As we begin a new year, what are some tips for staying healthy?
It is that time again: the holiday season of celebrations galore with food, drink, friends — and the eternal battle of the bulge. Which typically leads to the new year’s resolution of better health.
Sadly, while many Americans enter each new year with wonderful intentions, these typically fizzle as we get back into our routines and stressors that led to sub-optimal habits in the first place. Here are some simple tips to make 2023 the year you finally stick to your changes.
It is not about the result; it is about the journey. So many of us set goals, such as “lose a certain number of pounds,” “stop eating/drinking particular things,” “run a 5K in a certain time.” While goals are important, make sure they relate to the journey, not the result. Studies show focusing on the controllable variables is the best way to approach your goals:
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Am I eating smaller portions?
Am I eating the Mediterranean diet (carbs from fresh fruits and vegetables, less saturated fat and sugar)?
Am I minimizing unhealthy foods — alcohol, soft drinks, refined sugars, high-fructose corn syrup?
Am I “active” — taking 8,000 to 10,000 steps per day, whether it is in a gym, at home or walking, etc.?
If you actually engage in these lifestyle modifications and focus on sustaining them, your result goals (weight, waistline, 5K time) should follow. Don’t be afraid to use an exercise app to actually track your calorie intake vs. exercise/activity output. These can be very informative — giving you confidence you are on the right track. Remember that one pound of adipose tissue (fat) = 3,500 calories. That’s a big number — so slow and steady wins the race with weight loss.
Exercise is “movement.” Be creative, but be active. Choose forms of exercise that you enjoy and can sustain. If you like the gym, schedule it into your daily routine. If you like running, hiking or walking, find friends to join you — even a day or two a week. Beware of the pitfall of setting your goals too high — like “I’m going to run every day” — and setting yourself up for failure when you get shin splints three weeks into your new routine and can hardly walk.
Core strength and flexibility are critical as we age. So many folks who have gained weight jump into aerobic exercise too fast. They focus on trying to improve their motor, when they forgot the shocks were blown, the tires were low on air and the chassis was rusting out through the floorboards (credit to Dr. Bob Wilder — the UVa Health running physician — for this wonderful analogy). Start slow, and work on your entire body as a unit.
And finally, perfection is the enemy of good. This is all about “lifestyle change” — become that person who builds healthy habits into how they live each day, not just jumping on a diet/exercise plan for a month. When you only think of “giving up” certain habits, you are usually doomed to fail. Think of the positives — choosing newer, healthier things. And when you aren’t perfect, give yourself some slack — but get right back to the person you strive to be,
Dr. Mark Lepsch is a primary care doctor at UVa Health Northridge Internal Medicine.