Setting Sustainable, Healthy New Year’s Resolutions

(Graphic provided by Canva)
(Graphic provided by Canva)

By Alyssa Havlovic, MS, RDN, ACSM EP-C, Extension Educator in Lancaster County

Happy New Year! The new year is upon us, and for many it brings a sense of renewal, a chance to refocus and, of course, set our New Year’s Resolutions. Millions of people will set a New Year’s Resolution to improve their health, but often those resolutions fizzle out in the first few months of the year. A common reason may be that we set unrealistic goals and get frustrated when they don’t happen right away. So, how can you set a healthy New Year’s Resolution and actually stick to it? Read on for my top seven tips.

1. SET SMART GOALS. SMART goals stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. Consider when, where, what and how you will achieve that goal. For example, rather than saying, “I will be more physically active this year,” set a SMART goal such as, “I will walk for 30 minutes a day at least four days a week.” Be mindful about the steps you will take to achieve that goal, and write them down. These steps can serve as mini goals or milestones and should be what you focus on each week to achieve your overall goal.

2. PLAN AHEAD FOR CHALLENGES AND OBSTACLES. Think about what has prevented you from achieving your goals in the past. Is it time? Is it the type of activity? Is it fatigue or boredom? Determine a plan for how you will overcome that obstacle. For instance, if your goal is to walk four days per week, what will you do in the event of inclement weather? Do you have an alternative activity planned? Establish a Plan B, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip. Remember, life happens; don’t give up just because you had one “bad” day!

3. TRACK YOUR PROGRESS TO MAINTAIN MOTIVATION. There are several apps available to help you track your physical activity and/or healthy eating habits, such as “Start Simple with MyPlate,” “My Fitness Pal,” or “Runkeeper” to name a few. If you prefer pen and paper, grab a journal, and write down your progress each week.

4. DETERMINE A HEALTHY WAY TO REWARD YOURSELF. When you reach a mini goal or milestone, reward yourself in a healthful way. Consider a reward that relates to your goal. For example, new workout clothes or shoes for reaching a fitness-related goal, or maybe a new kitchen gadget if your goals are based on healthy eating habits.

5. IDENTIFY AN ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER. Whether it’s someone with the same goal as you or simply someone to help cheer you on, it’s always easier with a support system! Your support system may consist of family, friends, coworkers or potentially fellow members from a class or program you enrolled in.

6. ADD VARIETY. It’s easy to get tired of eating the same foods or participating in the same activity. Add some variety to your routine to keep things interesting and prevent burnout. If you are getting in the habit of walking a few days a week, consider adding strength training one or two days a week, as is recommended by the Department of Health & Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

7. BE ADAPTABLE. If you are consistently meeting your goals early in the year, consider making it more challenging. For example, if your goal was to exercise four days a week and you are consistently achieving it with ease, consider increasing your minutes of exercise each day or increasing to five days a week. On the flip side, if you set out to be active for five days a week and you’ve been consistently active for three days a week, adjust your goal and gradually work towards increasing over time. Consistency is key in building new habits, so find what is realistic and what works for you. You’ve got this!