It’s estimated that 80% of people abandon their resolutions by the end of January.
This number is likely even higher for fitness-related resolutions as too many people, driven by the “new year, new you” marketing mantra, attempt to reinvent themselves to match an unrealistic ideal.
Overwhelmed by the burden of making sweeping lifestyle changes based on impractical expectations, it’s no wonder so many give up.
That doesn’t have to be you!
To avoid resolution overload and make it past the end-of-January breaking point, it’s important to ensure that your health and fitness goals are realistic and your means for meeting them are sound.
If you’ve already made a resolution, this might require a bit of reexamination and revision. If you have yet to resolve to make any 2021 health and fitness changes or have already given up on them, no worries; now is as good a time as any for a fresh start.
Read on for a road map to restructuring and recommitting to your get-fit resolutions in ways that will make them stick past January.
Make nondisruptive changes to existing habits
Too often, we structure our resolutions in ways that require major changes to established, everyday habits. For instance, getting up an hour earlier to work out each day might not sound like a huge life disruption. But if you’ve been waking up at 7 a.m. every day for the past 20 years, just the act of awakening an hour earlier is going to be a struggle — never mind also getting yourself to workout. I’m not saying it’s impossible. However, let’s be realistic about the difficulty level of resolutions we set in the context of our ingrained habits.
Rather than resolving to make changes that knowingly create significant lifestyle disruptions, we can make nondisruptive enhancements to our unhealthy habits and leverage our existing healthy habits.
For instance, if you’re a daily coffee drinker who uses cream and sugar, could you decrease the amount you use, or try replacing the cream or sugar with a healthier alternative? Ten years ago, I replaced a teaspoon of sugar in my coffee with a sprinkle of antioxidant-rich cinnamon and never looked back. Averaging two cups of coffee a day, that means I’ve avoided ingesting 7,300 teaspoons of sugar over the last decade! That’s a small change with a big long-term return.
You can also make nondisruptive habit changes with habit stacking, a practice that involves adding a new healthy habit right before, during or directly after one of the ingrained habits you automatically do daily, like brushing your teeth or showering.
I do 50 body-weight squats while brushing my teeth twice daily and do 10 push-ups right before I get in the shower. That’s 700 squats and 70 push-ups weekly. It doesn’t seem like much daily, but it definitely adds up. Could you add a boost of exercise to one of your existing daily habits?
Read more about habit stacking in this article.
Focus on what you’re already doing right — and do more of it
There is a tendency with resolutions to focus on fixing what we feel we’re doing wrong, like “not exercising enough” or “eating too many snacks.” But when we look at what we’re already doing right and strive to do more of it, that change in perspective can accomplish the same goal in a much more positive and sustainable way.
Think about how often you take a walk. Maybe you already have a daily walking habit either by yourself or walking your dog. Could you extend your walking time by a few minutes? Those extra minutes will add up.
Maybe you don’t have a regular walking habit. That’s OK. Think about any of the necessary times each day you have to walk a distance and get creative about ways to extend it. This could be as simple as taking a parking spot further from your office, if you drive to work. Or maybe there is a flight of stairs in your home or office. What if at least once per day, you doubled back and did the stairs twice? Remember, don’t discount the value of making small changes; they add up to bigger returns over time.
How’s your water intake?
Drinking water is important for our overall health and can also increase feelings of fullness to help us avoid unplanned snacking. I’m sure you’re already drinking some, but could you increase it? It’s recommended that women drink 72 ounces of water daily; men should drink 100 ounces. Consider the suggestion from the previous tip and swap out another not-as-healthy beverage you already drink daily to increase your water intake.
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Keep track of your health and fitness-related activities
It’s easy to let things slide when no one else is watching. But when we track our activity, we’re taking an extra step in personal accountability that makes us feel like “someone” is watching. Whether it’s a smartphone app, watch, ring or even just a notebook, it tends to embody a bit of our conscience.
Accountability is arguably one of the most significant factors in ensuring you stick to your health and fitness resolutions. That’s why fitness trackers are so effective. In fact, people walk almost an extra mile per day when using an activity tracker on their phone or watch, according to a recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
In addition to the accountability factor, fitness trackers also take advantage of our competitive nature by inciting us to do more. When my Apple Watch sends me a message saying “you can still make it happen,” it motivates me to make whatever happen that my watch is telling me I haven’t done yet, like reaching 10,000 steps or spending more time standing. And that’s not just me — the BJSM study authors found that the participants in the study did better when their fitness trackers provided prompts.
Regardless of how you track your fitness — using a wearable technology, an app on your phone or simply keeping a journal — it will inevitably help keep your health and fitness resolutions on track.
Invest in positive health changes
If you have the funds to do so, making a resolution that involves investing in a way to increase your health and fitness is arguably one of the easiest ways to make a sustainable resolution. Of course, like any other resolution, it’s only sustainable if your purchase realistically fits your lifestyle and doesn’t require an overly ambitious commitment.
There are far too many people with a cardio machine in the back corner of their bedroom that now serves as an oversize, expensive clothes hanger. Purchasing a piece of exercise equipment doesn’t guarantee you’ll use it. It’s wisest to only make those purchases when you’ve already proven your commitment to that level and type of exercise outside of your home.
The purchases that I suggest elicit easy-to-sustain changes because they require little to no additional effort, as they are making activities that you already do healthier and more beneficial.
Sleep facilitators: When health and fitness are priorities, sleep should be as well. During sleep our body focuses on recovery, which is why sleep takes up nearly one-third of our lives. To enhance our ability to get quality sleep, we can invest in any number of products to help us sleep better, like ergonomic pillows or a higher-quality mattress to increase comfort, a sound machine to help us fall asleep or climate control mattress pad to help us stay asleep.
Healthy meal services: Eating better is a popular resolution that generally fails due to logistical issues such as lack of access to healthy foods, inability to cook and time constraints. If you can afford it though, you can overcome those logistics by using healthy meal delivery services. With a quick online search you should be able to find numerous options for healthy premade meal deliveries that meet a variety of nutritional requirements, whether that be gluten-free, paleo or Whole 30.
Fitness-conscious furniture: You’ve probably heard that sitting is as bad as smoking when it comes to our health so it’s important to try and offset our sitting time. Investing in a standing desk is a great way to avoid prolonged bouts of sitting. Additionally, swapping out your desk chair for an exercise ball — a much less-expensive investment — can make your sitting time more active and less sedentary.
Change your resolution mantra
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Now that you’re armed with the knowledge and strategies to restructure your health and fitness resolutions for long-term success, it’s time to let go of the impractical “new year, new you” mantra.
Let’s replace it with something more appropriate and go with this: “simple sustainable steps for a happier, healthier you.”
Dana Santas, known as the “Mobility Maker,” is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and mind-body coach in professional sports, and is the author of the book “Practical Solutions for Back Pain Relief.”