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5 New Year's Resolutions You Owe Yourself

We questioned health professionals and plumbed the scientific literature in a quest for the most life-enhancing New Year's resolutions possible



AGE FOTOSTOCK

On New Year's Day more than a few of us annually resolve to change our lives--or at least our more self-indulgent habits. On the hunch that all good things flow from physical and mental well-being, Scientific American Body offers this list of recommended resolutions based on the advice of health professionals and the scientific literature. Whatever your goals, it will help you understand why hardly anything you could choose to do would have a bigger impact on your quality of life.

Perhaps the best New Year's resolution is coming up with a strategy to sensibly tackle each of the five listed below. New Year's resolutions are notoriously unsuccessful because people have a superficial commitment to them, notes health psychologist Frederick Gibbons of Iowa State University. Whatever behavior you want to change requires a specific plan for going about it.

For instance, to quit smoking or to moderate drinking, people might want to plan ahead for situations or cues they need to avoid, since they may face social pressure, even if it's unintentional pressure. That might also include tempting foods, Gibbons says. Social support is also critical. Warren Franke, director of Iowa State's Exercise Clinic, believes that success toward an exercise or weight-loss goal could mean enlisting a significant other or a buddy to work out or diet with you or joining a formal program.

Controlling drinking may even require taking part in a behavior-modification treatment, Gibbons adds.

In pursuing these resolutions, set short-term goals, such as losing just one pound a week, Franke says. If you sometimes find yourself sliding, such as trying that killer cheesecake, don't feel bad about yourself and give up. Accept that was a bad day and that [the] next day will be a good day. And reward yourself. Life's too short not to enjoy it. Don't buy yourself six scoops of Ben & Jerry's, mind you. I have a friend who, if she's lost weight, buys herself People magazine. It's a simple pleasure she enjoys, and it works.

1 Stay Active

Exercising three times a week for about 30 minutes each session has been shown to cut cardiac morbidity and mortality by more than 10 percent, explains Seth Feltheimer, a general internist at New YorkPresbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

To reap the maximum benefit from exercise, your pulse has to stay above 100 beats per minute. This requires more than an average walk, where you might often stop and start at each corner and can't really get a chance to get the pulse up, Feltheimer adds. Franke agrees and recommends that you do whatever exercise you enjoy enough to do regularly and that is vigorous enough to increase your heart rate, be it walking with a neighbor or a high-intensity aerobics class at an exclusive fitness club.

If you compare a person who is 30 pounds overweight but physically active with someone who is thin but a coach potato, you'll find the thin couch potato has a higher risk of premature death and of some chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, Franke says. Of course, the best combination is to be physically active and relatively close to normal weight, but if there was a choice, without hesitation I'd choose a little bit overweight but fit.

2 Eat Healthy

Reducing cholesterol intake by 20 percent and getting total cholesterol levels below 180 will improve a person's risk of heart disease by 20 to 30 percent, Feltheimer notes. Healthy diets should include at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, Franke declares. This ensures that you get more vitamins and minerals, which most people don't do, and will likely increase fiber intake as well, he explains. It will also be more filling, making you less likely to cheat and ingest more calories by nibbling on snacks.

It's somewhat of a clich, but the most important thing to do is to eat healthy and moderate your food intake, Franke notes. Feltheimer concurs and offers a strategy to help with moderation: Don't eat until you can't eat anything else. You should always leave the table feeling you can eat a little more.

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