The start of a new year can feel like a good opportunity to reset unhealthy behaviors. But while many people will resolve to “exercise more” or “eat healthy” in the new year, evidence suggests that most will have abandoned these resolutions by early February. With the end of January 2019 nearing, we asked faculty members at the College of Public Health to weigh in on popular resolutions. Below, faculty share their insights about where New Year’s resolutions can go awry and why gradual changes are often the most successful.
'Some Physical Activity Is Better Than None'
Sara Kovacs, assistant professor of instruction in the Department of Kinesiology
"Prioritizing exercise is a popular New Year’s resolution, and as an exercise physiologist, I am always excited to hear that patients want to lead a more physically active lifestyle. Regular physical activity is associated with numerous health benefits including weight maintenance, the prevention of excessive weight gain, and a reduced risk of developing many chronic diseases. Additionally, regular physical activity can help you sleep and function better, and the best part is that some benefits occur immediately.
"When initiating a physical activity regimen, it is important to keep in mind that some physical activity is better than none. It is best to progressively increase your physical activity to the recommended minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity. It is also important to keep in mind that there are many ways to reach this activity recommendation—brisk walking, biking, swimming, or taking a group exercise class. The best mode of physical activity is the one you enjoy and will regularly do. Physical activity is an important lifestyle behavior that promotes health and can reduce the risk of negative health outcomes, regardless of age, sex, and body weight. With all the benefits associated with regular physical activity, I hope that everyone has a more physically active 2019!"
'Parents Should Role Model Healthy Eating Behaviors'
"For parents who have made diet-related resolutions in 2019, starting a new weight loss regimen can be even more consequential, since children learn about food by watching their parents. Dieting, often borne out of a diet culture that has unrealistic weight loss expectations, teaches children that foods can be “good” or “bad.” This can be problematic in today’s food environment when food marketing and availability are omnipresent. For most, it is not realistic to completely eliminate whole food groups, and this not only sets parents up for failure but also negatively impacts children’s conceptualizations of healthy eating. Children need to learn how to make choices for health and understand rules for eating that promote variety and balance.
"Restricting intake or pressuring children to eat certain foods can disrupt child self-regulation and in some studies has been associated with an increased risk of obesity. Instead, parents should practice responsive feeding approaches like monitoring and encouraging children to try new foods. Parents should role model healthy eating behaviors including intake of fruits and vegetables, high-fiber foods, and healthy fats. When parents engage in these behaviors they can lose weight in addition to facilitating healthy eating behaviors in their children."
'...To Maintain Our Weight And Our Overall Health'
"Many individuals use New Year's Resolutions as an opportunity to eat healthier and lose weight. It is the most popular time of year for people to start a weight loss program or buy a membership to a fitness center. However, a study released late last year suggests that American adults need to better consider their metabolic health, in addition to minding their Body Mass Index (BMI). While 70% of adults in the United States are considered overweight (having a BMI > 25 kg/m2) or have obesity (BMI > 30 kg/m2), almost 90% of adults are metabolically unhealthy. Even among individuals with a normal body weight, many of them still have signs or risk factors of metabolic diseases, including high blood sugar, high blood pressure, or suboptimal heart functioning related to being physically inactive. The study is a reminder to all of us about the importance of eating a health diet and engaging in regular physical activity to maintain our weight and our overall health.
"Finding the inspiration to practice healthier behavior is the first step in developing a healthy lifestyle, because evidence suggests that many people struggle to maintain weight-related New Year’s resolutions past the Super Bowl. One key step is to make small changes in your diet, eating behavior, and activity patterns that you can sustain throughout the year rather than for 4 to 6 weeks. For example, it may be easier (and more successful) to slowly reduce the amount of sugar sweetened beverages you consume each day rather than give them up 'cold turkey'. These and other small changes will be easier to make and, for many people, lead to better health throughout the year."
— Tara W. Merrigan
Illustration by: Abby Musial