On New Year's day more than a few of us resolved to change our lives, or at least our more self-indulgent habits. On the hunch that all things flow from good health, Scientific American has based this year's list of five resolutions on the advice of health professionals and the scientific literature. Whatever your goals, we'll help you understand why there's hardly anything you could choose to do that could 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 at Iowa State University in Ames. "Whatever behavior you want to change requires a specific plan for going about it."

For instance, in quitting smoking or moderating 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," says Gibbons.

Social support is also critical. Warren Franke, director of Iowa State's Exercise Clinic, believes that "it may mean enlisting a significant other to exercise or a buddy to lose weight or joining a program." Controlling drinking may even require a behavior modification program, Gibbons adds.

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 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."

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