West End Healthline
New Year Brings New Motivation to be Healthier
By Jonathan Dickman, MD, PhD
Goodbye 2022, hello 2023! With the New Year comes familiar resolutions to improve health. Every time January comes around, the desire to eat better and be more physically active intensifies. The gyms fill up in the first few weeks of January and there is excitement that this year will be different. Oftentimes, however, people return to previous habits and the gym becomes more vacant a month or two later. How can we break this cycle and build healthy behaviors that last year round? Here we review a few tips to keep you feeling better through 2023 and beyond.
Tip #1: Gradually move towards your goal
Everybody knows that you cannot immediately go from couch potato to marathon runner. We all need to realize, however, that this concept applies to smaller goals and our newfound motivation to get better. Instead of drastically changing your life suddenly, take small steps towards your goal. Start something that is sustainable for you and that you build upon over the long term. Instead of suddenly going to the gym 90 minutes every day, start with increasing your physical activity by a smaller amount, such as 15 or 30 minutes each day. As this becomes a new habit, then gradually increase your physical activity over time towards your goal. This decreases the risk of injuries and seems less daunting to complete each day. The same can be said about your diet. Start by picking one thing, perhaps drinking less juice or soda, and start there until it becomes a habit. You can then continue to gradually improve your diet over time. Although we all want to have perfect habits immediately, remember that it takes time to develop bad habits, so it will also take time to develop good ones.
Tip #2: The more the merrier
Improving yourself can be more enjoyable when done with friends and/or family. Try discussing and developing your goals with someone else. This can make physical activity more fun and get you both healthier together. You will also have another person to hold you accountable and to talk to when modifying goals or plans is needed. Doing healthy activities with others can keep you motivated and keep you working towards your goal year round.
Tip #3: Be flexible
Going for a 30 minute walk in the morning might be your favorite option for physical activity. Sometimes life stressors happen and there is not enough time to walk 30 minutes in the morning. Do not ditch your physical activity altogether, instead consider walking 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon. This will still give you significant health benefits. Be creative and plan ahead for when life gets busy or the weather is not cooperating. Maybe you can exercise indoors somewhere (at a gym, recreation center, etc) when the ice makes it too slippery outside. Consider a non-painful form of exercise such as biking or elliptical when you are struggling with injuries. Planning for how you will manage times when life throws curveballs can keep you moving towards your goal, even if you are taking a route that you did not expect.
Tip #4: When in doubt, ask a professional
Maybe you do not know where to start. These are good times to discuss with a professional about how to reach your goal. Your primary provider can often provide the advice and resources that you need. Sometimes they will recommend that you work with a dietician, physical therapist or other professional to help get you healthier. Always know they want you to be healthy and happy to talk about how to improve your lifestyle and reach your goal.
In 2023, it is fine to dream big about becoming a healthier you. Just remember that getting healthier is a journey that takes time and starts with small steps. Find a family member or friend to join you in this journey and take time to plan ahead for how you will keep moving forward when life gets busy. When in doubt, talk to your primary provider. We are here to help and look forward to seeing a healthier you in 2023!
Dr. Dickman is a family physician at Allina Health United Family Physicians, 233 Grand Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102, phone 651-241-5200.