To be effective, resolutions need to be realistic, sustainable
You'll have to dodge crowds rushing to exercise facilities, where well-intentioned folks plan to "lose 20 pounds" and "work out three times a week."
"It's usually a whole lot busier, and then about six weeks later—second week of February—it ends up dying down," said Lyla Fell, a personal trainer at the Riverfront Athletic Club in Janesville. "We keep a couple, but not as many."
No matter how your New Year's resolutions plan to improve your health, here are some tips from experts on how to set and achieve success in the coming year.
-- Set a realistic resolution within your abilities.
"You can't have resolutions that are just beyond practical," said Dr. James Horton of Mercy Clinic South.
You can't say you're going to lose 572 pounds this year or run the Boston Marathon when you've never ran before, he said.
And you can't make a resolution to buy home exercise equipment or join a health club. They don't count toward improving your health. The resolution should be about using the equipment or membership.
-- Make the commitment.
It's a lifestyle change, not wishful thinking, said Dr. David Murdy, director of the weight management program at Riverview Clinic.
"Wishful thinking has a lot of limitations for behavior change," he said.
The point that works for people is to evaluate the risks if they don't change their behavior, he said. You can't change your family health history, but you can accept the inevitable risks, he said.
Say you want to quit smoking.
"If you're not committed to doing it, guess what? Nothing will help," Horton said. "You've got to have that commitment."
That point for Carla Quirk of Janesville came when a doctor told her she was too overweight to play racquetball and to find a different activity.
"I had tried every fad diet on earth," she said. "I was disgusted, and I decided I had to find some help in losing weight."
Quirk went to Murdy in May and developed a plan. She's since lost 8 inches from her waist, going from a size 22 to 12, and has 3 more inches to lose.
"I had to be ready to finally admit what everybody could see—that I was fat and that I did need help," she said.
-- Start slow so you don't burn out.
"Some people will join (the athletic club) and come six, seven days a week and burn out," Fell said. "We don't want that. (You need) a gradual lifestyle change that isn't too overwhelming."
Start exercising twice a week for a couple weeks and add a third day by the third week, she suggests.
"You need at least three days to keep your heart healthy," she said.
If weight loss is your goal, you'll need to add at least a fourth day of exercise in the week, she said.
-- Make it a priority.
Schedule time into your calendar just like you would for any other appointment.
"Otherwise it's the last thing you're going to do," Fell said.
-- Try the buddy system.
"Probably the best way is to have someone to remind you, help you, be with you, to assist you in keeping that resolution," Horton said.
Help each other out by cautioning your buddy when he or she is reaching for an extra piece of pie, he said.
-- Don't be afraid to seek help.
Joining a plan such as Weight Watchers or working with a personal trainer or a medical professional offers a personalized plan and more accountability.
-- Stick with it.
"It becomes a habit," Fell said. "Most people look forward to doing it. If they can keep coming for a month, it sort of gets them. It becomes something they look forward to doing."
If it's mid-February and your exercise sessions are dwindling, Horton said don't feel bad.
"This takes practice," he said.
"Literally just remember that anything that's worthwhile takes some practice. Sometimes it doesn't work out the first time. Don't be so hard on yourself."
Colleen Reed has lost 140 pounds since starting in Murdy's weight loss program in February, even after having knee surgery in March.
The lifestyle changes she's made leave her feeling better about herself, and the compliments she's received have been motivating and fun, she said.
"I have so much more energy," she said. "It just makes you feel great."
She's now training to run her first 5K in the spring.
-- Make it fun so you don't get bored.
If you only have a stationary bicycle at home or you only use an elliptical machine at the club, working out can get boring, which is why some people stop.
"Do different things—walking one day, stair-stepping, bicycling, swimming," Horton said.
"It's that variety that will help you not get bored with what you're doing."
Find an activity you enjoy, Quirk said. For her, it's kickboxing and spinning classes.
-- It's not all about exercise.
You can work out all you want, but if you eat too much, you might not achieve your goal.
Watch the calories going in, Horton said. Portion-wise, you should never eat more than 6 ounces or more of meat per meal, he said.
Quirk said she's reached the point in her life where she knows she has to change her lifestyle.
"I know that I have to watch what I eat; I have to continue to exercise," she said. "It's going to have to be something for the rest of my life."
-- Find your motivation.
Quirk has kept a few pairs of her "fat pants" and pictures of herself before she began losing weight.
"I look at those and say, 'I'm never going back,'" she said. "I've finally just realized it has to be a lifestyle—all or nothing.
"I can't have my cake and eat it, too."