New Year’s resolutions can be fun to make, but difficult to maintain. Each January, about one-third of Americans resolve to better themselves in one way or another. A much smaller amount of people actually follow through with these resolutions. While about 75 percent of people stick to their goals for at least a week, less than half (46 percent) are still on target at six months, a 2002 study found. It’s tough to keep up the enthusiasm months later, but it’s not impossible.
This year, pick one of the following worthy resolutions, and stick with it. Here’s to your health!
Get more sleep
It’s common knowledge that a good night’s rest can do wonders for your mood and appearance. But sleep is more valuable to your health than you might realize. A lack of sleep has been linked to a greater risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity and depression. Sleep is also crucial for strengthening memories (a process called consolidation). So turn out the lights and get some rest.
The fact that this is perpetually among the most popular resolutions suggests just how challenging it is to commit to. Nonetheless, you can succeed if you don’t expect success overnight. “You want results yesterday, and desperation mode kicks in,” says Pam Peeke, MD, author of “Body for Life for Women.” Also, plan for bumps in the road. Keep a food journal of what you eat and have a support system in place. Around week four to six…people become excuse mills. That’s why it’s important to have someone there on a regular basis to get you through those rough times.”
Cut your stress
A little pressure now and again won’t kill us; in fact, short bouts of stress can be a good thing. But if stress is chronic, it can increase your risk of (or worsen) heart disease, depression, obesity, insomnia, to name a few.
Poor diet, little sleep, no exercise, long work hours, and not spending time with family and friends can contribute to stress, says Roberta Lee, MD, an integrative medicine specialist at Beth Israel Medical Center, in New York City, and the author of “The Super Stress Solution.” “Stress is an inevitable part of life,” she says. “Relaxation, sleep, socializing, and taking vacations are all things we tell ourselves we deserve but don’t allow ourselves to have.”
Stay in touch
It’s good for your health to reconnect with old friends, and family. Research shows that people with strong social ties live longer than those who don’t. In fact, a lack of social connections can damage your health as much as smoking and alcohol abuse, and even more than lack of exercise and obesity, a 2010 study in the journal PLoS Medicine suggests. It’s never been easier to stay in touch with today’s technology-fixated era, so turn on Facebook and follow up with in-person visits.
Cut back on alcohol
While abundant literature is out there about the health benefits of a small amount of alcohol, too much drinking is still the bigger problem. (Binge drinking seems to be on the rise.) Drinking alcohol in excess affects the brain’s neurotransmitters and can increase the risk of memory loss, depression or even seizures. Chronic heavy drinking boosts your risk of heart and liver disease, stroke, hypertension, and mental deterioration, and even cancers of the liver, throat, mouth and breast.
Do you fear that you’ve failed too many times to try again? Talk to any ex-smoker, and you’ll see that repeated attempts are often the path to success. Try different methods to figure out what works. Also, think of the cash you’ll save! (We know you know the massive health benefit.) “It’s one of the harder habits to quit,” says Merle Myerson, MD, director of the Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Program at St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals, in New York City. “But I always tell people to think of how much money they will save.”
We tend to believe our own bliss depends on bettering ourselves, but our happiness also rises when we help others, says Peter Kanaris, Ph.D., coordinator of public education for the New York State Psychological Association.
Not surprisingly, happiness is good for your health. A 2010 study found that people with positive emotions were about 20 percent less likely than their gloomier peers to develop heart disease or have a heart attack. Other research suggests that positive emotions can make people more resourceful and resilient.
The benefits of vacations can be long lasting after you’ve returned. “We can often get stuck in a rut, and we can’t get out of our own way,” Kanaris says. “Everything becomes familiar and too routine. Traveling enables us to tap into life as an adventure, and we can make changes in our lives without having to do anything too drastic. It makes you feel rejuvenated and replenished. It gets you out of your typical scenery, and the effects are revitalizing. It’s another form of new discovery and learning, and great for the body and the soul.”
As 2016 quickly approaches, think of all the ways you can better your health. If you need help in achieving your new year’s resolutions or other health goals throughout the year, the physicians at Madison Health Primary Care are here to help.
Dr. Amanda Williams is a family practitioner at Madison Health Primary Care in London, specializing in family medicine and geriatric medicine. To make an appointment, call 740-845-7500.