Res­o­lu­tions are tricky so give your­self a break

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Front Page - Muiris Hous­ton

“A New Year’s res­o­lu­tion is some­thing that goes in one year and out the other.”

“Many peo­ple look for­ward to the New Year for a new start on old habits.”

“New Year’s res­o­lu­tions are a bit like ba­bies: They’re fun to make but ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to main­tain.”

Afew days into the new year, how are your 2017 health res­o­lu­tions go­ing? As the anony­mous quotes above sug­gest, main­tain­ing res­o­lu­tions can be quite a chal­lenge.

A 2007 study from the Univer­sity of Bris­tol showed that 88 per cent of those who set New Year res­o­lu­tions fail even though 52 per cent of par­tic­i­pants were con­fi­dent of suc­cess when they started. Each Jan­uary, about one in three of us re­solves to bet­ter our­selves in some way. A much smaller per­cent­age of peo­ple ac­tu­ally make good on those res­o­lu­tions.

Re­search from 2002 sug­gests about 75 per cent of us stick to our goals for at least a week; how­ever, less than half are still on tar­get six months later.

Aim small

One way to in­crease your odds of suc­cess is to aim for small mea­sur­able goals. So in­stead of re­solv­ing to “lose weight”, de­cid­ing from the out­set to lose one pound a week works well for men; while women suc­ceed more when they make their goals pub­lic and ask for sup­port from their friends.

Here’s a small goal tip that might work for weight loss: re­duce the size of your din­ner plate. Then fill half the plate with veg­eta­bles, with a quar­ter of the space given to pro­tein and the same for car­bo­hy­drate. And put the food dishes out of sight, away from the ta­ble, when every­one has been served. This will stop any ten­dency to graze af­ter you have fin­ished the orig­i­nal por­tions.

Hav­ing dif­fi­culty with the no­tion of a full-on ex­er­cise regime? Then try this: for ev­ery hour you are sit­ting get up and walk briskly for five min­utes. If you are in a seden­tary job for eight hours, this equates to 40 min­utes of ex­er­cise a day, taken in small bite­size chunks.

Don’t do check-ups

One strat­egy not to fol­low is to rely on a med­i­cal “check-up” to kick-start your res­o­lu­tions. Ac­cord­ing to a re­view in the Bri­tish Med­i­cal Jour­nal, gen­eral health checks did not re­duce mor­bid­ity or mor­tal­ity. Nor do they af­fect ei­ther deaths or dis­abil­ity from car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease or from can­cer. Worse, health checks in­crease the num­ber of new di­ag­noses for pa­tients, sug­gest­ing the pos­si­bil­ity they may con­trib­ute to harm­ful out­comes such as over-di­ag­no­sis and over-treat­ment.

Re­search from 2002 sug­gests about 75 per cent of us stick to our goals for at least a week; how­ever, less than half are still on tar­get six months later

One trial found that health checks led to a 20 per cent in­crease in the to­tal num­ber of new di­ag­noses per par­tic­i­pant over six years com­pared with the con­trol group and an in­creased num­ber of peo­ple with self-re­ported chronic con­di­tions. Keep­ing the doc­tor away has def­i­nite ben­e­fits, it seems.

No wor­ries

You could of course turn the res­o­lu­tion pres­sure com­pletely on its head and de­cide to stop wor­ry­ing about your health. It’s an ap­proach ad­vo­cated by Dr Su­san Love, a pro­fes­sor of surgery at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les.

Co-au­thor of Live a Lit­tle! Break­ing the Rules Won’t Break Your Health, Love makes the case that per­fect health is a myth and that most of us are liv­ing health­ier lives than we re­alise. “Is the goal to live for­ever?” she asks. “I would con­tend it’s not. It’s to live as long as you can with the best qual­ity of life you can.”

Her the­sis is based on the U-shaped curve. Rather than aim­ing for per­fec­tion at one or other end of the curve, maybe the best place to be is in the mid­dle. There is solid ev­i­dence that those who have a slightly el­e­vated BMI have bet­ter long-term health out­comes than peo­ple with low or nor­mal mea­sure­ments.

Don’t let the New Year res­o­lu­tion zeit­geist get you down. Here’s to a healthy and happy 2017 – what­ever way it works for you.

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