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Make a Healthy Start in 2024 with Tips from Atrium Health Navicent

Woman playing pickleball.

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. A Forbes survey found that the average resolution lasts only four months and only 9 percent of people made their resolve last all year.


Year after year, the most popular resolutions deal with improving health. Physicians at Atrium Health Navicent advise that eating healthy, increasing exercise and quitting smoking are all popular resolutions, and that sticking with them can reap life-long rewards.


“All of us can benefit from good health. The start of a new year offers the chance for a clean slate and a fresh start,” said Millie Smith, a registered dietitian at Atrium Health Navicent. 


Here are some tips from Atrium Health Navicent experts about how to keep your New Year’s resolutions, and the benefits of doing so.


Eating healthy

Plans to eat a more healthful diet always top New Year’s resolution lists — and for good reason!


“Oftentimes, people are entering the new year after a period of overindulgence during the holidays. They may have gained weight, had a prolonged period of decreased physical exercise or simply abandoned previous healthy eating efforts,” Smith said. “The new year offers a time to begin anew with efforts.”


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 sweets and sugary drinks. Daily increase your water intake until you reach 64 ounces a day or more.


“The biggest mistake people make is going to extreme with dieting efforts, setting standards that are too strict and unrealistic. Instead, look for ways to make simple changes that are achievable, which will help you stay motivated,” Smith said.


Long-term health can be the greatest benefit in switching to more mindful eating habits.


“Generally, people notice an increased energy level and overall improvement in health such as better heart health, glucose control, weight management and a decrease in fatigue,” Smith said.


Increasing exercise

Motivation to start an exercise program in the new year may stem from some of the same reasons people make resolutions to eat healthier.


“The guilt from eating too much holiday food drives people into the gym. Also, for many people, Thanksgiving and Christmas are the most exciting holidays of the year, but they can also be the most depressing for people struggling with mental health. Exercise is an immediate good source of dopamine and can improve both physical and mental stress,” said Kellie Sullivan, an 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.


“Start small, keep it simple and make realistic goals for yourself. If you start with an exercise program that is easy to build upon and manageable with your time and goals, you’re more likely to stick with that program long term,” said Brooke H. Thompson, an exercise physiologist at Atrium Health Navicent Wellness Center


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. Another key is to have an accountability partner who can keep you motivated when times get tough.


“An accountability partner can be a like-minded friend or someone you met at the gym who has the same exercise interests as you. This person will serve as your personal motivator, and you’ll do the same for them,” Sullivan said.


Short-term benefits of increased exercise include more energy, better sleep and more self-confidence. Long-term benefits include improved blood pressure, less anxiety and depression, a decrease in body fat, more muscle and improved cardiovascular fitness. Other health benefits include improved bone density, improved metabolism, and better diabetes management.


“When you are consistent long term with an exercise program, you will see even more benefits. Long-term exercise improves your brain health by reducing the risk of developing dementia and anxiety. It lowers the risk of eight different cancers, improves your balance and coordination and strengthens your bones,” Thompson said. “Overall, maintaining an exercise program long term will be one of the best things you can do for yourself. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.”


Quitting smoking

Tobacco is one of the leading causes of preventable death. Smoking can cause cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung disorders and diabetes. On average, smokers die 10 years sooner than non-smokers. Reasons to quit smoking vary, but are often quite personal.


“Every reason for quitting smoking is personal, so people need to find the reason that will motivate them individually. Most people quit for health reasons, such as COPD, asthma or even heart conditions. Others quit because they want to make sure they can see their kids or grandkids grow up. Many people also know that their smoking can affect others through secondhand smoke, and choose to quit to help others as well as themselves,” said Aime Clance, lead 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.


There is a lengthy list of long-term health benefits for people who have quit smoking.


“Within hours of quitting smoking, your heart rate and blood pressure begin to fall back into normal limits. Within days, carbon monoxide levels in your blood drop to normal. Within a year, shortness of breath and coughing will decrease and you’ll be able to do more physical activity,” Clance said.


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. Within five years, your risk of heart attack, coronary artery disease and stroke 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.


“Once you quit, you are no longer tied to the prison of tobacco. You have more freedoms and are able to spend your time and money on more important things, including your family and friends,” Clance said.


10 tips for sticking to your New Year’s resolutions

  1. Resolutions should be personal and relevant to you.

  2. Choose a new goal so that you avoid repeating past failures.

  3. Set small, realistic goals that are reasonably attainable.

  4. Make your goals specific instead of open-ended and broad.

  5. Create a plan for achieving your goals, and stick to it.

  6. Be sure your goals and progress are measurable.

  7. Write things down and keep track of your progress.

  8. When you face setbacks, learn from them and adapt.

  9. Surround yourself with likeminded goal-setters.

  10. Give yourself time for the resolution to become a habit.


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.

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