Healthy resolutions you'll keep

See why the trick is to think small and easy
© Woman's Day // © Woman's Day

Small Steps

We’ve all made live-healthier declarations at the start of a new year (Exercise every day! No dessert!). Problem is, most of the time, they’re just too grand. “Big goals tend to be unrealistic and set you up for failure,” says Joseph R. Ferrari, PhD, professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago. The key to making resolutions stick is to take little steps toward your main goal. Here’s how to boil down those ambitions into action-size bites so that by year’s end, you’ll count yourself among the resolution keepers.

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Your Goal: Lose Weight

Resolve to sit down whenever you eat. "This simple behavioral change can help you lose several pounds without even trying," says psychologist Judith S. Beck, PhD, author of The Beck Diet Solution. In fact, one study found that people ate 30 percent more when standing up. That's partially because we tend to eat more quickly when we're standing and miss our body's "fullness" signals that tell us when we've had enough. When you sit, you'll eat more slowly and savor each bite, which will help you feel more satisfied.

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Your Goal: Eat Healthier

Resolve to snack on one- ingredient foods. Many of us get a quarter of our day's calories from snacks, most of which aren't healthy, says Kate Geagan, RD, author of Go Green, Get Lean. Switch to one-ingredient snacks (think fruits, yogurt and nuts) or combos of one-ingredient foods (like trail mix) and you'll eat fewer packaged and processed foods, which will help boost nutrition while decreasing calories.

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Your Goal: Exercise Regularly

Resolve to walk at least 5 minutes daily. It may not sound like very much, especially when you've heard you need to do at least 30 minutes daily. But at this point, it's all about setting the groundwork to make exercise a habit. "Building a habit gradually and consistently makes it more likely that you'll stick with it long-term," Dr. Beck explains. After the first week or two, bump those walks up to 10 minutes; keep adding 5 minutes every week until you're walking 30 minutes or more every day.

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Your Goal: Strengthen Friendships

Resolve to have dinner together the first Thursday of every month -- or whichever night of the week works for you. "Otherwise, you'll keep saying you want to get together and it won't happen," says psychologist Suzanne Zoglio, PhD, author of Recharge in Minutes, who started doing this with a good friend three years ago. Scheduling a standing girls' night out could even help you live longer: One study found that older people with a strong social network were less likely to die over a 10-year period than those without one.

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Your Goal: Lower Disease Risk

Resolve to substitute beans for meat two meals each week. "Studies show that people who eat more plant-based foods, which are lower in calories and richer in antioxidants than animal-based foods, have fewer incidents of chronic illness, including heart disease and diabetes," says Geagan. Some easy ways to get your beans: Swap out beef for black and red beans in burritos and chili; instead of steak or meat loaf, serve a hearty minestrone soup and whole-grain bread. For some great bean recipes, go to WomansDay.com/Beans

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Your Goal: Stop Smoking

Resolve to test your tobacco dependence. No, this in and of itself won't kick your smoking habit, but it will help you figure out the best way to do it. "It's like knowing your blood pressure -- if it's high, the treatment will be different than if it's only mildly elevated," says David P.L. Sachs, MD, director of the Palo Alto Center for Pulmonary Disease Prevention. Take the Fagerström Test for Nicotine Dependence at AARP.org.

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Your Goal: Have More Energy

Resolve to list three things you're grateful for every day. It might sound silly, but it works. Negative thoughts are a big energy zapper, and this can help even the grumpiest of people feel just a little more positive. When researchers asked people to do one of three things -- keep a diary of what happened to them that day, record unpleasant experiences or list the things for which they're grateful -- the gratitude group had 25 percent more energy. They also slept better and felt more alert and enthusiastic.

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Your Goal: Stress Less

Resolve to hug someone every day. "Studies show that hugging decreases levels of stress hormones and lowers blood pressure," says Dr. Zoglio. In fact, one study found that people who have loving contact (like hugging) in the morning are protected against stress throughout the day. Cuddling with a pet counts, too, as a growing body of research shows that the mere presence of pets can help alleviate stress and lower blood pressure.

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Your Goal: Stress Less

Resolve to bail out on after-dinner cleanup. If you've been trying to be supermom, it's time to sit your family down and strike a new deal: You'll keep doing the cooking, but they'll start doing the cleaning. This could free up a good 30 minutes. You'll not only wind up with more time to do the things you love, chances are you'll be less stressed and happier. "Research suggests that women who have a never-ending barrage of responsibilities for kids, work and aging parents are less happy," says Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, professor of psychology and author of The How of Happiness.

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