4 Jan 2013


Five tips for staying on the health bandwagon

Every year, people make health resolutions for New Year’s — lose weight, drop bad habits like smoking, exercise more, and so on.

Every year, people also abandon those resolutions by mid-January. It’s easy to blame it on human nature, but internal medicine physician Muhammad Ali Syed, MD, says there are a few simple ways to stay on the health bandwagon. As he tells patients, it starts with the resolutions themselves.

1. Make reasonable resolutions

Telling yourself you’ll lose 50 pounds in three months is a recipe for failure. But telling yourself you’ll lose 5 to 10 percent of your body weight in three months is realistic. The same goes for exercise: If you’re currently a couch potato, don’t start by climbing a mountain — start by walking for 30 minutes each day.

“You have to have a reasonable target,” says Dr. Syed. “If you don’t have a reasonable target, you won’t be able to achieve it.”

2. Make yourself accountable

Figure out a system for accountability. Dr. Syed says people tend to abandon their resolutions if they answer only to themselves.

If you have a certain weight-loss goal, discuss it with your doctor. Then set one or more follow-up appointments along the way. If you have decided to quit smoking, set a date. The day after, have someone ask you if you hit your target.

If you can’t see a medical expert regularly, ask a family member or friend to help you track your progress. As for tracking, whether you use pen and paper or a smartphone app, log your progress regularly.

3. Seek professional help

“Often people will have an idea — like quitting smoking — but no plan,” Dr. Syed says. “Doctors can help if you need it. Patches. Medications. Counseling. People who are really goal-directed will take these opportunities.”

Smoking isn’t the only example. If you’re trying to lose weight, advice from a nutritionist can change your daily eating habits. And your doctor can give you advice on what exercises are appropriate for you based on your current health and future goals.

4. Reward yourself

When you make your resolution, pick a reward to give yourself if and when you hit your target. It could be as simple as a nice dinner with a spouse or a trip to the movies.

“If you put positive reinforcement at the end, you’ll be motivated to get there,” Dr. Syed says. “And you’ll feel that you have achieved something.”

5. If you fall off the wagon, hop back on

It happens to people with the best intentions. You end up overeating at a party. You smoke a cigarette to deal with stress at work. You skip a week at the gym because you are just too busy. Life gets in the way. But you don’t have to abandon your resolution just because you hit a bump in the road.

“Think about this: When you learn to swim or ride a bike, you flail or fall many times before you succeed,” Dr. Syed says. “You just have to start again. You have to refocus.”

Tags: fitnesshealthy diethealthy livingNew Year’s 2013quit

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