Almost as soon as the Times Square ball drops and the confetti is thrown, many of us start making resolutions to improve our health and our lives. Then, within a few weeks, our resolve often fades -- and we go back to our old, bad habits. But what if, instead of trying to make sweeping changes, we resolved only to tackle a few easy ways to lose weight and boost health?
The health and weight loss resolutions that stand the best chance of lasting are the ones that call for minor, doable changes, experts say.
"The key is to take small, positive steps and move ahead consistently," says Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, a nutrition professor at Penn State University. "People need to be realistic about the changes they can achieve."
David Katz, MD, director of the Prevention Research Center for Yale University, says that one key to making resolutions that last is to do more planning and less proclaiming.
"Resolutions tend to be the stuff of inspiration, but lasting behavior change is the stuff of planning, sustainable motivations, and careful consideration of the pros and cons," he says in an email interview.
For example, he says, more important than "willpower" are skills like learning to interpret food labels, and to identify the best choices when eating out.
5 Easy Ways to Lose Weight and Improve Health
Beyond that, experts say, resolutions that offer some sort of noticeable result within a couple of weeks can also help keep you motivated to keep going. That said, here are five easy ways to lose weight and improve your health -- many of which may bring you positive results by mid-January!
Easy Resolution No. 1: Strap on a Pedometer
Let's be honest: Seeing a number at the end of the day can make getting more walking in a lot more fun (talk about instant gratification). Not bad for an investment of around $15.
Striving to reach a goal, such as 10,000 steps at day's end, can be just the motivation you need to keep moving. Researchers affiliated with Stanford University looked at the results of 26 studies involving the use of pedometers in adults. They found that the study results showed that people who used pedometers significantly increased their physical activity -- and took more than 2,000 steps per day more than study participants who didn't use pedometer. Further, the researchers noted two physical benefits as a result of wearing a pedometer -- a decrease in the volunteers' BMIs ( body mass index) and their systolic blood pressure.
After just two weeks of walking more, you might see some measurable health benefits, too. Walking even 30 minutes every day for two weeks should be enough for people with hypertension to see better blood pressure, and people with diabetes or elevated blood sugar to see better blood sugar levels, says Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, nutrition advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research.
Easy Resolution No. 2: Drink 2 Cups of Tea a Day
With each sip of green or black tea, you get health-promoting substances: two potent flavonoids -- anthocyanin and proanthocyanidin -- and a healthy dose of catechin. Green tea in particular is loaded with the catechin called EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), which is suspected of having some anticancer properties.
Try buying some flavored green (and black) tea bags, and keep some at work and at home near your hot water kettle. Figure out when you're most likely to want some tea, be it midmorning, afternoon, or before bed. Then you can get yourself into the habit of making yourself a cup of tea at that particular time of day. If you're sensitive to caffeine, choose decaf teas.
This habit can be particularly healthful if tea takes the place of other beverages that contribute calories without any beneficial nutrients.
Easy Resolution No. 3: Switch to Whole Grains
Switching to 100% whole-wheat or whole-grain bread is easy, especially now that so many 100% whole-wheat products are available in supermarkets -- from hot dog buns to breakfast cereals to pasta.
Whole grains are naturally low-fat and cholesterol free; contain 10% to 15% protein; and offer loads of fiber, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and more. Whole grains can help to protect you against cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, and some cancers. And you may see a difference quickly, some experts say.
"Two weeks should be enough time to see a benefit with a higher-fiber diet in terms of constipation [as long as fluid consumption is adequate]," says Collins. She says this may also be enough time for people with diabetes or insulin resistance to see improved blood sugars.
The trick to switching to whole grains is to keep trying products and brands until you find one that works for you and your family. Once you find brands of whole-grain hamburger buns, sandwich bread, hot and cold breakfast cereals, crackers, and pasta you like, sticking to this resolution will be a snap!
Easy Resolution No. 4: Switch to Healthier Fats
When cooking, it's best to replace butter, margarine, or shortening with an oil that has more of the "better" fats and less of the "worst" fats -- like saturated fat -- whenever possible. If a bakery recipe calls for adding melted butter, shortening, or margarine, that's your clue that you can probably switch to canola oil without any change in texture.
Canola oil contributes two "smart" fats -- monounsaturated fat and plant omega-3s. It also has a neutral flavor that doesn't compete with other flavors, and is reasonably priced and widely available.
Olive oil is also high in desirable monounsaturated fat and low in saturated fat. Further, it contains more than 30 phytochemicals from olives -- many of which have antioxidants and prompt anti-inflammatory action in the body. Just remember to drizzle, not drench, your food in oil because even healthy oils add more than 100 calories per tablespoon.
Katz also suggests switching from margarine or butter to a spread with added plant sterols, like Benecol or Take Control. "They are designed to help lower cholesterol and could do so within weeks," he says.
Easy Resolution No. 5: Cut Down on Sodium
Sodium is a problem for lots of Americans, especially those with high blood pressure. And the key to cutting back, says Collins, is to eat fewer processed foods.
"People need to realize this is largely meaning a change in processed food use," says Collins. "Just using the salt shaker less won't touch the source of excess sodium for most Americans."
According to Collins, people with salt-sensitive high blood pressure who cut down on sodium may see a drop in blood pressure within two weeks. Some people with hypertension are not salt-sensitive, however, so they may not see results so quickly (though cutting sodium will benefit them in the long run).
Some quick tips to help you cut sodium include:
- Read the labels on processed and package foods.
- Switch to sodium-free herb blends for seasoning food in cooking and at the table
- When you have a choice at the supermarket, buy lower-sodium choices in soups, crackers, salad dressings, canned tomatoes, and other products.