Healthy New Year

— Written By Tracy Davis
en Español / em Português

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Setting SMART goals diagramAt the beginning of a new year, we often find ourselves making resolutions hoping a new healthy habit sticks. Unfortunately, most of these promises to ourselves are forgotten all too soon. Instead of making resolutions, setting goals is a better alternative as goals help us progress gradually toward a positive change instead of expecting immediate change.

Resolutions are often rigid or stay the same such as “I will stop eating sugar” or “I will exercise everyday”. These statements are too broad and overwhelming and, if broken, can feel like failure. Goals, on the other hand, are more fluid and realistic. Goals can be tackled in small steps giving you a sense of accomplishment and motivation to continue your efforts.

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. The more specific a goal is, the more likely it will be met. “I want to lose 5 pounds” is much more specific than “I want to lose weight”. Having a way to measure your progress helps keep you on track. When deciding how to measure, think numbers, like taking a 10 minute walk or eating 3 vegetables. Keeping a daily or weekly log is a great way to track numbers. Attainable goals set you up for success. Choose goals that challenge you, but are not so extreme that you can’t achieve them. Be realistic when setting goals. If the goal or task can’t be embedded into your daily schedule, it probably isn’t a realistic goal. Making it part of your daily life is the easiest way to make it a habit. Every goal needs a time-cap. Setting a time to achieve a goal or task helps give accountability to yourself.

Set goals that add a behavior rather than stopping a behavior. For example, instead of making a goal to eat less junk food, focus on eating more whole fresh foods. Adding something good will make you feel much better than the feeling of depriving yourself of something you like. Break down your long term goal of, let’s say eating more fruits and vegetables, into smaller steps, such as eating 3 vegetables and 2 fruits each day. Use phone reminders, planners, or sticky notes placed where you can see them to help you establish new habits.

If you are having trouble narrowing down a goal, make a list of all the ways you could be healthier. Your list could include designing your own trail mix or trying one new healthy snack recipe each month, schedule 30 minutes each week to plan meals, pack a lunch at least 3 days a week so you can skip the fast food, park in the back of the parking lot for extra steps, choose a new daily walking route, dance to a favorite song at least once a week, wake up 15 minutes earlier so you have time to stretch and eat breakfast before heading out, or go to bed earlier if you are missing out on adequate rest. There are so many small steps that can lead to new healthy habits.

It’s easy to hibernate this time of year when the cold temperatures and short daylight hours keep us indoors. However, you can still prioritize health during the winter with a few creative changes. Instead of turning to typical comfort food, be more intentional about food choices by opting for homemade soup, a hot cup of tea, or warmed fresh fruit as a healthier way to chase away the chill. The extra time spent indoors is also a great time to try some new healthy recipes.

Sitting time peaks during winter and the hours can pass quickly while watching TV, reading, or browsing online. Set a timer to remind you to walk around every hour even if it’s just a few laps around inside the house. There are a variety of exercise workouts available on streaming services and public broadcasting stations. The National Institute on Aging, USDA Nutrition, and state Cooperative Extension are excellent resources for on-demand exercise videos. Search for Iowa, Montana,  and Oregon State Extension services as well as the LIFT program in North Carolina.

Making the move toward better health in 2023 doesn’t have to feel like deprivation or punishment. With a little creativity, some helpful tools, and a commitment to small gradual changes, you can achieve your goals. There will be challenges along the way, but don’t use these as excuses to give up on your path to a healthier you.