The bubbly is being passed around (and around), the confetti’s in the air and the party noisemakers are squawking. It’s New Year’s Eve and you’re caught up in the moment of nostalgic joy – ringing in the new year, wiping out past transgressions and making a fresh start. Out come the New Year’s proclamations: “I’m going to lose 50 pounds!” “I’m giving up red meat for good and turning vegan like Bill Clinton!” “I’m going to start exercising and run a marathon this spring!”
It’s as if my patients have taken my recommendations to increase their activity and eat more greens, and amplified them by 1,000.
The big drama aside, it’s a bold move, laying bare your hopes and dreams for the year ahead – and one that may not make the most sense when you’re lying on the couch the next day, exhausted from the previous night’s festivities. I believe in setting goals and taking steps to instill healthy habits, but are New Year’s resolutions the best way to take stock of our lives — or are we setting ourselves up for failure?
If the goal is too big and unmanageable, you’re more likely to fall back into your usual routine and put your resolutions on the back-burner, again, and dive into the Oreo cookie bag. That cycle of self-sabotage is a tough one to break. But there is a way to do it with some common sense. While the holiday season can be a time of high emotion and stress – getting along with the in-laws isn’t always easy – it can also be a great time to unplug from the daily to-do list and pause for reflection. There really is something hopeful about ringing in a new year and turning to the January photo on your wall calendar. I love to see people succeed, especially when it comes to improving their health. Here are my Top 5 recommendations for New Year’s resolutions that you can actually do:
1. Make A Plan
Whatever your resolution, you need to do your homework and make a plan. You can start with an ambitious target of losing 50 pounds, but turn it into specific goals that are realistic and achievable. For example, with successful weight loss, that translates to losing two pounds a week.
As you’ve probably heard, there’s no magic pill for dropping pounds, and it certainly won’t happen overnight. You need to map out a strategy. Writing down your goals and steps to achieve them helps keep you organized and accountable. So much about weight loss comes down to diet. In fact, some experts say weight loss is 80 percent nutrition. On that note, I suggest keeping a food journal and reviewing it as you go, a behavioral strategy with proven results.
Researchers at the Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research, in Oregon, had the most definitive findings in a 2008 study of 1,700 participants who kept their eating accountable by a food diary and weekly support meetings. Those who wrote a diary of what they ate seven days a week dropped an average of almost 18 pounds over the course of the six-month experiment. And, yes, participants were also encouraged to eat a lower-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and to exercise moderately for at least 30 minutes every day.
2. Get Smarter
It’s time to train your brain to look on the bright side and see those silver linings! A positive outlook can go a long way to keeping you on track toward achieving your goals, and staying healthy and strong. There are a wealth of health benefits associated with optimism, including a reduced risk of death from cardiovascular problems, less depression, and a stronger immune system, the Mayo Clinic reports. It’s not clear why, but researchers suspect positive people might lead healthier lifestyles, avoiding unhealthy habits and coping better with stress, which can do a number on your mental and physical well-being if it gets out of hand.
To tap into positivity, Dr. Daniel Amen, a California-based psychiatrist and author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Body, says it comes down to harnessing our mental horsepower — boosting brain function — to set goals and change our behaviors to achieve them. Have a goal checklist handy, and review and revise it monthly. Visualization can be such a powerful tool, so set goals and imagine yourself as having achieved them. Next, work on cultivating your brain power so you have the follow-through to make them happen.
Flex and build your brainpower with crossword puzzles and Sudoku, take up chess or join a bridge club. Better brain function also is linked to a healthy diet, physical exercise, good sleep and building supportive relationships — and learning to silence your inner critic. Part of this strategy for well-being is learning how to live in the moment. It may sound a little New Age-y, but the new buzz phrase, “present moment awareness,” is a modern take on “stop and smell the roses.” Enjoy the moment! Forget the “I’ll do it tomorrow” attitude and take action in the here and now. Appreciating and focusing on each small act toward a larger goal is a thing of beauty.
3. Eat Better
We all know it. There’s so much truth to the adage, “You are what you eat.” What happens when you’re craving that bag of potato chips? That could be a dip in your blood glucose telling you to eat pronto, so you might grab the first thing that comes to mind: Dill Pickle Ruffles chips.
That approach didn’t work for former president Bill Clinton. Known for his love of hamburgers and fries, steak and donuts, his diet became his downward spiral to serious heart disease and two surgeries. Now he’s given up his former food loves for beans and sprouts, going vegan.
I’m not a vegan, and a good steak is a treat on occasion, but improving our daily eating is an investment in good health. Get more greens on your plate, and add in more fruits and fish.
That way, you can avoid the winter waistline. The average person gains an average of one pound each winter. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you don’t lose that added pound, the weight piles on, slowly but surely.
So try to tune in to your hunger and identify when you really and truly feel hungry – the physical pangs, slight headache or weakness – not by checking the clock and realizing it’s your usual lunch. And keep hydrated. Hunger pangs sometimes mask our thirst, and our body needs water to function optimally. Drinking a glass of water or broth-based soup is a good start to any meal. By eating only when you’re hungry, you’ll reduce the total calories you take in and also improve blood sugar levels to help prevent type 2 diabetes. No need to loosen that belt buckle!
4. Be More Active
Increasing your activity levels is a great resolution and one that will have all kinds of positive effects on your overall health and outlook. Do something daily, even if it’s walking up and down stairs two or three times. Start small and work up to 30 to 45 minutes a day, add in some stretching, If you’re concerned about the holiday over-indulging, daily exercise can offset the negative effects, a new UK study has found. After just one week of overeating, subjects in a University of Bath study showed poor blood sugar control and unhealthy metabolic changes. These negative effects were notably less in those who were exercising every day on a treadmill for 45 minutes.
If a treadmill routine doesn’t appeal, mall walking in the early morning before shoppers arrive is easy and safe in winter when walking outdoors can get tricky. Grab a friend for the mall laps and have a coffee break afterwards in the food court. Adding a social aspect to your exercise can increase its positive benefits and help you stay committed. What could be better than having an exercise buddy to spur you on? Group classes, from yoga to water aerobics to the Zumba dance craze can also boost the fun factor and give you some social time.
5. Drink More Water
I’ve saved the best for last – and it’s something so simple to do: Drink more water. Easy, right? It helps speed up our metabolism, flush out toxins and keep our digestive system running.
It sounds so easy, yet many of us opt for coffee instead, especially in the colder months. Not that coffee’s bad, but nothing hydrates the body and quenches thirst like H20. Ideally, start your day off with a cup or two of hot water and lemon. Fresh lemon helps flush out unwanted materials and keeps your urinary tract healthy. As well, its high vitamin C helps ward off colds and flu. If you’ve read about alkaline foods to help balance the body’s pH levels, lemon does the trick. It’s one of the top alkaline foods; the citric acid doesn’t create acidity in the body once it’s metabolized. In fact, drinking lemon water regularly will help remove acidity in the body, including uric acid in the joints, which is one of the primary causes of pain and inflammation.
How do you keep water top of mind? Don’t stock your fridge with sugary beverages like soda or energy drinks. When we see something handy, we’re tempted to grab it and go. These popular sweet beverages are loaded with empty calories that your body doesn’t need. Research suggests that the body doesn’t “recognize” calories in liquids, so drinking a bottle won’t trigger any “I’m full” signals; it will just encourage you to consume far more calories than your body needs.
The recommended daily intake of water for men is about three liters, and a little over two liters for women. If that sounds like a lot of water, try making unsweetened iced tea using herbal teas or flavoring your water in natural and calorie-free ways, such as adding fresh mint or other favorite herbs. Buy a good quality water bottle, BPA-free, so you can tote your water with you.
And I’m going to add in a bonus tip: Drink ice water, too! Your body expends energy to heat the water to make use of it in the boy, helping to fire up your metabolism.
These sensible resolutions might not sound as glamorous as climbing Everest or buying a Porsche, but instilling good habits will go a long way to giving you peace of mind and longevity. Simply, you can’t put a price on good health, and it takes work, one day at a time.