainer, wellness coach, weight loss counselor or other trusted practitioner for assistance. They entered their fields to help people be healthier, and they can offer advice and insights you may not have considered.

mental health 

The health of your brain is as important as the health of the rest of your body. Just like with physical wellness, better mental health requires a bit of insight and effort, but small daily changes can help. First steps toward better mental well-being include:

Figuring out your stress triggers. Make a list of situations, problems and concerns that make you feel upset, pressured or anxious. Does your stress seem to be driven by specific people, situations or events? Discuss your triggers with a mental health professional who can identify healthy ways for you to manage those triggers.

Understanding your stress symptoms. Do you experience problems like headaches, heartburn, shortness of breath or insomnia during periods of stress? Again, discuss them with a health care professional who can provide advice and treatment.
Being open to communication. Simply talking about experiences and challenges with supportive family and friends is a positive step toward better mental balance.

Letting go of guilt. Mental health challenges and pressures are a common and expected part of life, not a sign of weakness. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and be human.

Asking for help. Mental health professionals are uniquely trained to understand the behavioral, emotional and social problems people face, and they can offer techniques to achieve healthy balance without stigma or judgment.

Sources: National Institutes of Health, Harvard Medical School, American Psychological Association, Mayo Clinic

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