By Dr. Frederick Kuo, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, Employer & Individual, UnitedHealthcare of California
Despite the annual chatter about New Year’s resolutions, many of us give up by February and only a few stay the course for a whole year. But still millions of Americans hold the course and continue to set goals with high hopes of a better year ahead.
Why is that? Sometimes it’s because we’re not really committed to the goal. Other times, the resolution itself is the issue. It may be too broad or unrealistic, or there might not be a solid plan for achieving it.
Here are some goal-setting ideas that I share with my patients, family and friends to help you achieve healthy changes.
Think about these five tips:
1. Focus on one goal at a time. If you’ve decided to record the food you eat and start a daily exercise routine, consider focusing on your food journal first and then begin upping your exercise routine.
2. Set realistic and measurable resolutions and decide how you’ll measure success. Use specific times and numbers to avoid vagueness. Instead of a resolution to “have a less stressful morning routine,” make it your goal to get out of bed by 6:45 a.m. each day. Instead of pledging to “move more,” resolve to add a brisk, 30-minute walk to your daily routine.
3. Make your goals enjoyable. Set resolutions you want to accomplish, not ones you think you should reach, and come up with ways to enjoy the time you’ve committed to them. For example, if your measurable goal is to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, consider enrolling in a virtual cooking class that features interesting ways to add produce to dishes.
4. Plan for challenges and how you’ll overcome them. Brainstorm a list of things that could get in the way of accomplishing your goals and come up with solutions ahead of time. For instance, what will you do if the weather is bad? How can you add purposeful movement around your home or apartment?
5. Stay accountable and get support from people around you. Strong social support may improve your motivation, mental health and behavior. Surround yourself with positive people and advocate for what you need to reach your goal. Consider asking a family member or friend to work with you on a common goal or join a group that will help you stay accountable.
Go deeper: If you decide your resolution will be to lose weight, here are suggestions to help work on these areas of focus:
1. Track your food and drinks. Research has shown people who track their food lose more weight. A food diary may help keep you accountable and reveal things you might not even notice about your eating and drinking habits.
2. Eat quality food. Fill your plates with fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, such as turkey and fish. If that will mean big changes to how you currently eat, consider making a series of healthier food and drink swaps over time.
3. Get moving. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention people who lose weight and keep it off routinely do moderately intense physical activity. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderately intense activity to maintain weight loss. Every adult should perform activities that maintain or increase muscular strength and endurance for a minimum of two days per week.
One last thing: Don’t limit yourself to setting resolutions once a year. Revisit your goals all year to help stay on track and refocus your efforts. Use these tips to set yourself up for success, no matter when you’re looking for ways to live healthier.