Every year, millions of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, especially to exercise more, eat better and improve their health. However, many resolutions end in failure, with more than half of Americans giving up on their vows by the second week of February.
But setting goals to maintain or improve your health is more than just a turn-of-the-year obligation – it could mean the difference between a long life and a premature death.
Studies show 80 percent or more of premature chronic conditions, such as heart attack, stroke or diabetes, are caused by modifiable lifestyle choices, as opposed to being caused by genetic factors. Yet many Americans lack an understanding of the connection between lifestyle choices and chronic health conditions.
A recent UnitedHealthcare survey found that 23 percent of Americans correctly recognized that 80 percent or more of premature chronic conditions are caused by modifiable lifestyle choices, such as risk factors like smoking or obesity, not genetics. More than one-third (37 percent) thought between 50 and 79 percent of premature chronic conditions were caused by lifestyle choices, while 35 percent said genetics were to blame for more than half of these diseases.
With that in mind, here are five steps to encourage a healthier lifestyle for 2018:
Think About and Set Your Goals
Assess your overall health and well-being, and identify an actionable area for improvement, like your daily diet or your weekly physical activity levels. You are ready for a healthier change, so set realistic and measureable goals. For example:
• quit smoking;
• get your annual physical or wellness exam;
• take a 30-minute walk each day and avoid long periods of sitting;
• eat more fruits and vegetables; and
• reduce your calorie intake by 100 calories per day.
Revisit Your Goals Weekly
Like life, this plan of action can change, so it’s important to revisit or even revise your goals each week. In fact, revisiting your goals may help you achieve them. And remember to track your progress so you can remind yourself that you are making positive changes and reaching milestones.
Reward Your Accomplishments
You’re working hard, so go ahead and treat yourself to something you enjoy that does not conflict with your plan and goals, such as buying a new piece of workout apparel or purchasing a new song for your smartphone. Rewarding yourself as you reach short-term goals may help keep you motivated to stay on your path.
Don’t Go to the Extreme
The most common reason that plans fail is because they are unrealistic. While it’s great to be motivated to improve your health, too much change too soon can be unsustainable. Consult with your doctor to find a diet and exercise regimen that best fits your lifestyle.
Check for Available Resources
To help support your health goals, you may have access to wellness programs available through your employer. In addition, some health plans offer people a variety of health and wellness programs and incentives, including telephonic wellness coaching, gym membership reimbursements, and financial incentives worth more than $1,000 per year by meeting daily walking goals. Be sure to ask your employer or health plan what is available to you.
Following these tips may not be easy at first. Research shows it takes about 21 days for a new activity, such as exercising, to become a habit, and 6 months for it to become part of your lifestyle. These healthful habits may become second-nature and, as a result, help you maintain your health for years to come.
Thomas J. Biuso, MD, is senior medical director, West Region for UnitedHealthcare and is a practicing hospitalist at Tucson Medical Center.