Maintaining Healthy Habits



New Year’s resolutions can be a good starting point for making longer term health and lifestyle improvements, but most people who set New Year’s resolutions do not stick to them. Reasons for quitting include a lack of time, a lack of support from other people and feeling daunted by unrealistic targets. These tips are aimed at helping you to succeed in maintaining your healthy goals in 2021.

Setting achievable goals
The first thing to consider is whether your New Year’s resolutions is achievable and realistic. Often, goals are unachievable because they are too difficult, or they do not allow enough time for you to make gradual changes.  There is nothing wrong with aiming high and being ambitious, but it is important that your goal is not too difficult or time-consuming as this could leave you feeling daunted. When setting a goal, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the goal too ambitious?
  • Is the timeframe for the goal realistic?
  • What specific changes do I need to make to achieve my goal?
  • Can I fit my new healthy behaviour around my other commitments?

Break down your goal
Breaking large goals down into smaller goals can make them feel more achievable and less daunting. For example, if you are aiming to lose weight, the NHS recommends that you aim to lose around 1 to 2lbs (0.5 to 1kg) a week. You should be able to achieve this by cutting down your calorie intake by about 500 to 600 calories each day. It might take you longer than you originally planned to lose the weight, but you are more likely to stick to it and not give up.

Plan for success
Make a plan of how you will achieve your goal and what changes you will make to ensure you stick to it. There are online resources available to help you plan your healthy activities, such as the NHS’ couch to 5km programme or the NHS’ programmes for stopping smoking, cutting down alcohol and losing weight:

Don’t expect immediate results
The effects of your New Year’s resolution may take time to appear. Try to be patient and don’t expect the results from just one or two weeks of dieting to show on the weighing scales, as it may take longer.

Involving other people
A really good way to motivate you to stick to your goal is to involve other people. If you know someone who has a similar goal to yours, try to involve them as a “buddy” to provide mutual support for each other. They may even be able to push you a little bit harder, helping you to achieve your goals and resolutions sooner. You can also look for groups on social media who share your goal.

Do not beat yourself up
If you miss a fitness session, have an alcoholic drink, cigarette or bar of chocolate, try not to feel guilty about it. Think about what might have triggered the deviation from your goal and try to avoid it in future. Forgive yourself and aim to get back to achieving your goal as soon as possible.

Make changes that will last long term
On average, it takes between 21 and 28 days for something to become a long-term habit. Make goals that you want to be able to stick to long term, such as improving your overall fitness, stopping smoking or maintaining your weight. If you can make it through these first few weeks, you will notice that things will become much easier.

Written by Dr Helen Flaherty, Head of Health Promotion and Education at Heart Research UK