How to make this New Year a fresh start to good health

By: Bel Marra Health | General Health | Saturday, December 27, 2014 - 05:02 AM

life, resolution, life, resolutionWhy do some people jump in icy water for a polar bear swim to ring in the New Year? Or stay up far past their bedtime just to witness the stroke of midnight as the calendar changes (whether you’re blowing noisemakers and kisses at a party or cozied up on the couch watching the ball drop in Times Square on TV)…

New Year’s is a significant moment, even if you’ve decided to hit the hay before midnight and wake up to a new dawn – the dawn of 2015. There’s hope for a better tomorrow, the promise of a fresh start and new possibilities. I still get a little giggly as the New Year approaches, with butterflies in my stomach, but the good kind of butterflies. It’s exciting!

While I don’t have any big plans to celebrate the occasion, my husband and I always have a Champagne toast to seal the deal. We’re together and that’s what matters.

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The good side of setting goals

Festivities aside, the start of a bright new year is time for resolutions. Not those pie-in-the-sky proclamations made at the last minute, but solid, attainable goals that you’ve written down in a journal or shared with a confidant to help keep you accountable.

Why bother? Experts say resolutions can go one of two ways: They can set you up for a repeated tailspin of defeat, or give you the opportunity to map out goals and set targets to achieve them. It all depends on your approach and determination to see them through.

In fact, a Journal of Clinical Psychology study from Scranton University in Pennsylvania found that people who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to change their behavior than those who don’t.

Why not seize the opportunity to plan out some changes you’d like to make in your life, for the better?

A huge 40 percent of us seriously consider a New Year’s resolution, Scranton University researchers say. They recruited 281 people from the city of Scranton, Pennsylvania for a survey and follow-ups to determine what it takes to stick to a resolution and see it come to fruition.

The top resolutions usually come down to health. The most common are to lose weight, exercise more, and stop smoking.

Why the push for better health and not, say, becoming better with your budget or buying a new car?

Good health impacts how we live day-to-day, how mobile we are, and the plans we can make with friends and family. If we don’t feel well, it sucks the joy out of life. We don’t want to be engaged with the world. We’d rather hole up at home and turn on the TV for company.

Worse still, extra weight and lack of exercise can lead to cardiovascular disease and diabetes, not to mention a lowered immune system so you’re more susceptible to those common aches, pains and cold and flu bugs that are making the rounds.

So if losing weight or exercising more is on your agenda, make a resolution for 2015. It’s difficult to make sweeping lifestyle changes to achieve big goals, so start small and mark your successes along the way.

Reward yourself for long-term motivation

Achievement has been linked to making gradual changes. If you make small tweaks to your diet, for example, this will lead you to healthier eating overall. Instead of telling your wife you’re going to drop 20 pounds, let her know you’re going to start eating more vegetables and walking once a week for a good half-hour. Use a calendar to mark your walking days and every time you have an extra serving of vegetables. Give yourself a gold star and a movie night out when you’ve lost your first five pounds. Rewards are motivating!

Enlisting the help of a friend or loved one is great for encouragement and support. You need someone to be on your team, cheering you on. She might tone up and drop a few pounds herself, if she joins your plan.

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Plus, avoid things that might tempt you to sabotage your makeover plan. Get rid of all the junk food in your cupboards. Toss out those coupons for fast food on your fridge. All those unnecessary temptations only get in the way.

Another tip is to consult a registered dietitian to discuss your eating habits and how you could make further small adjustments and substitutions.

After a few weeks, increase your walking frequency to three times a week, and add a salad with lean protein like chicken or cottage cheese for lunch to your daily diet.

Those gradual changes add up to long-term success. Check your weight each month and reward yourself with a nice dinner out or something special to celebrate those achievements toward a larger goal.

Habits are meant to be hard to break

Depending on the habit, it may take months for change to take hold. That’s because our brains are designed to take shortcuts, so as many of our behaviors as possible become automatic. Habits are meant to be difficult to change.

But if you start seeing results from healthier eating and exercise, for example, you will certainly feel more motivated to continue. Your mindset and attitudes for success make the difference.

The tough part is our short-term urges and desires can trump our long-term plans. If you’ve sworn off sugar and find yourself diving into the cookie jar by January 5, you’re not going to retrain your taste buds any time soon.

In the Scranton University study, people who succeeded with their resolutions had made a clear decision to change, they believed they were able to change and believed it was possible to keep up their new habits over a long period of time.

No one said making change is easy…

The quitters, on the other hand, would blame themselves when things went wrong and spend time simply wishing things were different. Change doesn’t come easy and you’re not always going to feel great about pushing your limits or exercising your willpower. The thing is we all like an easy fix.

As a teenager, I remember vowing to lose weight every New Year’s. This was the year I was going to wear skinny jeans and feel great about myself! The trouble was, instead of mapping out a sensible eating and exercising plan, I decided to try diet pills and whatever trendy diet I came across. I yo-yoed in weight for no good reason, which studies say is hard on your body. Also of note, I was never overweight. I just wanted to be “skinny.”

For staying power, resolutions need to be smart, realistic and doable. Because achieving that goal does pay off. If you commit to having more whole foods in your diet, for example, and spend more time in the kitchen preparing meals, you’ll likely find you’ll feel better, happier and more energetic. Who doesn’t want that?

Don’t leave your health to chance

There is strong evidence to suggest that making plans for self-improvement and setting manageable goals is far better than letting chance steer the ship.

A new study in the Lancet reveals that having a sense of purpose and direction is tied to well-being and longevity. People who think their life has meaning die later than people with a lower sense of personal well-being. Life is a journey of change and discovery – and you want to make the most of it!

Plan out your resolutions in advance of those high-emotion moments before the clock rings in the New Year at midnight. Take a few days to think about where you’re at in your life, and the little things that could make you happier, healthier and more fulfilled.

You don’t have to shout from a mountaintop that you’re going to drop 40 pounds or start jogging 10 miles a day. But getting out for a walk with a friend every Wednesday, well, that could change your life for the better.

Karen Hawthorne is managing editor at Health eTalk and BelMarraHealth.com. Karen has worked for the National Post, Postmedia News, CBC Radio Vancouver, the Edmonton Journal, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record and the Cobourg Daily Star, reporting on health news and lifestyle trends for over 15 years.


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