How To Set Practical Health Goals In The New Year

While most New Year's resolutions take time, energy and planning, there are quick changes that you can make today that can improve your well-being and put you in the driver's seat on the journey to a new and improved you.
01/12/2012 07:23 am ET Updated Mar 13, 2012

As a new year begins, it's the perfect time to set goals for a fitter you. You've made a promise to yourself (again) to get in shape, shed some weight and to be a healthier, happier person. While most of these undertakings take time, energy, and planning, there are quick changes that you can make today that can improve your well-being and put you in the driver's seat on the journey to a new and improved you.

Read on for helpful tips to get you there.

Find what motivates you -- Self-reflection is as important as your reflection in the mirror. Look inward to understand why you're setting goals. Is it for better health or improved self-esteem? Write down your goals and read them often. Hang them on your refrigerator as a deterrent to aimless eating.

Find your groove -- It did take some time to fall into bad habits, so don't expect victorious results immediately. Some weeks will yield better results than others. Discover new ways to break through plateaus and bumps in the road. Add new foods to your repertoire, or try a new exercise (indoor cycling, anyone?). You'll be surprised at the amazing machine your body can be.

Quantify it -- Reaching your goals means making sure you measure up. Many find success if they hold themselves accountable by keeping a journal that reflects minutes of exercise, food portions and choices.

Keep it real -- Setting realistic goals will keep you motivated. Unsustainable exercise or total self-deprivation of your favorite foods only squashes your incentive and sets you up for failure. Make small and reasonable changes for big results.

A new year can mean a new you -- inside and out. This time of year is about learning from the past, and applying those lessons learned to the year ahead. If you want to get healthy and see results, something has to change. But it's important to recognize that with change come setbacks. Many of us expect results right away, and some of us take longer to get there. It can be overwhelming and stressful. Here's a reality checklist to help you take charge.

Self-control doesn't cut it. Self-control is for short-term success. Long-term success requires planning, discipline and finding ways to motivate yourself every day.

Motivation is not magic. What motivates you will change from day to day. You have to recommit to your goals each day, fine-tune them to fit changes in your lifestyle, and find new ways to motivate yourself over the course of your life.

You will not always want to exercise and eat healthy. Even the most committed health-conscious person has her off days. Know that you will have to work on it every day.

Ditch the diets. Stop wasting your time (and money) following someone else's plan. Be mindful about calories, sugar content and portion control. Make it a priority to burn calories every day, or whenever you can. Make your own plan, and take charge.

Do the Math. It's easier said than done, but if you pay attention to what you eat and drink, and add some exercise to your day, decreasing your daily caloric intake by 500 calories can be accomplished. This should have you losing approximately one pound each week. That's 52 pounds in one year! Fill up on more fruits and vegetables and stay away from the sugar-laden and fatty foods.

You've got to move it to lose it! Payback's a cinch when exercise is on your to-do list. Burning off blunders takes effort, but it doesn't have to be grueling. If you normally work out three times a week, pump it up to five times to kick off the new year. If you usually jog for 45 minutes, push yourself to an hour. If all else fails, walk instead of drive, take the stairs when possible, take a walk during lunch, park your car far away from the mall when shopping or run around with the kids for 30 minutes. I often see clients try to squeeze in more indoor cycling classes per week after the new year.

Seek support -- Find encouragement from the many others who are embarking on new healthy pathways. Work together to stay on track.

Some of us are lucky to achieve a long, healthy life. While some of it is based on good genes, so much of it is contingent on our choices -- the smart ones. So, when it feels better to be sedentary and gluttonous, think again. Put in the effort you owe yourself, be realistic and don't be afraid to treat yourself well. Now that the ball has dropped, raise your glass to a more focused and fulfilled you.

For more by Ruth Zukerman, click here.

For more on making it a healthy new year, click here.