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Nov.-Dec. 2011, Vol. XXVI, No. 6
 
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Staying Well:
Thinking about making some healthy changes?

With 2012 fast approaching, maybe you’ve been thinking about making a few New Year’s resolutions involving a healthier lifestyle. Unfortunately, it’s far easier to make resolutions than to keep them. Expecting too much and not having a specific plan for putting good intentions into practice can be to blame. So try not to make too many big changes all at once.

This year, consider the strategies below when you’re making resolutions and putting them into action:

  • Believe in yourself. Having confidence in your ability to change can play a role in accomplishing goals. It’s easier to support your efforts when you’re optimistic. To boost a can-do attitude, try posting a list of successful changes you’ve made in the past.

  • Be realistic. Making sure your resolution and plan of action are doable can keep you from feeling overwhelmed. For example, if you like to sleep late, don’t plan to exercise early in the morning.

  • Be specific. Saying you want to get more exercise, for example, won’t make it happen. You’re more likely to reach goals that are specific and measurable, such as walking for 30 minutes every day. (Always check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.)

  • Seek support. Change is easier when you have a friend, family member or coworker who’s cheering you on and encouraging your efforts. Consider asking this person to send you supportive emails or other messages on a regular basis.

  • Understand the stages of change. Studies find people go through these stages before a behavior becomes a habit:
    • Pre-contemplation—not thinking about change
    • Contemplation—thinking about change but not doing anything
    • Preparations—attempting change but not regularly
    • Action—embracing change for less than six months
    • Maintenance—going for more than six months with the new habit intact

  • Keep track of the habit you’re trying to change. Self-awareness is tough. You need to get a picture of how much progress you are or are not making toward your goal. Set up a way to track your diet if you’re trying to lose weight, the time you’re spending being active if you’re trying to get in shape, or the number of cigarettes you’re smoking if you’re trying to cut back.

  • Anticipate and plan for lapses. No one’s perfect, and expecting perfection can make change even more difficult. Most people make some progress toward their goals and then slip a little. To keep moving forward, don’t get discouraged when you lapse. Figure out why you returned to an unhealthy habit, then get back on track as soon as possible.

  • Celebrate your progress. Every choice you make in the right direction is cause for a pat on the back. Rewarding yourself for small changes that move you closer to your overall goal can help you stick with your commitment.

Finally, realize that people who try to change to please someone else are likely to fail. Those who set goals that stem from a sincere desire to improve their health and well-being are more resistant to relapse. Thinking about healthy resolutions as an opportunity to live longer and better can help you embrace the positive changes they bring.

Small changes can be key to weight loss
If one of your resolutions involves losing weight, consider the suggestions below:

  • Eat breakfast. Some studies show that breakfast skippers eat more calories by the end of the day. Start with a healthy breakfast, such as whole-grain cereal with fresh fruit and low-fat or nonfat milk.

  • Weigh yourself frequently. Step on the bathroom scale at least once a week. If you see the needle creeping up, you know it’s time to make a little extra effort.

  • Keep a food diary. Recording what, how much and when you eat can provide clues about your eating habits. You may find you eat too many high-calorie snacks at certain times of the day or that you skimp on low-calorie but filling fruits and vegetables.

  • Turn off the television. You don’t burn many calories sitting on a couch. And for many people, TV time means snack time — a combination that favors extra pounds.

  • Become more active. Activities such as brisk walking or bike riding burn calories and promote fitness. Sneak activity into your day, too. Park farther from your destination, take a lap around the mall before shopping, and get off the couch and do household chores.

  • Cut calories. Eat smaller portions, skip seconds, and put half of your restaurant meal in a to-go bag.

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