Achieving your New Year's resolutions

  • Published
  • By Guy Leahy
  • Health and Wellness Program Coordinator

About 45 percent of Americans will make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, get fit, stop smoking, or to achieve some other goal.

According to research from the University of Scranton, only 8 percent of those who make such a resolution will keep it. Why is this rate so low, and are there strategies to make your own resolutions more likely to succeed?

Since “losing weight” and “staying fit and healthy” are two of the top five most popular New Year’s resolutions, let’s talk about them.

One important consideration is setting realistic goals. For example, recommended weight loss is 1-2 pounds a week. Therefore, 5 pounds a month is reasonable, but 15 pounds is not.

Someone who loses 5 pounds a month but whose goal was 15 pounds would be disappointed and likely to quit when they were actually quite successful; it was the goal that was unrealistic.

Setting specific goals is also helpful. “I’m going to get in better shape” is a generic goal; whereas, “I’m going to take a spin class three days a week” is more specific.

Keeping a record of your progress is important. One example would be to keep an exercise log. This is a good way to track improvements, and the visual record becomes self-reinforcing: “This program is working for me!”

If weight loss is a goal, finding out what your body fat percentage is beforehand and tracking changes in body fat over time is far better than something subjective, like how your clothes fit.

The No. 1 reason people give for not exercising is, “I don’t have time.” It’s important to make time for exercise.

Make an exercise schedule, and make it a priority. Say to yourself, “I’m going to work out from 6 to 7 p.m. three days a week, and nothing is going to get in the way.”

Exercise needs to become a regular habit like brushing your teeth before bedtime.

The activity also needs to be something you enjoy. Surveys of long-term exercisers show the main reason they keep working out for decades is because they like it.

With that in mind, try a variety of exercise classes and programs. Chances are, you’ll find one or two that you like better than the others, and when it comes to general fitness, it doesn’t really matter much.

With cardiovascular exercise, for example, there’s very little difference between modes — running, biking, swimming, using an elliptical machine, etc. If workload, frequency and intensity are matched, the benefits are very similar.

It also helps to have a workout partner. Studies show that if you have a friend to work out with, you’re more likely to stick with a program.

Attending exercise classes is similar. If you go to the same classes at the same time, you make friends and the class becomes a social event as much as an opportunity to stay in shape.

When beginning an exercise program, it’s important to get the intensity right. About 25 percent of those who start an exercise program quit within the first week, and not getting the intensity right is a big part of this. People new to exercise tend to do one of two things. They work out too hard too soon, hurt themselves and quit, or they start working out at an intensity too low to see changes and quit.

Exercise should be a little bit uncomfortable; that way your body has something to adapt to, without suffering an injury. With aerobic exercise, an easy way to gauge exercise intensity is the “talk test.”

If the exercise is so hard you can’t talk, that’s too hard. If the exercise is so easy you could talk on your cell phone or sing, it’s not hard enough. If you can talk in short sentences between taking a breath, that’s an appropriate exercise intensity.

It’s also important to seek professional assistance before starting an exercise or weight-loss program. Research documents people who work with personal trainers are more likely to see improvements.

Ensuring personal trainers have the proper credentials is crucial to seeing success. Ideally, personal trainers should have a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, physical education or a related field.

A certification from the American College of Sports Medicine or the National Strength & Conditioning Association is also a guide that trainers are qualified to conduct safe, effective exercise programs.

If changing one’s diet is a goal, look for someone who is a registered dietitian.

An option for Kirtland Air Force Base members is to contact Health Promotion Flight at 846-1186 or 846-1483. We can design evidence-based exercise and dietary plans to help ensure your New Year’s resolution is successful.

Have a happy, healthy New Year!

Guy Leahy is the Kirtland Air Force Base Health Promotion Program coordinator. He holds a master’s degree in physical education and certification from the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.