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Make Changes in a Healthy Way (And Make them Stick!)
The new year is a signal to many that it’s time for a fresh start or to make a change. Oftentimes, the desired changes are health-related – a healthier diet, more exercise, cutting out smoking – and they can be hard to make. Even after making those changes, following through to make the new habits stick is a separate hurdle.
It’s important to set realistic goals that are attainable and sustainable. How do you do that? You can start with our tips below and remember that your healthcare team – including your pharmacist – is here to support you on your health journey.
How do I set my goals?
It’s tempting to make lofty goals as New Year’s Resolutions – and make lots of them. But, according to the American Psychological Association, setting goals that are smaller and realistic are the way to go. These goals are less daunting and thus more likely to be achieved long-term. Some things to keep in mind as you set your goals are: ¹
Start small. Change happens with the first step, and you can build off the change over time. For instance, if you currently don’t exercise, don’t think you’ll be able to jump to exercising every day of the week right off the bat. Start with a few days of the week, and work up from there. Don’t change everything at once. It’s hard enough to make major change in one area of your life. Trying to change all your habits at once can lead to you just being overwhelmed and giving up. Tackle one goal at a time to build up healthy habits over time. Have a support system. Making sure you have someone – or lots of people – in your corner while you make changes can make the goal much less intimidating. The support system can be family or friends, a therapist or coach, or even a support group. Sharing your journey with others can keep you accountable, offer support or just a friendly shoulder to lean on, or help adjust expectations to keep you aiming for an attainable and healthy goal. Take it easy on yourself. Goals can be hard to meet, and habits can be hard to maintain. It’s ok to miss a step and not to achieve those goals to perfection. Any change in a healthy direction is good change. If you fall off the wagon, leave it in the past; just resolve to get back on track and keep going!
What are some goals to consider?
The goal of resolutions is to make change that sticks – so these goals could really be the same year to year. Maintaining that healthy change is a lifetime commitment. Some things to consider are:
Wash your hands. It seems like a somewhat silly goal to set, but improving your handwashing habits can make a huge difference. We have seen an increased emphasis on this since the beginning of the pandemic, but it’s always important. Good hand hygiene helps prevent the spread of germs between you and your loved ones. Go to your yearly check-ups. The annual check-ups at your doctor, dentist, and eye doctor can help detect problems before they are severe and allow you to get any questions or concerns resolved. The annual medical exam is a great time to get up-to-date on any needed vaccinations, too! Quit smoking. Smoking is especially hard to quit cold turkey, so take it slow. Some of the health benefits occur within minutes of quitting, while others take much longer. Leaning on your support system and healthcare team can be especially important for this goal to be successful in the short term and in the long term. Improve your diet. Fad diets are rarely a long-term option, so find something that works with what your body needs and what appeals to you. If you are cutting out a food group, make sure to account for that and consider any supplements to replace the nutrients your body would get from that (i.e., vegetarians may miss out on important proteins and essential fats that occur naturally in meat – so consider adding those vitamins to your regimen). Add more exercise. Like everything else, you don’t need to go from 0 to 60 on this. If you don’t have much exercise in your routine now, try adding a walk a few times a week or do at-home yoga videos. Even taking the stairs instead of the elevator can make a difference.
Looking for more tips on these? We go into more detail on the last two goals below!
Goal: Improve Your Diet
If you are thinking about making changes to your diet, it’s important to think about your unique needs. Some healthy eating options can apply to you regardless of life stage, such as focusing on adding more fruits and vegetables and cutting down on salt and sugar intake.
But other changes are more important during certain stages of life, so be sure to take that into account before making sweeping changes, especially following a trend – for example, age can affect the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12, so older adults may need to add fortified foods compared to younger adults. MyPlate.gov has lots of tips for eating as well as supplement considerations for any life stage. ²
Don’t forget to take any health conditions into consideration when changing your diet, too. It’s especially important to limit salt intake for those with high blood pressure and cutting back on saturated fat can help manage cholesterol. ³ Other changes are more specific – it’s not enough to just add more vegetables if you live with diabetes; you will want to add non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, green beans) rather than starchy vegetables (corn, potatoes, turnips) to better manage your blood sugar spikes. ⁴
The American Heart Association recently updated its guidelines for a heart-healthy diet to acknowledge that dietary needs vary on an individual basis. Instead, they focus on balance and more general suggestions that allow for personal likes and dislikes to be taken into account. ⁵
Working with a dietician can help you make a plan that makes sense for your unique needs – and they can help fit the diet to what you actually want to eat, making it easier to maintain.
Goal: Add more exercise ⁶
Physical activity can do more than help you lose or maintain weight. Exercise can reduce anxiety and depression, improve sleep, and lower a person’s risk of many chronic conditions. Staying active can make it easier to do day-to-day tasks, too, such as household chores, carrying boxes, or going up stairs. Activity is important regardless of life stage or situation – there are health benefits of being active for those who are abled and those disabled alike.
Adults between 18 and 64 years old should aim to get somewhere between 2.5 and 5 hours of exercise on a weekly basis. It’s more beneficial to spread the activity out over at least 3 days in a week rather than doing it all at once, and this can cut down on the risk of hurting yourself while exercising or getting overly tired.
This exercise doesn’t need to be high intensity; moderate-intensity activity, such as a brisk walk or Vinyasa yoga, is beneficial. Sports like tennis or swimming work, too, as do ballroom dancing or even yardwork.
To gauge your exercise’s intensity level, use the “Talk Test” – if you can talk while exercising but not sing, you are doing a moderate-intensity activity. If the activity that is considered “moderate” leaves you unable to talk, start with “light” activity and work your way toward more vigorous exercise. Listen to your body, and don’t push yourself further than you can safely handle.
If you have been generally inactive previously, work toward the goals for active adults – begin with light activity for shorter periods of time. Take the same considerations into account if chronic conditions, age, or other concerns prevent you from meeting the standard goal. Some activity is better than none!
Going on walks or doing other activity outdoors is an easy way to exercise, but that’s not an option all the time. Looking for ways to be active when the weather isn’t ideal? Try these tips:⁷
Plan for the weather. Maybe the day is going to be cold, but it will be sunny in the afternoon – the sun can help warm you up while you’re outside. Looking like a light rain? Take your rain jacket along with you. Wear layers. Cold weather doesn’t have to keep you inside. Layering your clothes can allow for you to keep cozy at the beginning of your outdoor activity but can also be removed as your body warms with the activity. Try online workouts. The internet is a great source of free or low-cost classes that can be done from the comfort of your home. These could be done on your own, or you could find an online workout class to join! Some may require plenty of space at home, but others take up almost no space at all. Do your housework. Physical activity doesn’t have to mean a sport or a walk. You can get health benefits from chores – vacuuming, cleaning your shower, going up and down stairs while you do some organization. Having those to-dos done is just an added bonus!
Whatever goal you have, remember that it should be your goal – don’t set goals based on others’ lifestyles and abilities. Find changes that are attainable and sustainable for you, and don’t forget that there are all sorts of people here to cheer you on and offer support, including our team at our pharmacy!