Have you made your New Yearís resolutions yet? Among the most common New Yearís resolutions are losing weight, starting to exercise and quitting smoking. These are also three of the most difficult behaviors to change because they require making significant lifestyle changes.


For example, someone who is trying to lose weight is likely to eat out less frequently, which could interfere with lunches with co-workers or friends. A person who wants to exercise every day will need to alter their schedule to accommodate an exercise program, which may result in less time for other activities. A smoker who is trying to quit will need to find something else to do after meals, when driving in the car or during breaks at work.


Planning ahead can improve your chances of successfully making these and other changes. Here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare to make your New Yearís resolutions:


1. Making a lifestyle change typically involves an investment of time up front. Before you can start an exercise program, you need to find a place to exercise. Whether that requires a daily trip to the gym or a walk around the neighborhood, coming up with a plan for where and when to exercise in advance is essential. It is a good idea to visit several gyms to learn about their programs and to find the right fit for you. For weight loss, you may be interested in a new diet that you should learn about before you begin. Now is the time to prepare so you are ready to go on Jan. 1.


2. You may wish to see your doctor before you begin. This is smart advice before going on a strict diet or beginning an exercise program, especially if it has been some time since you have seen your doctor. Smokers may be interested in prescription medications that can ease the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.


3. You may need to go shopping. Stocking up on healthy foods before you start your diet is a good idea. You might need new shoes, clothing, or equipment to start an exercise program. If you are planning to quit smoking, you may want to have nicotine replacements such as patches or gum on hand.


4. You may need to coordinate your New Yearís resolution with others. For example, if the only time you have to exercise is after work, you may need help preparing dinner or picking up the kids from your family. Making changes to your diet might mean getting others to change with you, from healthier family meals to getting rid of candy at work.


5. Pick a quit (or start) date and set goals for yourself. Let your friends and family know about your plan, including what day you will begin. Set at least two goals, one short-term (one to two weeks) and the other long-term (weeks to months). Write this all down and put it someplace you Ė and others Ė can see it. Some advance planning now can improve your chances for success with your New Yearís resolutions. If this seems too daunting, remember that making a few simple changes can have a big impact on your health. Going for a short walk each day and eating smaller portions at meals are two ideas that donít require much planning and are a great way to get started improving your health.


Brian Parr, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at USC Aiken.