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Wow! What a year 2020 has been with COVID, the horrible weather, the hatred and decisiveness throughout our country, and the major electronic hacking into the U.S. government systems. A year that necessitates change in 2021. So now that we have a new year it is time to make some New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, New Year’s resolutions are notoriously hard to keep, especially when they’re aimed at health behaviors such as losing weight, eating better, and exercising more. In fact, no matter when we decide to change a behavior or how strongly we’re motivated, adopting a new, healthy habit, or breaking an old, bad one, can be terribly difficult. However, research has suggested that any effort you make is worthwhile. If you set your changes but encounter setbacks, it is still worth trying. Just making a New Year’s resolution, for example, may boost your chances of eventual success. Each new year offers enticing opportunities to reflect on where we are currently and where we’d like to go. Unfortunately, people have a hard time accepting the need to change and find it even harder to actually make meaningful life changes. There is a fear of the unknown and the uncertainty that comes with it. It takes strength and courage to do anything different or unfamiliar.

When we are thinking about changing our own behavior around health, we know that exercising, eating a nutritious diet, keeping the body mass index in the normal range, getting enough sleep (at least seven hours a night), no smoking, being aware of the drugs we take, having social relations, and limiting alcohol to one drink a day creates a healthy life. What we do for ourselves in changing our behavior in these areas is often more important than what medicine can do for us. Making the behavior changes and adopting a healthier lifestyle can affect not only our risk for disease and the way we feel today but also our health and ability to function independently in later life, as well as increase our life expectancy.

Research has shown that those who are overweight, physically inactive, smoke, drink alcohol excessively, have high stress and are socially isolated, have diabetes and high blood pressure are more likely to develop even more chronic disabilities that put them is nursing homes and shorten their lives. All of these conditions can, of course, be modified with lifestyle changes. Even after an illness such as a stroke, healthy behaviors and lifestyle can make a difference in reducing our risk of dying. 

So how do we make behavior changes that impact our healthy lives? Unfortunately, too often we’re motivated by negatives such as guilt, fear, or regret, like fearing disability or death. Experts agree that long-lasting change is most likely when it’s self-motivated and rooted in positive thinking.  To start with, goals are easier to achieve if they’re specific.  For example, state that our goal is to walk each day for 30 minutes, rather than just to get more exercise. In addition, we should also limit the number of goals we are trying to achieve otherwise, we may be overzealous and lose our attention and willpower. We need to have detailed practical ways of achieving those goals. For example, if you are trying to get more exercise, have a plan for what exercise, when, where and how much.

The process of making significant changes in any area of life unfolds over time and involves progressing through a series of five stages based on research:

The first stage is that we are not yet ready or not thinking about change. This stage, people do not intend to take action in the foreseeable future. We are generally unaware of or minimize the extent to which their behavior is problematic. We see no reason to consider changing or making improvements. If we are making or have already made specific New Year’s resolutions, we have progressed past this stage.

The second stage is contemplation in which people think about the possibility of making changes and begin to change. We are more aware of the pros of changing, but are also acutely aware of the cons. We have an awareness of an issue that requires change or improvement, but we are either not yet ready to do anything about it or are uncertain what to do about it. As a result, it may take longer than we want.

The third is the stage in which people understand that behavioral change is necessary and are ready to take action. We develop a plan of action to make the changes and take the initial steps toward making improvements in our behavior.

The fourth is the stage in which we make concerted changes and improvements in our behavior. We modify our existing behaviors by acquiring new, healthier behaviors. Action is observable and can include reducing or discontinuing the use of alcohol, beginning to eat healthier, and/or exercising regularly. 

The fifth stage is maintenance. This is where we have made specific, overt modifications in our lifestyles and are working to sustain those healthy changes. We did it! We commit to continuing and building on the behavior changes we have chosen.  Getting to this stage is adding life to years.

The New Year: Making New Year’s Resolutions and Changing Behavior

Wow! What a year 2020 has been with COVID, the horrible weather, the hatred and decisiveness throughout our country, and the major electronic hacking into the U.S. government systems. A year that necessitates change in 2021. So now that we have a new year it is time to make some New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, New Year’s resolutions are notoriously hard to keep, especially when they’re aimed at health behaviors such as losing weight, eating better, and exercising more. In fact, no matter when we decide to change a behavior or how strongly we’re motivated, adopting a new, healthy habit, or breaking an old, bad one, can be terribly difficult. However, research has suggested that any effort you make is worthwhile. If you set your changes but encounter setbacks, it is still worth trying. Just making a New Year’s resolution, for example, may boost your chances of eventual success. Each new year offers enticing opportunities to reflect on where we are currently and where we’d like to go. Unfortunately, people have a hard time accepting the need to change and find it even harder to actually make meaningful life changes. There is a fear of the unknown and the uncertainty that comes with it. It takes strength and courage to do anything different or unfamiliar.

When we are thinking about changing our own behavior around health, we know that exercising, eating a nutritious diet, keeping the body mass index in the normal range, getting enough sleep (at least seven hours a night), no smoking, being aware of the drugs we take, having social relations, and limiting alcohol to one drink a day creates a healthy life. What we do for ourselves in changing our behavior in these areas is often more important than what medicine can do for us. Making the behavior changes and adopting a healthier lifestyle can affect not only our risk for disease and the way we feel today but also our health and ability to function independently in later life, as well as increase our life expectancy.

Research has shown that those who are overweight, physically inactive, smoke, drink alcohol excessively, have high stress and are socially isolated, have diabetes and high blood pressure are more likely to develop even more chronic disabilities that put them is nursing homes and shorten their lives. All of these conditions can, of course, be modified with lifestyle changes. Even after an illness such as a stroke, healthy behaviors and lifestyle can make a difference in reducing our risk of dying. 

So how do we make behavior changes that impact our healthy lives?  Unfortunately, too often we’re motivated by negatives such as guilt, fear, or regret, like fearing disability or death. Experts agree that long-lasting change is most likely when it’s self-motivated and rooted in positive thinking.  To start with, goals are easier to achieve if they’re specific.  For example, state that our goal is to walk each day for 30 minutes, rather than just to get more exercise. In addition, we should also limit the number of goals we are trying to achieve otherwise, we may be overzealous and lose our attention and willpower. We need to have detailed practical ways of achieving those goals. For example, if you are trying to get more exercise, have a plan for what exercise, when, where and how much.

The process of making significant changes in any area of life unfolds over time and involves progressing through a series of five stages based on research:

The first stage is that we are not yet ready or not thinking about change. This stage, people do not intend to take action in the foreseeable future. We are generally unaware of or minimize the extent to which their behavior is problematic. We see no reason to consider changing or making improvements. If we are making or have already made specific New Year’s resolutions, we have progressed past this stage.

The second stage is contemplation in which people think about the possibility of making changes and begin to change. We are more aware of the pros of changing, but are also acutely aware of the cons. We have an awareness of an issue that requires change or improvement, but we are either not yet ready to do anything about it or are uncertain what to do about it. As a result, it may take longer than we want.

The third is the stage in which people understand that behavioral change is necessary and are ready to take action. We develop a plan of action to make the changes and take the initial steps toward making improvements in our behavior.

The fourth is the stage in which we make concerted changes and improvements in our behavior. We modify our existing behaviors by acquiring new, healthier behaviors. Action is observable and can include reducing or discontinuing the use of alcohol, beginning to eat healthier, and/or exercising regularly. 

The fifth stage is maintenance. This is where we have made specific, overt modifications in our lifestyles and are working to sustain those healthy changes. We did it! We commit to continuing and building on the behavior changes we have chosen.  Getting to this stage is adding life to years.

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