3 Major Health Goals…and How to Achieve Them

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol

What are your health goals for 2007? Whether you’re trying to drop 10 pounds, be more flexible, or improve your diet, this is the year you can be fit, strong, and healthy.

According to Duke University Medical Center health psychologist Ruth Quillian Wolever, keeping your goals realistic and attainable is the key to success. As a regular ETR reader, you should be familiar with this idea. It’s one that Michael Masterson has repeated dozens of times. And I couldn’t agree more. It is the only way to make lasting changes that you can build on over the long haul.

Michael also encourages you to be specific about exactly what you’re looking to accomplish. New Year’s resolutions like “I’m going to get back in shape” or “I’m going to lose 20 pounds” are too vague to allow you to take the actions necessary to achieve your desired result.

So this year, I want to encourage you to come up with one major health goal. And instead of focusing on the end result, I want you to outline the specific, small actions you’re going to take to make that goal come to life.

If you’re like most Americans, one of the following resolutions will (and probably should) find a top spot on your list of goals for 2007: to lose weight, get fit, or quit smoking.

Here’s how to turn those resolutions into specific, attainable goals.

1. Lose Weight

Probably the most popular New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. (Not surprising, considering that an estimated 67 percent of adults between the ages of 20 and 74 are overweight.) Many people try to do it with a fad diet that completely changes the way they’re used to eating. They may lose the weight … but then watch the pounds pile back on once they go back to their normal diet.

Instead of going for a quick fix, you need to develop a specific, realistic plan of attack that will guide you toward long-term success. So rather than giving your diet a complete makeover, change it bit by bit. For instance, rather than resolving to cut all sugar from your diet (an unhealthy and practically impossible goal), you can resolve to quit drinking soda … or exchange your breakfast donut and coffee for a hard-boiled egg and an apple.

Another way to slim down is to eat better foods. Rather than restricting your diet, you can focus on expanding your options to include whole fruits and vegetables, grass-fed beef, wild fish, nuts, berries, and naturally raised poultry.

By approaching your goal this way – although you may not shed the pounds as quickly as you would with a crash diet – you’ll see a long-term improvement in your health … and the weight loss will follow.

2. Get Fit

Just as popular as losing weight is the resolution to get into shape. But an undefined goal like “I’m going to start working out” leaves a lot of room for error.

Again, you need to be realistic and specific if you expect to be successful at achieving this goal. Here’s what I would do. I’d come up with a plan to walk, swim, or hit the gym for 15 minutes a day at least twice a week on specific days. And I’d stick to it like glue.

Fifteen minutes a day, two times a week is nothing in the grand scheme of things. But it can do wonders for your health, physique, and energy levels. And once you start feeling your juices flowing, you can gradually pick up the pace. By that, I mean add another 15-minute workout to your week … or add another 15 minutes to your Tuesday jog.

By the end of the year, you could find yourself working out three to four days a week for 30 minutes a shot and not even remember how you got started on doing it.

Walking … biking … a Karate class – it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you are active on a regular basis. One step at a time is all it takes.

3. Quit Smoking

According to the CDC, over 45 million American adults were smokers in 2005. And because smoking is such a dangerous addiction, eliminating or curbing tobacco use is another New Year’s resolution that many people make. Unfortunately for most smokers, quitting is a lofty goal that’s much easier said than done.

But it is possible – and the health benefits of quitting are unbelievable. You’ll reduce your risk of lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and you’ll slow the rate of decline in lung function.

Here’s an approach that can help you beat the odds: Come up with a timeline that weans your body from smoking over the course of a few months. Let’s say you smoke a pack a day – that’s 20 cigarettes. Every month, starting in January, you’re going cut out two cigarettes. And if you can just stick to that simple action plan, you’ll have painlessly erased smoking from your life forever before the end of the year.

(Check out the CDC website for more suggestions to help you stop smoking.)

Don’t Get Discouraged

Maybe your next door neighbor will go out, buy a home gym, start on the latest diet, and lose 20 pounds by the end of February. But where will he be this time next year … or the year after that? He’ll likely be right back where he started, making the same health resolutions he made the year before.

Fad and crash diets just don’t work – and trying to force yourself to go to the gym five times a week for an hour when you haven’t exercised in years can leave you out of breath, in pain, and feeling very discouraged.

There’s no need to set yourself up for failure when success is well within your grasp.

That’s why I’m suggesting you pick one major health goal for the year – and then outline a specific plan for accomplishing it.

Once you have a definitive plan, start taking those baby steps right away. And when you begin to see results, keep reminding yourself how good it feels to be improving your health for the long term.

[Ed. Note: Doc Darville is a police officer and certified personal trainer who specializes in training senior citizens. Add lean muscle to your frame and reach all your fitness goals with Doc’s Forgotten Fitness program.]