As we look ahead to 2016, many of us will mull a New Year’s Resolution to get healthier, lose weight, grow stronger or sexier or less stressed.
Sure, your friends and family members will say, “and I want to be the richest person in the world.”
With such big, unstructured goals, it’s no wonder that research shows 25 percent of those who make resolutions will abandon them after a week. The numbers drop precipitously from there – and don’t include the roughly 55 percent of Americans who avoid the annual exercise all together. If you don’t bother, you save yourself the resolution regret that comes with springtime.
It doesn’t have to be this way, said Jennifer Read, a professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo, former fitness trainer and avid runner. Better perspective, a sharper plan, a system to track progress and a willingness to try, try and try again can boost the power of your resolve.
“There’s no reason to think people can’t make changes,” Read said. “It’s just hard.”
Big resolutions – “I want to get in better shape” or “I want to be in a better relationship” – “are really broad goals and it’s hard to know if you’re making progress toward them and hard to know if you’ve achieved them,” Read said. Brash resolutions – “I want to lose 25 pounds by Valentine’s Day” – are unrealistic, and hard to maintain in the long run.
What if you put more thought into a noble New Year’s goal? Started smaller? Figured out how daily choices fit into your yearlong desires? Then you might be onto something.
“Choose something’s that’s consistent with your values, something that makes sense to you and the kind of life you want to live,” Read said. “You should see your goals in your weekly schedule.”
Plan positive additions and limit unwelcome subtractions. “You want to enjoy your life,” Read said. “If you say, ‘I’m never going to have another sweet again,’ do you really want to do that for your whole life? If you don’t, that’s not a good goal.”
We asked the experts to share manageable, workable resolutions that might work for you.
Instead of “I want to get healthier,” resolve to:
Schedule an annual checkup: Especially if you didn’t have one this year.
Take medications as prescribed: If you’re not because of side-effects, find out if your doctor can prescribe a similar drug with fewer of them, said Dr. Judith Feld, medical director, behavioral health and provider engagement with Independent Health.
Better prepare for doctor visits: Come prepared with a list of questions; bring a list of medications, or better yet your pill bottles; bring a loved one with you to help follow the conversation.
Get a flu shot: And ask your doctor what other immunizations you might need; most are based on age or past medical history.
Consider screenings: Get a colonoscopy if you’re 50 or older and haven’t had one in five years or more. Ask your doctor about diabetes, mammography and prostate testing.
Go to the dentist: At least once a year.
“Staying up to date with preventative care is really key to maintaining and improving health and well-being,” Feld said, and is covered in full under most health insurance plans. “Your primary care physician is your best solution to help you figure out what you need.”
Nick Bendixen, a certified personal trainer at Hive Lifespan Center in East Amherst, expects a large uptick in visitors early in the new year. “If they have a big-picture goal and they’re not sure how to get that, breaking it down and planning is going to help them stick to it,” he said. He will recommend a resolution based on the SMART principle: goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relative and time-dependent. “It has to do with successful models,” he said, “rather than thinking coming in that moving a couple of weights around is going to get you anywhere.”
Instead of “I want to get fit,” resolve to:
Adopt a concrete motivation: “I want to lose 20 pounds in a healthy way and tone up by June for a wedding,” or high school reunion or big trip. “I want to lose weight and gain flexibility so I can play with my grandkids” or walk 18 holes of golf.
Think 150: Look to exercise for at least 150 minutes a week, even if that means a busy mom does part of the work doing squats or lunges while watching TV after an exhausting day.
Join a friend: “I will exercise with a buddy two or three times a week in the new year.”
Find a fitness center: Ask to try one a few times – many will allow this for free – and talk to current members about the helpfulness of staff. (See a how-to-choose-a-gym checklist next Saturday in Refresh.)
Add one more day of exercise: If you haven’t worked out in a while, go at least twice. It’s important to know, specifically, what you’re going to do during those workouts, Bendixen said, to vary routines and focus on different muscle groups.
Add a different fitness form: If you only do yoga or pump weights, try walking or running, or a spinning, Zumba or ballet barre class.
See a personal trainer: A certified trainer can help you start an exercise program using the right form and reducing the chance of injury. Some people can go off on their own after spending a few weeks, or one day a week, with a trainer, Bendixen said. Others prefer the support and accountability a trainer brings up to three times a week.
Instead of “I want to eat better,” resolve to:
Model the National Diabetes Prevention Program: Southtowns YMCA Diabetes Educator Mary Ann Drake said the program starts with a “reasonable goal”: Lose 7 percent of body weight over 16 weeks. Key strategies include the following:
Limit fat grams: It’s easier than tracking calories, Drake said, and will help you read and better understand food labels. Program participants set a daily benchmark for fat grams – 33 fat grams for those under 175 pounds, 42 to 55 for those over that weight.
Choose the “My Plate” plan: Meals should include a half plate of fruits and vegetables, and a quarter plate each of whole grains and lean proteins.
Drink more water: We often mistake thirst for hunger; eight 8-ounce glasses daily are recommended.
Limit portion sizes: Bank fat grams for special occasions. When dining out, read dinner menus online and choose something healthy before you leave home. Ask for a to-go box before your meal arrives, and put away half your meal before taking your first bite.
Drake said 99.9 percent of people trying to make a change in their life have ‘slips,’ whether it’s weight, something they should avoid eating and exercise. “It’s really important not to get down on yourself,” she said, “and focus on the positives. It’s so easy when you’re in that negative mode to domino into the opposite effect of your goals: ‘Well, I had a doughnut today, so I might as well start over tomorrow again,’ and then you consume a McDonald’s hamburger. It’s really understanding it’s baby steps that make big differences.”
The YMCA Buffalo Niagara has expanded its Diabetes Prevention Program for those with prediabetes or in danger of becoming diabetic. A new series of classes starts next month at the Delaware, Independent Health, Ken-Ton, Southtowns and William-Emslie family branches. For more information, click on the “wellness” tab at ymcabuffaloniagara.org or call one of the branches.
Stress puts you in a flight-or-fright zone that boosts blood pressure and heart rate, suspends digestion and clouds reasoning, said psychologist Catherine Cook-Cottone, a yoga instructor, associate professor in the UB Department of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology, and author of “Mindfulness and Yoga for Self-Regulation.” (Springer Publishing, April 2015)
“What you do is exhaust your body, which reallocates resources,” Cook-Cottone said. “You’re not in repair, restore, healing. You’re reacting to keep yourself safe, so your body is working in a different way that leaves it vulnerable to getting sick.”
Goals to reduce stress include many of the tips above – as well as avoiding self-comfort through overeating or drinking too much alcohol, Cook-Cottone said.
Among others – Instead of “I want to reduce stress,” resolve to:
Plan some trips: “I’m going to Ireland this year.” “I’m going on three hikes this year: Letchworth, Tifft Nature Preserve and the Eternal Flame at Chestnut Ridge.”
Support a cause: “Roswell Park saved my mother, so I’m going to help them save others.”
Make a spiritual commitment: “I’m going to church on Sundays because it fills my heart.” “I will spend more time listening to music or appreciating art.”
Meditate: “I’m going to take time each day to sit and slow down my breathing rate,” Cook-Cottone said, “so I can slow down my heart rate and allow my body to shift down into rest, relax and restore – even if it’s just for five minutes.” She meditates daily in the “green room” of her Snyder home, with help from an app at insighttimer.com which provides more than 800 meditation exercises.