Do you want to kick-start your health goals – and make your new healthy habits stick? Here’s how…
As a nation, we’re big fans of New Year’s resolutions: four out of five of us make at least one every year. Trouble is, they don’t always go the distance. Research has shown that 23 per cent of people ditch them after just one week, 36 per cent have quit by the end of January, and only one in two New Year's ‘resolvers’ are still going strong at the end of March.
With statistics like that, it might make you wonder why we keep on bothering? Well, it’s also true that even though the act of setting a goal or making a resolution doesn’t guarantee you’ll achieve it, having an aim to work towards can be genuinely motivating. Proof? Other research shows that those people who openly set resolutions are 10 times more likely to achieve their goals than people who do not.
To raise your odds even further, we’ve researched some crucial tips for success — and some of the main pitfalls to avoid — when making and keeping the most common New Year’s health resolutions.
You’ve resolved to: Lose some weight
Trouble is: You think a ‘diet’ is the answer
While diets might work for weight loss in the short term, research shows most people gain back any weight they’ve lost, and often a fair bit more. The reason? If the food and behaviour changes a diet calls for aren’t sustainable long term, there’s no way they can deliver long-term results. Simple!
To make it work: Make small changes
Identify a few dietary ‘stops or swaps’ you’re willing to make, while leaving alone the food behaviours that you’re not willing to change just yet. At the same time, make one change to your daily physical routine to increase how many steps you take — by climbing a flight or two of stairs instead of using the lift, for example. Once you’ve made those stops and swaps part of your everyday routine, add a few more small changes.
Several different studies have confirmed this is an approach that works. One study showed how sticking to small changes you’ve settled on for at least 25 days a month is enough to produce lasting weight loss.
You’ve resolved to: Stress less
Trouble is: Life’s busy!
Three out of four of us say stress is having some impact on our physical health and wellbeing. We identify the main stressors as money worries, family issues, and even just trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
To make it work: Change your mindset
Researchers have found it’s not how often stressful events occur in life that affects your health, it’s how you and your body react to those events that ultimately matters the most.
One of the best ways to help your body cope better is exercise. Multiple studies have confirmed its protective effect, showing how regular physical activity helps keep stress levels in check long term. Just a single workout can also help to reduce stress levels following a stressful event.
You’ve resolved to: Do more exercise
Trouble is: You lose motivation
How often have you tried to commit to doing more exercise in the past, only to start off strong and then lose motivation after a few weeks?
To make it work: Find an activity you actually enjoy
Choose exercises that make you feel happy and energise you, rather than persisting with those exercises you think you ‘should’ be doing to lose weight but never liked in the first place.
According to a US study published in 2017, the ‘should’ exercises promote a false belief that exercise has to be ‘hard’ — and when we don’t achieve the weight-loss results we’re after, we give up. On the other hand, if you get genuine enjoyment out of an exercise, you’re much more likely to keep doing it, regardless of whether you experience tangible results.
You’ve resolved to: Eat healthier
Trouble is: You’re time poor
Australian researchers have identified lack of time as a barrier to our cooking healthy meals from scratch. Plus, healthy food is more expensive, right?
To make it work: Take some short cuts
While a US study did find that people who spend a larger slice of their time prepping and cooking food at home have healthier diets, healthy recipes don’t have to be time consuming.
In fact, you don’t always need a recipe to eat more healthily. According to New Zealand-based researchers, a quick, effective way to bump up your vegie intake to five serves a day is to cover half your plate with veg at each meal. Summer salads make it easy!
As for the cost factor, a 2017 study found that a healthy diet for a family of four is actually 12–15 per cent cheaper than an unhealthy one.
You’ve resolved to: Drink less alcohol
Trouble is: You find it hard to say ‘no’
Rely purely on willpower to achieve this one and you’re setting yourself up to fail. An American Psychological Association survey revealed that lack of willpower was the main reason people gave when asked why they’d been unable to make healthy lifestyle changes. So — it’s best to use a different, proven strategy.
To make it work: Make a conscious effort to count your drinks
An Australian study last year found that among 16 different strategies, counting drinks was the only one that helped people significantly lower their alcohol consumption over time. Other scientifically proven techniques are switching between alcoholic drinks and water, and being confident enough to turn down a drink.
3 steps to success
Tackle one or two goals at a time
Research has established the brain can’t handle too many resolutions or changes at once. Pick the one or two most important to you right now — and act.
Be smart about it
Break down your bigger goal such as ‘do more exercise’ into a routine that’s Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-related (SMART).
Say: “My goal is to exercise more in February, so I’ll go for a walk every day before work.” It’s specific; you can measure whether you achieve it; it’s attainable, it’s relevant, and by stipulating February, it’s time-related.
Turn it into a trigger habit
Use the ‘3 Rs’: reminder, routine and repeat. So, if your routine is the February weekday walk, choose a reminder to trigger it, like hearing your morning alarm or finishing your coffee. Then repeat your walking routine. Experts say the ‘3Rs‘ help you form habits in roughly two months.
36% of us ditch our New Year's resolutions by February
Doing regular exercise keeps stress levels in check
Cover half your plate with veg to reach 5 serves per day