Making Realistic Health Resolutions for 2014

CUMC tips to help you keep your resolutions in the New Year

December 27, 2013

As the first of January approaches, many of us make resolutions to improve our health in the New Year. We tell ourselves we will eat healthier, exercise more, reduce stress.

But research shows that four out of five people will break resolutions before February.

So why do most of us fail, year after year?

Experts say that common resolutions such as “losing weight” or “reducing stress” are too broad and intangible. To set yourself up for success, aim for smaller, more attainable goals.

Below are some ideas for realistic health resolutions you might make—and have a good chance of keeping—in 2014.

Weight Loss

Take the stairs.

Gym memberships soar at this time of year.  While committing to going to the gym is fine, here’s a resolution that requires no extra funds: Forgo the elevator for the stairs.  Work on the 30th floor? Take the stairs up as many flights as you can, then reward yourself with an elevator ride the rest of the way.

Wear a pedometer.

Research shows that people who track their steps take more of them—a lot more. A 2007 Stanford University study found that those who wore a pedometer walked, on average, one mile more per day, which correlated to a 27 percent increase in physical activity. If you want to quickly jumpstart your way to better fitness and a weight-loss goal in 2014, consider the pedometer. While there are plenty of high-tech fitness trackers on the market, an inexpensive device will work just as well. 

If you are someone who has struggled with weight loss and for whom extra weight has caused problems including diabetes or high blood pressure, this may be the time to consider getting professional counseling at a place like CUMC’s Medical Weight Control Center, to develop a weight-loss plan that is right for you.

Healthy Eating

Commit to a colorful plate.

Be specific and choose which meal you are going to refine: breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Now, resolve to cover half of your plate with vegetables for that meal. Wahida Karmally, DrPH, director of the Bionutrition Research Core in Columbia’s Irving Institute of Clinical and Translational Research, points out that you don’t have to shop at the farmer’s market every week to achieve this goal. The freezer section may offer you more nutrient-rich options than some “fresh” vegetables.

Stress Reduction

Practice yoga seven minutes a day.

You don’t have to join a yoga studio to reap the stress-reduction benefits of the practice. Dr. Mehmet Oz, vice-chair and professor of surgery at Columbia University, tells the New York Times that he made the practical resolution of just seven minutes of yoga in the morning:

“The most important thing about yoga isn’t about how loose you are. It’s not about showing off how you can get into pretzel-like poses. It’s about focusing on the breath while you get into those poses and the relaxed state of mind that goes into it,” he told the Times.

Better Sleep

Keep screens out of the bedroom.

Do you check your email in bed? Read your Twitter feed into the wee hours of the morning? These habits, while common, may keep you up and contribute to insomnia. 

“Technology perpetuates your brain’s constant activity and doesn’t allow you to prepare for sleep,” says Carl Bazil, MD, PhD, a sleep expert at Columbia University Medical Center.  “We’re bombarded with emails and texts…that do not prepare your brain for sleep.”

If you are having trouble sleeping, Dr. Bazil advises shutting down “alerting” technology—cell phones, computers, iPads—an hour before you go to bed.

More advice on sleep from Dr. Bazil:


Smoking Cessation

Make this the year you really stop smoking.

If you are addicted to nicotine and cigarettes, smoking cessation will begin to boost your health within 20 minutes.  Over time, the health benefits you experience as a nonsmoker, including lower risk of cancer and death, increase year after year.

But the resolve to quit may not be enough to overcome the powerful grip of nicotine addiction. Most people need some sort of outside counseling or medication to quit successfully.

Consult our resources on smoking cessation to develop a plan of action. Daniel Seidman, PhD, director of smoking cessation services at the Columbia University Behavioral Medicine Program, has written Smoke-Free in 30 Days, a book that provides research-based strategies and a plan to help smokers quit for good.