HEALTH AND FITNESS: Off to a good start

  • Posted: Monday, December 31, 2012 7:32 a.m.

It almost time to get started on your New Year’s resolutions. If you are thinking about eating healthier, losing weight, starting to exercise or quitting smoking, you are not alone. Not only are these some of the most common changes people want to make, these are also among the most challenging behaviors to alter. Progressing from just starting out on Jan. 1 to successfully changing habits in the long run can be a difficult and lengthy process. Here are some simple steps you can take right away to get your New Year’s resolutions off to a good start.

Eat healthier

The typical American diet contains too much processed food which tends to be high in added sugars, fat and salt and not enough “real food.”

1. Start with five fruits and vegetables each day – but aim for twice that many. Fresh is best, but frozen vegetables are a good alternative.

2. Avoid added sugars and salt, especially in prepackaged foods and snacks. This will help steer you toward food that is less processed and healthier overall.

3. Read food labels. Nutrition information can be confusing, but learning how to interpret food labels can help you make healthier choices.

Start an exercise program

Regular exercise is probably the most important thing you can do for your health. The good news is that a little activity goes a long way.

1. Dedicate time for exercise each day. At a minimum you should aim for a 30-minute walk, and you can split that up into 10- to 15-minute bouts if you need to.

2. Start slowly. Building endurance and strength takes time, and doing too much too soon can lead to injury.

3. Join a gym. You can get all the exercise you need at home, but joining a gym gives you more options for equipment, classes and personalized advice.

Lose weight

Successful weight loss requires that you change your diet and activity habits. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts that work in the long term.

1. Reduce portion sizes. The quickest way to cut back on calories is to limit the amount of food you eat.

2. Eat healthier food. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains tend to be low in calories and can help you feel full. Limiting added sugar and fat in foods reduces calories even more.

3. Exercise every day. Research shows that people who lose weight and keep it off exercise every day for at least an hour. Work up to an hour of walking each day to be a “successful loser,” too.

Quitting smoking

Smoking is a difficult habit to break, owing to the addictive effects of nicotine and the social and behavioral aspects of smoking.

1. Get rid of all cigarettes (and matches and lighters) now. This means at home, work and your car. Don’t forget the pack you have hidden away for an “emergency.”

2. Check out nicotine replacement therapy. Nicotine patches, gum and lozenges are available over-the-counter at most stores and are recommended for nearly everyone who wants to quit smoking. There are prescription drugs that can help, too.

3. Change your behavior. Smoking is ultimately a behavior that is influenced by people, places and situations you encounter. Learning why you smoke is essential to help you quit.

Your ultimate goal should be to change these habits and behaviors forever. Doing so will require that you make a series of changes that you can stick with in the long run. It won’t be easy, but the health, fitness and well-being rewards are worth the effort. And focusing on making a few simple changes should get you off to a good start.

Brian Parr, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at USC Aiken where he teaches courses in exercise physiology, nutrition and health behavior.

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