by Samantha Clayton, OLY, ISSA-CPT
Vice President, Sports Performance and Fitness Education, Herbalife Nutrition
The start of a new year is an ideal time to refresh one’s commitment to year-round health, but many people are already falling short of their goals for a healthier lifestyle because they are setting resolutions that are too ambitious. In fact, according to a study commissioned by Herbalife Nutrition, one-third (33%) of Americans who made New Year’s resolutions have doubts about their ability to achieve their goals.
Setting goals can be a valuable aspect of a steady and healthy self-improvement plan. But, regardless of the specific changes you’re attempting, New Year’s resolutions can be very stressful if you set the bar too high or try to achieve them too quickly. These resolutions can also be approached with an “all-or-nothing” mentality, which can leave people feeling overwhelmed. For example, resolving that “from now on, I will exercise every day for an hour” or “from now on, I will stop eating carbohydrates.”
So, while people have the best intentions, why do resolutions like these set us up for failure? According to studies, only 8% of people keep their resolutions year-round. Well, making changes in habits is difficult, period. On average, it takes more than two months to form a new habit. It’s even more difficult to make big, radical changes that don’t allow room for mistakes. Additionally, they can drive people to strive for perfectionism, which can be stressful for anyone. And as soon as people fail, even once, they tend to give up.
To relieve the pressure of maintaining resolutions, avoid taking on too much too quickly. Instead, start with small steps that you can build on. After all, better health is not a quick fix, but embracing health and fitness as a lifestyle and taking a balanced, realistic approach to fostering new behaviors can help ensure long-term success.
Here are several doable and specific steps to help you achieve a few popular resolutions toward better health in 2023 and beyond:
If you want to eat healthier, substitute a few less healthy foods with more nutritious alternatives. Then, tackle another element of your diet, like adding a vegetable to each meal. Studies have shown that despite vegetables being an important source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients, only 9.3% of Americans are hitting the recommended intake of two to three cups of vegetables per day. Adding vegetables to soup and sauces, blending them into smoothies, turning them into noodles or chips, baking with them, or simply dipping them in hummus, peanut butter or a ricotta-based dip for snack time are all great ways to incorporate vegetables, which can also help you feel full.
Once you have successfully incorporated more vegetables into your diet, work on reducing your portion sizes and consuming more protein. Protein helps build and maintain lean muscle mass. It also helps to make meals more satisfying. Including protein-rich foods like lean meat, poultry, eggs, legumes, and seeds at every meal, or for a snack, helps satisfy hunger throughout the day.
Doing exercise as a habit requires the right mindset and a smart approach. First, you must ditch the mentality of “all or nothing.” Giving up this mindset will help you stay consistent and move daily. Something is always better than nothing. If there isn’t time for a 30-minute workout, do 15 minutes. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes of physical activity each week, you can build up to this goal by beginning with a simple, low-impact activity like walking. Starting with 30 minutes of brisk walking three times a week can lead to improvements in mental and physical health. Walking is proven to reduce the risk of heart issues, support weight loss, strengthen joints, and reduce stress and anxiety by helping us focus on the moment and become more mindful. Easy ways to do this include parking further away at the grocery store or taking the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator.
Once you’ve established a habit of brisk walking or moderate-intensity aerobic activity, you may want to incorporate twice-weekly strength conditioning (as recommended by the CDC) and higher-intensity workouts like jogging or running. The key is to ensure that you have mastered the first habit and are physically ready to take the next step or intensify your workouts.
When using a device, you may be disengaging with something important to you like your family, a job, chores, hobbies, sleep, or exercise. Too much screen time can be detrimental to your overall health, leading to obesity, sleep problems, chronic neck and back problems, depression, and anxiety. While children should limit screen time to one to two hours per day adults should also limit screen time outside of work hours. Fortunately, reducing your screentime is achievable with a few simple steps, and once you’ve made the necessary adjustments, you’ll have more time for activities that will keep your body and mind healthy.
First, track the amount of time you spend on your device. Depending on the type of device you have, this can easily be accomplished using the Settings app or other tools available to you. Next, use this information to set time limits. For example, if you find yourself spending too much time on a specific social app, you can instruct your phone to turn the app off after two hours of use.
Then, resolve to charge your phone outside your bedroom. Many of us use our phones as alarm clocks, making them the last thing we see before falling asleep. That blue light exposure can impact the quality of our sleep. In fact, according to studies, social media use 30 minutes before bedtime is independently associated with disturbed sleep among young adults. But even if you’re not scrolling through social media, blue light exposure will impair the quality of sleep. Furthermore, grabbing your phone as soon as you wake up can prompt you to check your apps or inbox, delaying the start of your day, which may be stressful. Avoiding screens at least an hour before bed and using an alarm clock can have a greater-than-expected positive impact on your health.
After taking these two simple yet impactful steps, you can work on establishing more tech-free zones, removing unnecessary apps, or even leaving your phone behind every now and then.
There is no doubt that if accomplished, resolutions to make a change in your diet, exercise routine, or level of productivity can improve both your mental and physical health. But the excessive pressure you place on yourself to accomplish these goals is neither healthy nor necessary. And that stress can derail you and prevent you from progressing. By breaking your goals into smaller steps and recognizing your accomplishments along the way, you can not only achieve them but also better maintain them for the long term.