Turning resolutions into action: Three tips for a healthier new year

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iStock_000011750431Medium.jpgBy Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D.

It's that time of year ... when we resolve to lose weight, exercise more and eat more healthfully.

Changes like these can reduce our chances of developing cancer and improve our overall health and quality of life. But our experience and studies show that New Year's resolutions often fall by the wayside a few weeks into the year. We know what we need to do, and have good intentions, but most of us are not able to turn resolutions into reality.

If you're serious about making changes, consider the following tips.

1. Make a plan: One reason our New Year's resolutions don't succeed is that we don't get specific about how we are going to make a change. Research tells us when we want to make a change, we need specific goals and action plans. So consider turning "I will exercise more" into:

  • A goal: "I will increase my average daily steps by 500 steps per day every week, until I get to 10,000 steps per day."
  • Actions: "I will start parking farther from my office, and take 10 minute brisk walks after lunch and at my breaks."
  • A measuring stick: Get yourself a pedometer, wear it every day and record your daily steps. Or get an electronic pedometer that links to your computer or smartphone, and will do the tracking for you.
2. Consider small changes and short-term goals: Adopting a healthier lifestyle doesn't happen all at once. Consider making a small change for January, and then in February, maintain that change and add another. Set a new goal for yourself every month, rather than just one resolution at the beginning of the year. If you're looking to improve your diet, MD Anderson's Healthy Bites Guide provides great ideas for small diet changes that can have a big impact on your health.

3. Avoid "all-or-nothing" thinking: Even when we have a detailed plan for making health changes, life can get in the way. Stress at work, an illness in the family or travel may interfere with your healthy lifestyle changes. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that you can't do it -- the key to making lasting changes is to start again when you've lapsed. Review your goals and adjust them if needed, decide on the action steps and move forward.

A well-planned action strategy can make the difference between a resolution that fizzles and making lasting change to improve your health.

Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., is professor in Behavioral Science and director of the Center for Energy Balance in Cancer Prevention and Survivorship.

Recommendations for cancer prevention (American Institute for Cancer Research)

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