20 New Year's Resolutions You Can Really Keep

Downscale your expectations and supercharge the results by taking five easy steps in just four areas of your life.

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on December 02, 2011
From the WebMD Archives

January 1. Is there a more anything-is-possible date on the calendar? It's the day you say, "More salads, less ice cream" from now on. The day you vow to renew your gym membership and work out religiously. The day you promise to stop smoking (for good this time) and learn how to meditate, cook, floss properly, and love kale.

And you mean it. You really do.

But somewhere between New Year's Day and spring, those vows get broken. Family and work obligations take over, and it's "Goodbye, resolutions" ‘till next year.

This year, try a trick that may seem counterintuitive: Downsize your expectations. That's right. Go for less and get more. You can't rebuild your body or redesign your health in a single leap, but if you take enough baby steps, you can make big strides toward a healthier, happier new you.

These 20 supercharged tips -- five each for body, face, mind, and overall health -- will start you on the road to success this new year, for real this time.

TAKE 5 for Your Body

Step up. Health experts say 10,000 steps a day -- roughly five miles -- is the magic number for trimming fat and preventing type 2 diabetes. Don't have time to walk that far? Adding just 2,000 steps a day can make a big difference, says Marie Savard, MD, women's health expert and author of Ask Dr. Marie: Straight Talk and Reassuring Answers to Your Most Private Questions. Wear a pedometer while you take the stairs instead of the elevator, park a block or two farther from work, and fast-walk a few laps around the mall. Once you've hit 2,000, add another 2,000 -- and keep on walking.

Get a lift. While you brush your teeth, lift one leg. Count to 60. Repeat with the other leg. This little exercise not only improves your balance, essential for preventing falls as you age, but also ensures you brush for the two minutes your dentist recommends.

Ditch the chips. Every week, throw out one processed food -- cookies, crackers, or potato chips -- and replace it with an apple, red pepper, or other fruit or vegetable. "Eating a colorful array of fruits and vegetables will lower your blood pressure and help you lose weight," says Holly S. Andersen, MD, a cardiologist and associate professor of medicine at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical College. These antioxidant-rich foods will also help your body battle disease, she says.

Cinch an inch. We're all weight-obsessed, but good health is less about what you weigh than about how many inches you can tighten your belt. The fat that sits around your middle is the most dangerous kind. Experts say a waist size of 34.5 inches or less is the target for women, but taking off just an inch or two can reduce your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems. To trim your waistline, eat less sugar and increase your physical activity, Andersen says.

Dish the fish. Put fish on the menu at least twice a week. "We know that people who eat several servings of fish each week live longer and have less heart disease than people who don't," says Andersen. Salmon, lake trout, tuna, and flounder strike a good balance between high omega-3 fatty acids and low mercury levels. (However, if you're pregnant, limit fish and shellfish to 12 ounces total a week.) Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, which contain high levels of mercury.

TAKE 5 for Your Face

Reach for retinol. Many products claim to tighten lines and wrinkles, but the closest thing to a cosmetic time machine is a retinol-based cream. Yes, it really works. "Most dermatologists agree that retinol is the best topical anti-aging product," says Paul M. Friedman, MD, a Houston- and New York City-based dermatologist and co-author of Beautiful Skin Revealed:  The Ultimate Guide to Better Skin. Not only will retinol (or Retin-A, its prescription name) smooth your skin, it will also diminish sunspots and acne.

SPF your skin. Before you coat your mouth in color, spread on an SPF 30 lip balm to protect your most kissable asset from sun damage. While you're at it, don't forget the rest of your face. Apply a sunscreen/moisturizer combo every morning to keep your skin hydrated and protected against skin cancer and premature aging. "It's the most important thing you can do" for your skin, says Friedman.

Butt out. Not swayed to quit smoking by cancer and lung disease warnings? Maybe the thought of a face full of wrinkles will finally convince you. Research confirms it -- smoking prematurely ages your skin. Can't quit on your own? Ask your doctor for help.

Wash the day away. Before you go to bed, wash off all the makeup, dirt, and other gunk that's accumulated on your face throughout the day.  Then top off your cleansing ritual with a light moisturizer that has fatty acids called ceramides. "A simple moisturizer is important to enable your skin to repair itself," Friedman says.

Get naked. Find a mirror and do a skin check. Red-flag any spot that's changed in color, size, or shape and let your dermatologist check it out. "Skin cancer caught in its early stages is almost completely curable, so it's important to get your moles checked," according to Friedman.

TAKE 5 for Your Mind

Rise and sing. Set your iPod or alarm clock to wake you with your favorite song so you start every morning humming a happy tune. Music is a great stress-buster, especially when you listen to songs you really like.

Be kind. Before you climb out of bed each morning, "Spend 20 seconds thinking of one nice thing you can do for yourself that day," advises Alice Domar, PhD, executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health and co-author of Live a Little. Promise to call your best friend, soak in a hot bath, or treat yourself to a skinny latte at your favorite café. Whatever you do, give back to yourself for at least a half hour each day.

Take a breather. When your job or kids are driving you crazy, go somewhere quiet, close your eyes, and count backward from 10 to zero, taking one deep breath for each number. When you breathe deeply, your heart doesn't have to work as hard and your mind is too focused to race, Domar says.

Phone a funny friend. Laughter is a powerful healer. It can soothe your mind and help heal your body. Cracking up with your BFF for just 15 minutes has the same kind of blood-vessel-relaxing and blood-pressure-lowering benefits as 30 minutes of aerobics, Andersen says.

Strike a pose. Yoga is good for mind and body. It simultaneously stretches away stress and strengthens muscles. "Choose a yoga pose you like that feels comforting," Domar suggests. Assume the tree pose for balance or the downward-facing dog for a full-body stretch. Hold the pose for a few seconds, and feel stress drift away.

TAKE 5 for Your Health

Recruit a buddy. It's harder to bail out on your diet and exercise plan when you've got a friend egging you on. Partnering will help both of you achieve your goals.

Catch a catnap. Can't get your full seven to nine hours of sleep at night? Recharge with a catnap. Set your alarm for 20 to 30 minutes and enjoy some blissful midday slumber. Don't hit the snooze button, though. Napping too long in the daytime can interrupt your nighttime sleep.

Revisit your doctor. If you haven't seen your primary care doctor in a while, make an appointment. Discuss your weight, diet, and any problems you're having, and ask what screenings -- including blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar -- and vaccines you'll need in the coming year.

Drink up. "Staying hydrated is important for your skin as well as for your overall health," Friedman says. Every morning, fill a large bottle with 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of water. By the end of the day, you should be seeing bottom.

Work out. A 30-minute workout each day will keep your body looking and feeling its best. And getting that exercise early in the day will help you sleep better at night. 

Show Sources


Marie Savard, MD, women’s health expert, Philadelphia, Penn.; author, Ask Dr. Marie: Straight Talk and Reassuring Answers to Your Most Private Questions, GPP Life, 2009.

Paul M. Friedman, MD, dermatologist, Houston and New York City; co-author, Beautiful Skin Revealed:  The Ultimate Guide to Better Skin, Sandow Media, 2010.

Alice Domar, PhD, executive director, Domar Center for Mind/Body Health.

Holly Andersen, MD, associate professor of medicine; attending cardiologist, Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at The New York Presbyterian Hospital – Weill Cornell Medical College.

Schneider P. American Journal of Health Promotion, November-December 2006.

Dwyer, T. British Medical Journal, published online January 13, 2011.

Wahrenberg H., British Medical Journal, April 2005.

Helfrich Y. Archives of Dermatology, March 2007.

Torpy J. Journal of the American Medical Association, 2006.

News release, American College of Sports Medicine.

News release, University of Michigan.

American Dental Hygienists’ Association: “Why Brush Your Teeth for Two Minutes?”

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders: “Weight and Waist Measurement: Tools for Adults.”

American Heart Association: “Fish 101.”

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: “Yoga for Health: An Introduction.”

National Sleep Foundation: “Napping.”

Mayo Clinic: “Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?”

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