The best New Year’s resolutions you can make

Popular New Year’s resolutions about health tend to fall into two categories:

  1. Impossibly specific and unachievable. “I’m going to lose 20 pounds in January.” or “I’m going to start jogging so I can run a marathon in April.” or “I’m going on 1200 calories a day.”
  2. So vague and unspecific that you can’t tell if you’ve met your goals. “I’m going to eat better!” or “I’m going to start exercising.” Well meaning, but no way to measure progress.

The inevitable result is that you fail to achieve the impossible goals, or you never get started on the vague undefined goals, so nothing much happens. There is a third type of resolution: one with easily defined and realistic goals. “I’m going to be active every day for at least 60 minutes.” or “I’m going to eat at least 4 cups of vegetables everyday.” or “I’m going to cut out sugary snacks and switch to raw vegetables.”

I’m not opposed to those sorts of resolutions. I think they can create a positive and pro-active attitude about health. With that in mind, I’ve got three suggestions for the best resolutions you can make that will have a positive impact on your health:

  1. Be Physically Active Every Day (or almost every day). If you do nothing else, resolve to be active. That might mean continuing your already-active lifestyle, or deliberately adding physical activity to your days, building up according to your fitness level. The phrase “use it or lose it” is particularly apt for older adults. Muscles lose mass and fitness very quickly if you’re sidelined by illness, injury or a sedentary lifestyle. The human body was designed to move, not to sit around. The good news is that, once you do start moving again, muscles and fitness can improve.
  2. Eat More Plant Foods. The plant-based diet is a fashionable concept, with evidence to back up health claims. You don’t have to become vegetarian or vegan. You just have to include more plant-sourced foods at all your meals: vegetables, fruit, nuts, grain foods (from bread to noodles to cereal to cooked whole grains), legumes and plant-sourced oils. How do you fit all that into your diet? Cut back on portions of meat and dairy foods.
  3. Eat Less Sugar. You may already restrict sugar-sweetened foods. But if sugar-sweetened foods are a big part of your day, you seriously need to rethink that and switch to less sugary food choices. Eventually you’ll lose your preference for sweetness and sweetened processed foods — from cereals to salad dressings — will start to taste unpleasant.

Pretty simple and very do-able. You don’t need fancy exercise clothes or expensive equipment or pricey processed vegetarian food. A plant-based meal can be stir-fried vegetables with a small piece of chicken, or a big tossed salad garnished with grated cheese and sunflower seeds. A sugary snack can be replaced by sliced cucumbers and sweet peppers and a piece of cheese. Exercise can be a brisk walk around the neighborhood. A healthy lifestyle does not have to be complicated.