New Year's resolutions --they're easy to make, but easier to break. Why is it so hard to make the healthy changes that we know can help us feel better and live longer? And why is it so hard to make them last?
Some of the most common New Year's resolutions are losing weight, getting more physical activity, eating more nutritious foods, quitting cigarettes, reducing stress and sleeping better. But no matter which healthy resolution you choose, research suggests that some common strategies can improve your chance of making the change a habit --a part of your daily lifestyle.
Any resolution to change needs to include small goals that are definable and accompanied by a solid plan on how to get to that goal. For instance, a resolution to lose 30 pounds may seem overwhelming. Instead, try setting smaller goals of losing five pounds a month for six months. Think baby steps rather than giant leaps.
Next, develop an action plan. You might decide to walk a half hour each day to burn calories or to stop buying vending machine snacks. Those are specific behaviors that could help you meet your larger goal of losing 30 pounds.
To make a long-lasting change in your life, prepare yourself for the challenges you might face. Is the change important to you, or is it influenced by others -- like your doctor, spouse or a friend? Research suggests that if it's something you really want for yourself, you're more likely to stick to it.
Think of exactly how the change will improve your life. For instance, when you stop smoking, your risk lowers for cancer, heart disease, stroke and early death. Small improvements in physical activity, weight or nutrition may help reduce your risk for disease and lengthen your life. In one study, overweight or obese people who lost just 7 percent of their body weight slashed their risk for diabetes by nearly 60 percent. Keeping facts like this in mind can help you maintain focus over the long haul.
Set up a supportive environment. Remove items that might trip up your efforts. If you're quitting smoking, throw away ashtrays and lighters. To improve nutrition, put unhealthy but tempting foods on a hard-to-reach shelf, or get rid of them. Have plenty of healthy foods available for meals and snacks. And be sure you have appropriate, comfortable clothing for exercise, whether at home, the gym or outdoors.
Social support is also key. Research shows that people's health behaviors tend to mirror those of their friends, family and spouses. Enlist friends and family to help you eat better, go on walks, or remind you to stay on track. Being connected to a support group improves chances of success. People learn from each other and reinforce each other in working toward their goals.
While making a change is one thing, sticking to it is something else. People who can maintain efforts to change their behavior, and do it for six to eight weeks, are more likely to be able to support that effort longer term.
The Walk Kansas program is designed on that concept. Walk Kansas is an eight-week Extension program to help people develop the healthy habit of regular physical activity -- a habit they can continue for a lifetime. It encourages social support in the teams of six people who are accountable to each other and who report to their captain weekly. Weekly newsletters also provide support, tips for exercise and eating better, and stress management.
Walk Kansas starts March 17. Details of the program and registration information will be available in a few weeks in local Southwind Extension District offices. Or, contact Ann in the Fort Scott office at (620) 223-3720 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Change is always possible. You're never too out-of-shape, too overweight or too old to make healthy changes. You don't need a new year to make those healthy changes. But the new year is an opportunity to think about improvements you'd like to make and then take steps to achieve them.
Have a happy, healthy new year!
Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Southwind District. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or email@example.com.