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New Year's health makeover
You will make a New Year's resolution and you will likely fail. You should make one anyway, according to Dr. Carl Myers.
Long-term success requires persistence and learning from failure. Do something enough times and it will become a part of your life, the doctor said.
So if you are weary of making another attempt at quitting smoking or losing weight, keep in mind that it's worth another try — even if just for the learning experience.
But what if you haven't always followed a good diet and exercised regularly and now you're ready for a health makeover? Where do you start?
If your New Year's resolution is to take care of yourself in 2013, what kind of diet should you keep? What kind off exercise program should be followed?
Myers, chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs at Yuma Regional Medical Center, notes that a health makeover should address five areas: starting an exercise program, eating right, shooting for the ideal weight, nixing bad habits and working on our emotional wellbeing.
One of the most common resolutions is to quit smoking. However, Myers points out that data shows that a person is most likely to quit on the fourth try.
This is one of those times when failing is actually a step forward. “It's not a complete failure because you've learned something,” Myers said.
The lesson: all it takes is one puff to completely relapse. WhyQuit.com notes that the “lesson eventually gleaned from the school of hard-quitting-knocks is that there is a bright line in the sand which says, ‘if I smoke just one cigarette I'll be throwing all my hard work out the window. I'll smoke another. I'll either end up back at the starting line enduring another 72 hours of nicotine withdrawal and detox, or accept the fact that I'm again a full-fledged smoker.'”
It's another story with weight loss. It seems to have a much less successful learning curve.
“You're no more likely to be successful the fourth time than the eighth time,” Myers said.
This is true especially with fad diets. “Fad diets have been proven to work for a period of time, but it's unusual for them to work in the long-term.”
So if you're serious about losing weight, there's two things to do: eat smaller portions and pay attention to the foods you eat. The second step requires becoming aware of what's in your food, especially when the ingredients are not easily recognizable.
“You know how they say about (chips), ‘Nobody can eat just one.' Well, if you look at the back of the packaging, the chemicals are there to hook you,” Myers said.
It's all about making the right choices, such as reaching for the apple instead of the chips.
“Nobody ever says, ‘I shouldn't have eaten that fifth apple.' An apple fills you up and it's only 80 calories,” Myers noted.
And about that idea that you can eat well during the week and then eat anything you want on the weekends, it doesn't work. The key is to eat well during the entire week, Myers said.
He suggests choosing healthy foods that you enjoy. “You can only eat so many carrots and celery,” he quipped.
However, Myers also recommends limiting food choices.
“People who are successful actually eat less variety of food. I once asked an 80-year-old patient who was healthy what she ate. She ate oatmeal every day for 20, 30 years.”
Limiting our choices also limits the opportunities to make bad decisions.
And it's not good to rely on willpower. “Our willpower is not that good. We all overestimate our willpower,” Myers said.
Instead, plan ahead. If you're going to the grocery store, make a list before going and make sure you're not hungry. If you're going to a party, eat before you go and you'll eat very little at party. And remember – alcohol tends to make people overeat.
But the single most successful strategy for losing weight and keeping it off is exercise.
“Without physical activity, it's hard to keep the weight off,” Myers said.
The most important thing is to have a routine, whether it's first thing in the morning or after work. Find what works and stick with it.
Just don't overdo it. It's best to give the body a chance to recover. “Start slow and build up slowly,” Myers advises.
If you haven't been exercising at all, start by walking five minutes four times a week and then build up over time.
It might help to recruit a walking buddy. “It makes it easier to walk on regular basis and it improves your relationship with somebody,” the doctor noted.
Our connections with others will keep us emotionally healthy.
“If your relationship is with the TV, you know there is a problem. Dedicate time to the important relationships in your life,” he said.
Studies have also shown that volunteering is beneficial both emotionally and physically. People who volunteer 48 hours a month have better moods, less depression and lower blood pressure.
“The benefits are amazing,” Myers said.
In the end, you should try to remember why you want to improve your health. People successful in turning their health around usually had a motivation. Perhaps they wanted to set a good example for their kids. Or their father had a heart attack and they wanted to avoid waking down the same path. Maybe they were nearing the same age their parents died. Or maybe they just wanted to get into that smaller dress size.
“To succeed in the long-term, remember what you're trying to shoot for,” Myers said.
And if you fail again, that's OK. Just don't give up.
“Especially in the beginning of the year, realize that as part of the success of a health makeover, failure will come, expect it. You might stop for three days, but get back at it,” Myers said.