Sticking to your health-related goals for 2021

By Andy Stader, Physician Assistant at the Orthopedic Institute at Southwest Health

As we transition into the New Year, a lot of us will make some changes to take control of our health, especially after the wild year that was 2020. Many of us will set a resolution to eat better and exercise in early January before letting our busy lives take over a few months later. I want to help you stick with your resolution and do it safely.

The key for sticking to your resolution is to keep it simple. If you make your plan complicated or overwhelming, you are less likely to stick with it. Try not to do any specific “diets” because they are difficult to stick to long term. If you have big goals, start slowly and break it down into multiple, manageable parts.

When it comes to eating better, most people have an idea of the changes they could make but have a hard time executing those changes. As a Registered Dietitian in my previous career, I wanted to make healthy eating and good nutrition as simple as possible for my patients to help them achieve their goals – whether that was weight loss, lowered cholesterol or blood pressure, or reduced GI issues. Below are some general healthy eating tips.

Consider eating 3 smaller meals with snacks in between instead of one large meal at the end of the day. Eating more frequently helps to prevent overeating and also helps to increase your metabolism.

When planning meals, using the Plate Method is a great way to achieve balance. The Plate Method means filling 1/2 of your plate with fruits and vegetables, ¼ of your plate with a protein choice and ¼ of your plate with a carbohydrate choice.

Examples of the Plate Method for each meal might look like:

  • Breakfast – sautéed vegetable omelet with cheese, one piece of whole grain toast, and a  side of fresh fruit
  • Lunch – open-faced sandwich with one piece of whole grain bread and four ounces of lean ham/turkey, carrots with hummus, and an apple
  • Dinner – ¼ plate of pasta with three or four meatballs and sauce, and a ½ plate of salad with dressing

Snack ideas might include almonds and fruit, vegetables with hummus, cottage cheese with fruit, Greek yogurt, a protein bar, string cheese and fruit, and vegetables with a hard-boiled egg.

Another thing to consider is limiting your liquid calorie intake (what you drink). Regular soda, juice drinks, energy drinks, sweetened coffee and alcoholic beverages all contain liquid calories that don’t fill us up and don’t provide nutrients we need. Healthy substitutes include water, tea, coffee, sparkling water, fruit-infused water, Gatorade Zero, diet soda, or other low calorie drinks with less than 10 calories per serving.

You might find that using an app, such as My Fitness Pal or Lose It!, can help you change your eating habits by tracking your intake and helping you identify certain times of the day when you tend to make poorer choices. If you can incorporate simple changes to your diet, you are more likely to stick with those changes for the long-term.

When it comes to physical activity, recommendations for overall health include 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week, along with two or three days of resistance or strength training.

Aerobic activity or ‘cardio’ helps to strengthen your heart and lungs. Examples include walking, biking, swimming, jogging or using machines like an elliptical, stationary bike, or stair stepper.

Strength, or resistance training, helps to strengthen your muscles and bones. Examples include strength machines, free weights, resistance bands, or using your own body weight by doing things like pushups, squats, pull-ups, and planks. Taking time to stretch after activity and throughout the week helps to prevent injury.

When you start a new activity, it is important to ease into it, as this will help prevent injury and improve your chances of maintaining a routine. You will likely have general soreness for a day or two after you start a new activity but this doesn’t last forever. This is normal as your body adapts to change, but you shouldn’t have significant pain during or after exercise.

It’s important to find activities that you enjoy, as that will increase the likelihood that you will incorporate them into your regular routine. Walking is one of my favorites because it is low impact, doesn’t cost anything, and can be done almost anywhere and at any time. Consider walking during your breaks at work or first thing when you get up in the morning. Some people find it helpful to have a walking buddy or workout partner to make exercise more enjoyable and to help hold them accountable at the same time. Others like to use a step tracker on their phone or watch to help keep them motivated.

There are many programs or videos that can guide you as you increase your activity. A program like Couch to 5K helps individuals progress from walking to jogging over a 2-3 month time period. As a result of the pandemic, the availability of virtual workout classes has exploded. You may find options locally or through a subscription service, like Peloton. These classes can give you the camaraderie of a group workout from the comfort of your home.

Whatever it is that works for you, the key is to find a routine and activities that you enjoy and can continue in your everyday life. These small changes will help you take control of your health in 2021 and beyond.



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