In her latest column, Diabetes WA Research and Evaluation Coordinator Dr Jenny Olson shares some tips on how to build healthy habits to kickstart the New Year.
Summer is here and the New Year is just around the corner. This is typically a time of the year when many of us think about making some healthy changes in our lives.
Maybe you put on a few extra kilos over the winter and want to lose weight before you hit the beach. Maybe you slipped into a few unhealthy habits when the weather was cooler; sleeping in, instead of getting up early to exercise; comfort eating; partaking in a few too many beverages; or staying in for hours and binge-watching Netflix.
New Year’s Eve is one event that usually sees people making resolutions to change their behaviour and habits. Most of us have done it at some point: “I am not going to eat burgers or chocolate anymore.” “I am going to do more exercise.” “No more drinking alcohol on weeknights!”
Unfortunately, it is not unusual for people to slip back into their old ways pretty quickly. So, what is the best way to make healthy lifestyle changes, and increase your chances of sticking to them in the long run?
Fortunately, there is lots of research that shows what we can do to successfully make and maintain healthy lifestyle changes.
These tips are useful, no matter what type of healthy change you would like to make – if you want to do more exercise, eat more fruit and veg or avoid fatty or sugary food – it really doesn’t matter, these practical tips can help.
It is important to set goals that are challenging, yet achievable. Imagine you want to lose weight and are deciding on your weekly weight loss target. If you set your target too high and don’t achieve it, you might feel discouraged or frustrated. Over time, these feelings increase the chance that you will give up on your goal altogether. But, if you set a goal that is more realistic, yet challenging, you are likely to feel confident and successful when you achieve it. These kinds of feelings increase the chance that you will keep at it in the long run. It may be helpful to write your goal down. Telling others about your goals can help too.
Make a plan!
Plans help us to turn our intentions into actions. Plans work best when they are specific and flexible. Think about what you are going to do, when and where you will do it, and who you will do it with. For example, you are more likely to follow through with a plan to walk around your neighbourhood every night after work for 30 minutes with your partner, than a plan to do ‘more’ exercise.
It is also helpful to think about the things that might get in the way of your plans. Thinking about these things in advance, and how you might overcome challenges when they arise, can improve your chances of maintaining healthy behaviour over time.
Monitor your progress!
Keeping track of your progress is also helpful. You don’t have to spend loads of money on the latest fitness watch or fancy gadget (of course if that is your thing, then go for it!). Free apps for tracking your physical activity or the foods that you are eat are a great option. Some more well-known options include MyFitnessPal or Cronometer for tracking physical activity and what you eat and drink, and Strava Training: Run & Ride for keeping track of your physical activity. Or you can go old school and keep a written diary to keep track of what you eat, drink, or the exercise that you do. The way you choose to keep track really doesn’t matter. Look for an option that suits you.
When things go wrong…
You may experience setbacks from time to time. You might realise you are eating more fast food, have skipped quite a few exercise sessions, or are drinking more alcohol or soft drinks than you had planned. That’s OK. Setbacks are normal, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Have a think about what led to this setback. If it was because of an unexpected event or situation and things are now getting back to normal, then it’s time to give it another go. If that is not the case, it might be time to re-think your goals. In hindsight, were those goals realistic? If not, then it’s probably time to set new, more achievable goals.