Healthy Living Tips

It's that time of year again. Everyone is vowing to strive for a healthier life in the coming year, after indulging during the holidays. People typically have well-meaning aspirations when it comes to setting their New Year's resolutions. Actually sticking to those resolutions can be a bit more difficult.

It is important to make goals and resolutions as "SMART" (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Rewarding, Timely) as possible. They encourage setting a broad goal and then developing realistic action steps that can be used to achieve that goal. Health experts also recommend keeping the original motivation behind the goal in mind, and ensuring a support system is in place if needed. Following are 10 common healthful resolutions-and helpful, practical ideas to make them "SMARTer":

- "Start Working Out." Make the action steps of your resolution more specific, like "I will walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes, three to four times a week" or "I will wear a pedometer to work, park farther from the door and take the stairs instead of the elevator to get in more steps per day."

- "Lose Weight." Make your goal more achievable and timely, like "I will lose 5 pounds by the end of the month." Then come up with action steps involving nutritional changes, exercise, etc.

- "Eat Better." Change your thinking from "I'm going on a diet" to "I'm making lifestyle changes to improve my eating habits." Consider keeping a food journal to find specific areas you can change. Specific action steps to take might include "I will limit eating sweets to twice per week" or "I will reduce my consumption of fast food from three times per week to once per week" or "I will increase my servings of fruits and vegetables to five per day."

- "Quit Smoking." Set a realistic quit date. Make sure you are not setting yourself up for failure by trying to quit during an especially stressful time. If you're a heavy smoker, talk to your doctor and consider using nicotine replacement therapy such as nicotine patches, gum or medications. Clear your home of all smoking-related paraphernalia (cigarettes, lighters, ashtrays, etc.). Set action steps to reduce your tobacco intake slowly, like "I will cut back by one cigarette per day over the next week." Also think about a plan to deal with cravings and challenging situations.

- "Reduce Stress." Identify and write down your stressors. Identify positive steps you can take when feeling stressed and what sources of support you have. A realistic action step might be something like "During times of stress, I will practice deep breathing techniques, write in a journal or go for a walk to clear my head."

- "Give Up Fast Food." It is not always possible for some people to give up all fast food, so begin by familiarizing yourself with the healthier options on fast food menus. Try using restaurants' websites to look up nutrition information, or pick up nutrition pamphlets inside restaurants. Work toward planning ahead and packing nutritious meals to take with you. Set a specific, achievable action step like "I will eat at fast food restaurants no more than once a week."

- "Stop Drinking Soda." It may not be realistic to cut out all soda from your diet at once. Think about ways to decrease the amount of soda you are drinking. For example, try mixing diet soda into regular to cut the calories, or try substitutions like flavored water, unsweetened tea or green tea. An example of a measurable action step to set might be "I will decrease the number of sodas I drink from one per day to two per week."

- "Drink More Water." Ask yourself how you can increase your water intake. Set realistic, specific steps you can take, like "I will get a refillable water bottle to carry with me" or "I will replace calorie-laden beverages with water or flavored water."

- "Get More Sleep." Think about ways you can reach this goal. An example of an action step might be "I will go to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual and avoid caffeine late in the day." Set a specific bedtime, and stick to a consistent schedule to get your body adjusted. Families with children can especially benefit from having a consistent routine for getting to bed at the same time each night.

- "Cut Back on Alcohol." Quantify how much alcohol you are drinking now. Decide what might be a realistic amount to cut back to. For example, if you typically go out on the weekend and drink six or eight beers, limiting yourself to two beers might be your goal. If needed, devise a step-by-step plan with action steps like "I will remove alcohol from the home" or "I will avoid situations where alcohol will be served." Identify supportive people (or join a support group) that can help you keep your resolution.


Source: Medical News Today, Dec. 24, 2008. www.medicalnewstoday.com.

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