How to Stick to Your New Year Health Goals

January has come to an end, and we are well into the new year, but what came of those resolutions? We know that whilst the majority of us will have set ourselves an ambitious new year’s goal, sadly only 12 percent of us will actually achieve it. Of course resolutions come in many guises, but as a Doctor, my interests lie in those who have set health-related goals. Weight loss is the most common New Year’s resolution, but with the increasing PR and steam behind more slogan-driven goals like “dry Jan”, “veganuary” and now even Fitness February, we seem to be moving away from the traditional long term goals, and into the arms of the less committal ‘one month only’ causes. The problem is that nowadays people want, and have become accustomed to, instant gratification. Whilst a month free from booze and meat products may fill you with a sense of achievement as day 31 comes to a close, should we not be looking at the resolution as a marathon rather than a sprint? I for one have been guilty of partaking in dry January, and as soon as February comes, with a pat on the back, I am three G+Ts down, potentially missing the point of the month-long sobriety.
We know that our liver is excellent at regenerating, and a 4 week break from alcohol is likely to help heal those damaged cells. We also know that alcohol is implicated in poor sleep patterns, so your ethanol-free fiesta is likely to get you sleeping more restfully and improve mental health in that month, not to mention the possible weight loss by cutting out those nutrient-shy calories. So there are a number of positive health benefits in movements like dry January, but returning to your usual habits straight after is likely to undo all the hard you’ve just put in. As such, I’m championing for a return to the more traditional resolutions. For those of you that feel that feel overwhelmed by long-term health goals, here are 5 tips to help you achieve them:

  1. Find your purpose
    Of course, it is important to be specific about your goal and what you would like to achieve, but I think it’s even more important to know why you’re setting it for yourself. This “why” is likely to keep you going when your motivation is waning. It can be something as simple as wanting to fit into a dress, but often I find that health targets can offer more encouragement. For example we know that if you stop smoking for 5 years, your risk of stroke is reduced to that of a non-smoker. So wanting to reach that 5 year mark to know that your health is on par with your non-smoking peers can be an extremely motivating “why”.
  2. Be realistic I find this aspect of goal setting quite difficult to gauge. I want people to set big, exciting, fantastic goals, that push them to their full potential, but with that same breath I ask that you “be realistic”. The reason is that some goals can feel daunting if they’re too big, and you are more likely to pack it in prematurely. I therefore suggest breaking up the goal into manageable chunks. If your goal is to run a marathon, break it up into running a 5K first, then a 10k, and work your way up to that marathon. By achieving the mini goals in between, you will see the progress and feel proud of yourself, and this is likely to remove the anxiety about hitting the marathon target.
  3. Define success
    To know when your goal has been achieved, you need to know what success looks like. Some people will want to “be healthy” for their resolution, and whilst I think that’s a great thing to strive towards, it can be difficult to reward yourself when you aren’t sure if you’ve actually hit your target. Pre-define what health means to you and how you will know when you have got there.
  4. Overcome obstacles
    Along the way you will hit obstacles. Perhaps suffering an injury or no longer being able to afford that gym membership or with a less pessimistic hat on, perhaps you will have the opportunity to go on a blow-out all-inclusive holiday which means your health choices change. Whatever the hiccup along the way, don’t give up. In these situations people often just change their goal post, but I suggest just being more flexible in your approach. Still aim high, but be aware that it won’t always be plain sailing, and if you feel like you’ve taken several steps back because of the obstacle, often tracking your progress will help remind you that you are still moving in the right direction. Some people track their progress through photos in a before/after fashion. Others will keep note of the weights they were able to carry compared to now, or using apps to track the speed at which they are now able to run that 5K.
  5. Seek support
    Don’t go this alone. It is important to tell those close to you what you’re trying to achieve, so that they can support you through it. We also know that people that set goals in groups are more likely to stick to them, potentially because you’re awakening a competitive streak, but also because you don’t want to let anyone else down. So find a work-out buddy, or go to a group exercise class with like-minded people who have similar goals.