By Laura Snyder

Southeast Regional Director of Health Strategies at UnitedHealthcare

While North Carolina’s natural beauty and mild weather are perfectly suited to active lifestyles, many people struggle to find time for regular exercise. With the New Year comes a new wave of health-focused resolutions. However, even the most motivated January gym-goers or healthy eaters can fall back into old habits and lose sight of their health goals. In fact, U.S. News & World Report found that about 80 percent of all New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February.

As an advocate for making healthy lifestyle choices, my wish for 2018 is to see more North Carolinians maintain their New Year’s resolve to improve their personal health and wellness.

According to America’s Health Rankings® Annual Report, we could benefit from a renewed focus on our health – as the state ranked among the bottom 30 for obesity, physical inactivity, and cancer deaths in 2016, with a number of residents suffering from related health issues, such as high rates of cardiovascular deaths and diabetes.

Of course, it’s not easy to make lasting lifestyle changes. But if you take the right approach, and go slowly, you can keep that resolution to improve your health and wellness going strong all year long. Here are five steps to consider when trying to start or maintain a healthier lifestyle.

Step 1: Think About Your Goals

Assess your overall health and well-being, and identify an actionable area for improvement, like your daily diet or your weekly physical activity levels.

Step 2: Set Your Goals

You’re ready for a healthier change, so set realistic and measureable goals. For example:

  • develop a plan to quit smoking, including three ways to curb cravings and stay smoke free;
  • get your annual physical or wellness exam;
  • walk 30 minutes a day, or take an easy run around your neighborhood;
  • eat more fruits and vegetables; and,
  • reduce your caloric intake by 100 calories per day.

Step 3: Revisit Your Goals Weekly

Like life, this plan can change, so it’s important to revisit or even revise your goals each week. In fact, revisiting your goals may help you achieve them, especially if you’re having difficulty staying on track. And remember to track your progress so you can remind yourself that you are making positive changes and reaching milestones.

Step 4: Reward Your Accomplishments

You’re working hard, so treat yourself to something you enjoy that doesn’t conflict with your plan and goals, such as buying a new piece of workout apparel or purchasing a new song for your gym playlist. Rewarding yourself as you reach short-term goals may keep you motivated to stay on your path.

Step 5: Don’t Go to the Extreme

One of the most common reasons New Year’s resolutions for health and fitness fail is because they are unrealistic. While it’s great to be motivated to improve your health, too much change too soon can be unsustainable. If you take small steps at first and reward your successes along the way, you gradually increase your efforts over time. Consult with your doctor to find a diet and exercise regimen that best fits your lifestyle.

To help support your health and wellness goals, you may have access to health and wellness programs through your employer. Some health insurers, such as UnitedHealthcare, offer plan participants a variety of health and wellness programs and incentives. These may include online and telephonic wellness coaching, gym membership reimbursements, and financial incentives worth hundreds of dollars for participating in programs or achieving nationally recommended health levels. Ask your employer or insurer what is available to you.

Following these tips may not be easy at first. Experts say it takes about 21 days for a new activity, such as exercising, to become a habit, and six months for it to become part of your lifestyle, so go slow. Your new healthful habits may become second-nature in no time.

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Category: Editorial