Make 2022 Your Year for Health Improvements
Dr. Joseph Lach explains how to keep New Year Resolutions
This week, about three-quarters of Americans are working on their New Year resolutions, determined to crush bad habits and improve their lives starting on January 1, 2022. Over 43% of these intents are health-related, and nearly 40% are working towards self-improvement. These usually include increasing exercise, losing weight and quitting smoking.
Unfortunately, for most people, these positive goals wither like a new leaf in winter sleet before February 1. For some, old habits can overwhelm resolutions by January 17th.
However, all is not lost despite these statistics, says Joseph Lach, D.O., with Premier Suburban Medical Group. “Some studies show up to 40% of people are still sticking to resolutions after six months,” Dr. Lach says. “In fact, if you prepare for your resolutions and put together a plan, you have a very good chance of reaching goals that will improve your health and wellness far into the future.”
Make an appointment with your doctor
Why should we talk to our physicians if we’re making healthy improvements? Dr. Lach, board certified in Family Medicine and Manipulation Treatment, says, “If you are on any prescription medications, lifestyle changes may alter the way these medications work. Your physician will also want to review your health history and your family history to help you find a path that works for any chronic conditions you may have, rather than causing any complications. Remember - your goal is to improve your health, not to make it worse.”
Incremental goals for success
Dr. Lach recommends against setting a large, overwhelming resolution on January 1 that may take a year or more to reach. Instead, Dr. Lach advises deconstructing larger targets into many achievable goals. “If you’re trying to lose 50 pounds, set a goal of losing one to two pounds each week. You don’t feel overwhelmed, you see this as an achievable goal and you can easily continue this until you’ve reached the larger target.”
Working towards a goal in smaller pieces is also a positive way to achieve goals that you’ll be able to sustain for years to come. “When you’re looking to give up sweetened beverages and drink more water, don’t just quit your soda habit overnight, as you’ll feel deprived and depressed from the sugar withdrawal, and you will be more likely to give up,” says Dr. Lach. “Replace one sweetened beverage each day for a week, then the following week replace two and so forth. By the end of two or three months, you’ll have replaced all your sugar-laden drinks with water - and you’ll probably lose weight and have more energy too.”
This can also work with smoking cessation. “Quitting cold turkey can be very rough physically as nicotine is such a powerful addiction. Your body is going to react strongly, with constipation, insomnia, headaches, mouth ulcers and other symptoms like dizziness and psychomotor agitation like “tics.” You can also experience irritability, outright anger, anxiety, depression, even brain fog,” says Dr. Lach. “You know how many cigarettes you smoke each day, and you probably know when you smoke them. Give up one cigarette at the same time each day for a week, then give up another one the following week. Your body will get accustomed to the very gradual decrease in nicotine, and you won’t experience painful withdrawal. Even if you’re a two-pack a day smoker, you’ll be smoke-free in early October, which is absolutely something to celebrate.”
Enjoyment brings consistency
It helps to replace bad habits with something positive, says Dr. Lach. Research shows that successful changes aren’t prompted by an attitude of persistence or willpower. “Instead, enjoyment is an important factor in making long term changes,” he notes. “We need to experience pleasure from activities if we want to continue doing them.”
Instead of committing to a yoga class when you really hate yoga, Dr. Lach recommends considering what you do like to do and making that part of your new healthier routine. “If your favorite thing is to binge-watch, bring your smartphone to the gym and watch your shows while on the bike or treadmill. Listen to podcasts while you walk your neighborhood. Better yet, ask for a walking buddy on social media and enjoy friendship and conversation every time you exercise. A buddy also helps you stay accountable to your plan.”
Become aware of the triggers for bad habits and work to avoid those. For many people, getting in the car after work is a trigger to light up a cigarette. “Consider what you can do to replace this habit. Do you have a bottle of flavored water instead? Maybe you call a friend to talk on the way home.”
Don’t just plan for a full year of change, says Dr. Lach. It’s best to plan ahead every single day when you want to succeed. “Make a weekly menu of healthy meals every week; breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Then make a grocery list for those meals and don’t veer from your list when you get to the store. Clean out and repack your gym bag right after your workout so it’s ready to go for your next workout - and then put it on your car’s front seat.” He also recommends scheduling time for healthy habits and making them a solid commitment, just like work meetings, dinner time or other mandatory obligations. “Your exercise time shouldn’t be seen as a choice. It has to be necessary task that must be fulfilled.”
Look at the bigger picture
Consider why you’re making these changes to your health - and what’s been holding your back. Dr. Lach says, “Do you want to be able to play with your kids more comfortably? Do you want to live longer? Do you just want to get up a flight of stairs without gasping for breath? When you feel your resolve slipping, remind yourself that making this big change will have an enormous impact on your life for years to come.” Dr. Lach also recommends exploring why these changes haven’t been made before, to identify and dismantle any internal or external barriers to success.
Reward yourself often.
“When you’ve made it through the day without that extra cigarette, give yourself an actual star. Post a calendar somewhere very visible in your home or office and put a star on each day you’ve adhered to your plan. The mental boost you’ll get as you see those stars line up will give you strength to continue - especially as better habits get more routine and easier to accomplish.” In fact, Dr. Lach recommends keeping a journal and entering three positive achievements at the end of each day. “Even the smallest things can make you feel very good. They don’t have to be part of your resolutions or goals. You could note such things as complimenting a difficult co-worker, putting out bird seed or cleaning your junk drawer. These positive accomplishments will have a positive impact on your motivation and attitude overall.”
Failure is a part of success.
One of the reasons many people give up resolutions so quickly is because they slip and feel like the resolution is a complete failure. Not so, says Dr. Lach. “There is no way to start a new habit this January and never make a mistake. To believe we have to be perfect is the real mistake.” Accept that you made a mistake, he says, understand why it happened so you can avoid doing it again, give yourself grace and start again the next day.
Dreaming big may mean getting help.
Dr. Lach says health resolution makers should be as ambitious as they’d like, understanding that they may need outside support. “This is really why people should speak to their doctor when setting goals. You may need medical support for smoking cessation and weight loss, especially if you’re trying to reduce your dependency on prescription medications for chronic health issues. Your primary care physician can be a valuable accountability partner for many health related resolutions; advising, encouraging and helping you with regular check ins, even just via email.”
Resolutions made on January 1 don’t have to be forgotten before all the holiday cookies are eaten. With a thoughtful plan, solid preparation and help from your primary care doctor and specialists, new year resolutions can improve wellness, health and happiness for years to come.
Premier Suburban Medical Group was formed to practice medicine the way it should be, by putting patients first. The primary care and specialists group has offices in Orland Park, Blue Island, Joliet, Lemont, New Lenox and Woodridge. Physician Dr. Joseph Lach is available for appointments in Joliet.