The presents have been unwrapped, too many extravagant dinners and desserts eaten, all that remains of the holiday is season is the start to your new year’s resolution, and possibly the remnants of a New Year’s Eve hangover.
Many people view the new year as a fresh start, a clean slate, and a chance to leave bad habits in the past and lead a better, often healthier life. Setting a new year’s resolution dates back thousands of years; basically as long as people have been celebrating a new year, they have also been making resolutions.
Brad Hagen, associate professor and co-ordinator of the Health Sciences Graduate Program at the University of Lethbridge, explains that while the process of making a resolution is widespread, the act of keeping those resolutions is not.
“A study in England found that about 78 per cent of people don’t succeed at keeping their New Years resolutions,” he said.
Though Hagen notes the odds aren’t exactly favourable, they are some proven ways to safeguard your resolution. “Probably the main reason people fail is because January 1st is just an arbitrary date. People like to think of it as a new year and that January 1st at 12:01 a.m. they are suddenly going to feel different and motivated, ready and able to go to the gym, but really nothing changes on that date or time. That’s where people go wrong they kind of expect the blank slate is going to be enough to supercharge them into making changes and changes are much more difficult and complicated that that.”
“A lifestyle change should be made when a person is truly ready and prepared to change, not because the calendar has said it is time,” he stressed.
Other major pitfalls to new year’s resolutions include setting unrealistic goals, not seeking support and giving up at the first sign of setback. Hagen encouraged people to go into their resolutions slowly, and realistically.
“If you look at the 20 per cent of people who did stick to their resolutions, they didn’t make the resolution too huge, they didn’t say I’m going to lose 200 pounds, or I’m going to completely quit smoking if you’ve chain-smoked most of our life. They didn’t say I’m going to go to the gym five days a week. The research is pretty clear that you have to break it up into little tiny steps.”
Hagen said indulging in a small reward upon reaching each milestone could go a long way in maintaining resolution dedication. He also encouraged those setting a resolution to seek advice, motivation and support from others, whether it is a friend, spouse or therapist.
“You have to go into it reminding yourself you probably will have little lapses, so when they do happen you say, ‘OK, here they are I knew they would happen,’ rather than beating yourself up, get back into it as soon as you can,” he explained.
While resolutions are inherently created to better oneself and weed out negative behaviours, Hagen noted the positive impact of such behaviours is often overlooked and not properly understood.
“Many people are trying to give up bad habits like smoking or overeating but what people don’t realize is a lot of these things are ways that we use to deal with stress. People don’t understand that smoking or eating or things like that can be important ways for us to help ourselves, they calm us down and make us feel better.”
“These coping mechanisms actually release the feel good hormone dopamine making us feel almost instantly better. You can’t really just suddenly say you are going to stop eating Sara Lee cakes or quit smoking if you don’t have something else in line that can make you feel better because then it’s kind of like you are taking away you’re only coping strategy,” he continued.
Kelly Dinsmore, a program administrator at Be Fit for Life, a provincewide network dedicated to providing active living opportunities for all Albertans, had some tips for those looking to replace old habits with exercise.
“Try to do something active every day so it becomes part of your habits. Choose something you think is fun. Some people think zumba is a total nightmare, whereas a lot of people don’t even think it’s exercise because they think it’s so much fun. Choose something that you already enjoy and if you have a family maybe choose something that can get the whole family involved,” she suggested.
Dinsmore believes the biggest keys to success in fitness stem from your enjoyment of the activity and the realization that any activity is better than no activity. “Getting up in the morning and doing 10 minutes of something and then trying to do 20 minutes of something at lunch, taking those small steps and making it a bit more manageable, changing your expectations a little bit has a big impact on overall success.”
Added Hagen, “The amount of weight you lose doesn’t really matter; what matters is you feel better and healthier. I usually encourage people not to fixate on the number, which tends to happen. We recommend you actually throw out the scale and put more of a focus on how you feel. When you wake up in the morning do you have a bit more energy, do your pants feel a little bit better. You are trying to get at the deeper motivation which is getting healthier and feeling better rather than setting an arbitrary number.”
“I think the biggest resolution I would suggest to people is to do some self reflection on if you feel bad about yourself, if you are eating to comfort yourself or if you are smoking under stress. It can be helpful to ask yourself what are your main stressors in life and if I don’t feel good about myself, why is that? Sometimes once we start to feel better about ourselves, spontaneously we feel like taking better care of ourselves and eating a bit better and exercising more.”
For more information on Be Fit For Life including program offerings and schedules visit http://www.lethbridgecollege.ca/conted/be-fit-life.