New Year’s Day has come and gone. If you made a New Year’s resolution or two, you’re in good company. Studies show 141 million Americans do so annually. Chances are, things have been going pretty well so far, but trouble may be on the horizon. Only 22 percent of resolution-makers maintained their resolve for one month after Jan. 1, according to a 2022 study.
Year after year, the most popular resolutions deal with “living healthier” and all that encompasses. Physicians at Atrium Health Navicent said eating healthy, increasing exercise and quitting smoking are all popular resolutions, and that sticking with them can reap life-long rewards.
So, what should you do when the dedication and novelty of your resolution begins to wane? Why is it important to keep putting in the work? Here are some tips from Atrium Health Navicent experts about how to keep your New Year’s resolutions, and the benefits of doing so.
Making a healthy diet a priority is a top resolution for most Americans for good reason.
“Obesity is an issue for almost half of all Americans. We can live such fast-paced lives that meal planning goes undone. I believe many of us have a love affair with food. No longer is it ‘eat to live,’ but ‘live to eat.’ We need to make our health and lifestyle a priority,” said Audrey Bowen, a health educator for Atrium Heath Navicent’s Healthy Communities Food as Medicine Market which provides food assistance and nutrition education.
When changing your diet, it’s all about having a plan. Meal planning, snack planning and planning for when you are bored, hurried or tired are key. Also, know your limits for foods that can trigger overeating — such as sweets, chips or alcohol. Late night eating, eating on the run or skipping meals and then overeating at the next meal are all pitfalls that can be avoided by meal planning.
Start with small changes in your food. For example, take fast food out of your diet most of the time, and then progress to keeping fast food at a minimum, if at all. Use the same strategy for sugary drinks. Daily increase your water intake until you reach 64 ounces a day or more.
“Seeing results in the way you feel physically is a good indicator your resolution is working,” Bowen said.
Long-term health can be the greatest benefit in switching to healthier eating habits.
“We need to make our health and exercise a priority,” said Bowen. “Some benefits of healthy eating are lower blood pressure, lower blood glucose levels and better cholesterol levels. And, of course, it’s great to see the results on the scale, in how your clothes feel and to have family and friends notice the change in you.”
Starting an exercise program is a common — and important — resolution to make.
“Exercise has a wide range of benefits from physical and emotional to mental and social. Any goal can be positively influenced by adding exercise. It will improve your mood and cognitive abilities, provide energy, strengthen your bones and muscles, and help with energy, balance and weight loss. The list goes on. Exercise helps with everything; exercise is medicine,” said Catalina Torres Lopez, lead exercise physiologist at Atrium Health Navicent Wellness Center.
When starting an exercise program, it’s important to think S.M.A.R.T. Set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-based. Write them down to help you visualize them every day.
“Make baby steps with exercise. Meaning, slowly add in either more exercise days per week, or exercise minutes per day. Starting with 5-10 extra minutes is an achievable and manageable way to slowly increase your activity levels,” Lopez said.
A key to maintaining an exercise program is to find something you enjoy doing, whether that’s at a gym, outside with friends or an at-home program.
“Consistency is key. Because motivation can wane, get a buddy to make this lifestyle change with you. The people I see who really stick with it have someone they can be accountable to,” Lopez said.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help getting started, or tips on how to perform certain exercises if you aren’t familiar with them.
“Start small and slowly progress each week. If you are new to exercise, seek help from an expert until you feel comfortable going solo. Even if you are good solo, if you don’t know how to do something, ask questions. Don’t just rely on watching someone else, as that could lead to injury,” Lopez said.
Short-term benefits of increased exercise include more energy, better sleep, more self-confidence, more stamina and fitting more comfortably into your clothes. Long-term benefits include improved blood pressure and lower cholesterol, less anxiety and depression, more muscle and less fat, improved cardiovascular fitness, weight loss and generally feeling better overall.
A resolution to quit smoking can be life-changing, but getting there doesn’t come without its challenges.
“Most people will set a goal to quit smoking, but fail to include a plan of action, track their progress, remain consistent and be accountable. People also forget to identify what their triggers are. The urge for tobacco only lasts 3 to 5 minutes, and people should find ways to be busy when an urge strikes,” said Comblena Johnson, an oncology nurse navigator at Atrium Health Navicent Peyton Anderson Cancer Center.
When making the decision to quit smoking, the first step is to set a quit date. Before that date, clean your house and car to get rid of the smells from smoking. For help with accountability, tell the people in your inner circle that you are starting a smoking cessation program.
Strategies for quitting include nicotine replacement therapy, avoiding triggers, replacing smoking with an immediate healthy habit such as gum and starting a workout regimen such as walking. Allowing a doctor or counselor to assist you with smoking cessation will increase your chances of success.
“Smoking cessation reduces the risk of so many adverse health issues such as cardiovascular disease, pulmonary diseases and cancer. Tobacco products contain more than 7,000 chemicals and compounds — at least 69 of these can cause cancer,” said Johnson.
The short-term gains of a tobacco-free life include an increase in confidence, a more positive mental outlook and better overall health. Time and financial savings also are immediate outcomes.
There is a lengthy list of long-term health benefits for people who have quit smoking. In addition to easier breathing and less coughing, in one year, the risk of heart disease is half that of a person who is a smoker. In two to five years, stroke risk is reduced to that of a nonsmoker and risk of cancer of the mouth, esophagus, throat and bladder is cut in half. In 10 years, lung cancer death rate is half that of a smoker’s risk, as is the risk for kidney disease or pancreatic cancer. After 15 years, the risk of heart disease is back to that of a nonsmoker.
“Most people just set a New Year’s resolution because they want to become better overall,” Johnson said. “But quitting smoking is life-changing. It not only saves your life, but the lives of your loved ones as well.”
For more information about the Atrium Health Navicent Healthy Communities Food as Medicine Market, call (478) 633-5656.
For more details about exercise and wellness services available at Atrium Health Navicent Wellness Center, call (478) 477-2300.
For help quitting smoking, call Atrium Health Navicent Peyton Anderson Cancer Center at (478) 633-2614.