It’s almost time to get started on your New Year’s resolutions. If your goal is to eat healthier, lose weight, start to exercise, or quit smoking, you are not alone. Not only are these some of the most common changes people want to make, but these are also among the most challenging behaviors to alter. Progressing from just starting out on January 1 to successfully changing habits, in the long run, can be a difficult and lengthy process. Here (and in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week) are some simple steps you can take now to get a head start on New Year’s resolutions.
The typical American diet contains too much processed food which tends to be high in added sugars, fat, and salt and not enough “real food.”
- Start with five fruits and vegetables each day—but aim for twice that many. Fresh is best, but frozen vegetables are a good alternative.
- Avoid added sugars and salt, especially in prepackaged foods and snacks. This will help steer you toward food that is less processed and healthier overall.
- Soda, juice, sweet tea, and other drinks tend to be loaded with sugar and calories. Make water your drink of choice and save other beverages for special occasions.
Starting an Exercise Program
Regular exercise is probably the most important thing you can do for your health. The good news is that a little activity goes a long way.
- Dedicate time for exercise each day. At a minimum, you should aim for a 30-minute walk, and you can split that up into 10 to 15-minute bouts if you need to.
- Start slowly. Building endurance and strength takes time, and doing too much too soon can lead to injury.
- Join a gym. You can get all the exercise you need at home, but joining a gym gives you more options for equipment, classes, and personalized advice.
Successful weight loss requires that you change your diet and activity habits. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts that work in the long term.
- Reduce portion sizes. The quickest way to cut back on calories is to limit the amount of food you eat.
- Eat healthier food. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains tend to be low in calories and can help you feel full. Limiting added sugar and fat in foods reduces calories even more.
- Exercise every day. Research shows that people who lose weight and keep it off exercise every day for at least an hour. Work up to an hour of walking each day to be a “successful loser,” too.
Smoking is a difficult habit to break, owing to the addictive effects of nicotine and the social and behavioral aspects of smoking.
- Get rid of all cigarettes (and matches and lighters) now. This means at home, work, and your car. Don’t forget the pack you have hidden away for an “emergency.”
- Check out nicotine replacement therapy. Nicotine patches, gum, and lozenges are available over-the-counter at most stores and are recommended for nearly everyone who wants to quit smoking. There are prescription drugs that can help, too.
- Change your behavior. Smoking is ultimately a behavior that is influenced by people, places, and situations you encounter. Learning why you smoke is essential to help you quit.
Your ultimate goal should be to change these habits and behaviors forever. Doing so will require that you make a series of changes that you can stick with for years, not just a few days or weeks. It won’t be easy, but the health, fitness, and wellbeing rewards are worth the effort. And starting to make a few simple changes now should get you off to a good start on January 1!