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5 Simple Steps for a Healthy New Year

Clementines next to a leaves of a Christmas tree

With a new year upon us many people are working on their resolution to live a healthier lifestyle.   As a medical practitioner and nutritionist I see a wide variety of scientifically unsound or unsustainable diet and fitness plans that lead to more frustration than good.   So for this coming year may I suggest a simple plan with 5 easy to follow steps that are sustainable and practical.

1.    CHOOSE AN EVENT – First, select a specific event with a date.  This could be anything from a 5k or triathlon, to a high school reunion or wedding.  The key to this is a defined goal and a set deadline.  By creating a time frame with a purpose, what once seemed like a never ending journey becomes an attainable and enjoyable goal.   Have fun with this goal and advertise to yourself.  You can even make a poster collage of this event with pictures that inspire or remind you of what you hope to accomplish or simply promise yourself a reward.   As you prepare for this event the sacrifice, effort, and pain can be associated with the higher purpose or goal and this will increase the likelihood of success.  As you succeed with this first event make sure and choose another and you’ll find yourself in a life full of success and accomplishment.

2.    FITNESS PLAN – Second, commit to a specific fitness plan that will help you achieve the desired goal.  For most of us it is too hard at the end of a long day to go out and exercise when we don’t have a plan.  By choosing and committing to a plan we are likely to be more mentally prepared and will often push ourselves more than if we do just what we feel like doing that day.  This plan can be a video series, a plan from a book or website, training from a coach, or even a handheld phone application.   Whatever plan you choose make sure that it is specific enough to write out your daily tasks for the month.  This will help avoid hesitation or excuse making.   If a workout is in the plan and you committed, just get it done.  Of course be responsible and allow yourself proper time for rest and make sure your plan isn’t so far beyond your present fitness level that it can lead to injury or burnout.

3.    PEER SUPPORT – Third, enlist a friend.  The buddy system and accountability work.  Choose someone to take this challenge with.  Share your goals and if possible a similar event and goal to work towards.  Have some type of documenting system to track your success and push and motivate each other.  You can use a written journal or online website.   One of my favorite websites, Dailymile.com allows people from all across the world to log their workouts and see workouts their friends have accomplished.  We are able to comment on each other’s workouts and cheer success, commiserate with setbacks, and share in adventure.  Other similar sites include myfitnesspal.com and livestrong.com.   Each of these allows accountability and support in a fun way that exponentially increases our ability to continue forward with a plan.

4.    NUTRITION PLAN – Fourth, develop a nutrition plan that is sustainable. Notice I did not use the word diet.  I believe improving what we eat is much simpler than the torture that many endure under the various diets that are popular for a season.  I believe as people become conscious of what goes into their body they will naturally choose those things that help them feel energetic if they are available.  To improve nutrition I recommend a person to do a 7 day food journal and observe the calories associated with the foods in their normal diet.  There are many programs online and for phone applications that will help you do this.  (My favorite app is my fitness pal.)

Then, and this is the key, I recommend choosing 10 items which are either low in nutrients and high in calories or foods that simply make you feel sluggish or ill and place them on your “Black list”.  This is a written list that you may choose to keep with you to help you consciously avoid foods that don’t contribute to your sense of energy and well-being.   Foods such as soda, excess alcohol or coffee, overeating, donuts, candy, or fast food can be placed on this list with a short written reminder of why we have chosen not to eat them.   Then get any food on the black list out of your house.

We then move to the “Green list” which is a list of lower calorie options or foods that consistently help you feel energetic and well.   Write down your top 10 favorite and fill your refrigerator and pantry with these options.  As you simply trade one for the other you will notice a difference in the way you feel and very likely a significant reduction in the mindless calories you take in.

5.    Supplement support- Fifth and finally research and implement one of the various supplements available to enhance your energy levels and athletic performance.  An old fable talks of a man who took 5hours to chop down some trees with a dull axe and another who took 2hours to sharpen his axe and 1 hour to cut down the trees.  There are natural supplements out there that can significantly improve our efforts and keep our bodies healthy and intact while we push for our goal.   With the scientific understanding available to the public today each of us can enjoy the advanced nutritional benefits of supplementation once enjoyed only by elite athletes and the ultra-wealthy.  I recommend talking with someone you trust or a sports nutritionist and your medical doctor to discuss the various options available and give yourself an edge on success.

By following these simple and practical techniques I know you can make the upcoming year one of your most energetic and accomplished yet.

To your health,

David Rigby MS, PA-C, Member of American Society of Nutrition