What is it about the New Year that motivates us to take control of our health and our lives?
After all, every month, every Monday, every day presents us with a new opportunity to cultivate more prudent habits. But there's something about Jan. 1 — a fresh page — that really sharpens our focus, along with our desire to be and do better.
But what happens next is almost a cliche. By February, we're back on the couch, surrounded by empty pizza boxes and telltale Cheetos dust.
So, in the spirit of this time-honored tradition, we turned to a variety of Chicago-area experts and asked: How do we create conditions and strategies to actually be successful this time around?
Jean Alves, registered dietitian and exercise expert at Rush University Medical Center:
"Make smart resolutions — goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Most resolutions fail because they are unreasonable or too lofty. To say, 'I'm going to lose weight,' is the kind of goal that doesn't hold us accountable. But being specific — 'I'm going to work out x times a week' — is clear and quantifiable.
"As for 'attainable,' you really need to be honest with yourself. Maybe you can't say, 'I'm going to eat 1,200 calories a day.'" But you can start tracking your calories every day, so you know your baseline. Don't set yourself up for failure.
"'Relevant' means making sure that action fits the goal. Taking fish oil supplement is good for heart health, for example, but it doesn't mean you'll see the number drop on scale. And 'time' means that you set a deadline so it gives you some momentum. ... Instead of thinking of where you want to be a year from now, how about next week? Next month? Once you have success, you'll want to build on that success."
Dr. J. Martin Leland, sports medicine, University of Chicago Medicine:
"Find active, fit friends and make them good friends. Go to dinner with them at healthy restaurants, instead of comfort food. Work out with them. Encourage them to be active with you, and they'll encourage you to do the same!
"Also, here's another one: Don't buy soda, cookies, chips, junk food, etc. at the grocery store. If you buy it, you will eventually eat it. If you don't buy it, you will be forced to drink water, eat fruit, etc. instead. You are what you eat — eliminate the temptation to eat junk."
Sylvia Williams, owner, Heatwave Dance Fitness Club, Mokena and Tinley Park:
"Find something you love to do. If you hate the treadmill, don't do it, because you're not going to keep it up. If you like to dance, then dance, even if it's just turning on the music in your basement. ... What counts is that you move."
Jonathan Acosta, wellness specialist, Alexian Brothers Health System:
"Limit your technology dependency. Our culture today is so technologically driven that we often jump at the opportunity to use these tools to make our lives easier, but the reality is that too much dependency of this technology can downgrade your health. Examples: Choosing your car to drive 4 blocks rather than walking this distance or ... lunging at your smartphone every time you receive an alert ... which can take a toll on your family health."
Audrey Harwood, employee wellness specialist, Alexian Brothers Health System:
"One of the single greatest things you can do in 2013 to improve your health is invest in a pedometer. It's a great way to get a more accurate measurement of our activity level. It is recommended that you strive toward 10,000 steps per day, but you may be surprised how few steps you rack up in the beginning. ... Seeing how low that number actually is can help motivate you to become more active, which is one of the greatest steps you can take toward taking control of your health."
Dr. Rahul Khare, emergency medicine specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital:
"The best way to stay healthy is to keep active by doing simple things which add movement throughout the day. This can be done easily with things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking to a co-worker's office instead of sending an email.
"Although we've heard this before, this year's technology brings in a revolutionary way to motivate us and change our set habits. We should be taking advantage of the ability to use a three-dimensional accelerometer (similar to the Wii remote) that allows us to monitor our activity, such as the number of steps, calories burned, floors climbed and even how well we sleep.
"These new tools include: Fitbit tracker, ActiveLink and Nike+ FuelBand. These can help motivate us to increase activity while also helping to keep track of our progress. These products can now give you a reminder to get up or even tell you how you are doing on your daily activity goals. This year, we have no more excuses to not get active."
Dr. Ari Levy and Dr. Will Harper, internists at University of Chicago Medicine and co-CEOs of Engaged Health Solutions:
"Once you have your goals set, tell someone. Anyone. Post it on Facebook. Tell your friends. Having support and people asking you how it's going provides the accountability you need to stick to your plan. We have seen this step leading to great success with the people we work with.
"Understand that every day isn't going to be perfect, but you can plan ahead. If your friends are all going out for pizza and beer, how can you be social but stick to your healthy eating plan? And think through ways you will overcome roadblocks. If you have an off day, shake it off! One bad day is not an excuse to give up on your long-term goals.
Dr. Joseph Lagattuta, gastroenterologist and medical director of Adventist GlenOaks Hospital:
"Everyone talks about diet and exercise, but if you look at the most dramatic changes to improve longevity, it's quit smoking and control your blood pressure and cholesterol and get your cancer screenings. For men, it's prostate; for women, it's mammograms; and for both, it's get a colonoscopy.
"Prostate and breast are curable with early detection, but colon cancer can literally be prevented in most cases … because the abnormal polyps can be removed without any adverse effects on the colon. There are more options available today for colonoscopy prep, so discuss it with your physician. … It's one day out of your life that could add years to your life."