Every year, health and fitness dominate New Year’s resolution lists.
Lose 20 pounds. Exercise an hour every day. Stop eating red meat.
But according to a University of Scranton study published last year, only 8 percent of people achieve these goals.
“Within two weeks of starting these grandiose ideas, their resolutions have gone out the door and they’re not able to hold them,” says Dr. Rani Whitfield, of Baton Rouge.
Many health goals fail out of shear impracticality, Whitfield says. Known as “The Hip Hop Doc” for his work with teens, Whitfield appears regularly on television, including MSNBC’s “The Ed Show,” to discuss health and fitness.
He offers these four tips to make your health resolutions stick.
“I try to be simplistic and realistic with my patients to try and help them set realistic goals so they can achieve them,” Whitfield says.
Break those long-term hopes into short-term goals. Don’t create a daunting goal like losing 30 pounds in a year.
“The average weight loss is 11/2 pounds per week,” he says. “Let’s shoot for 4 pounds in the month of January, something very simple.”
Document those goals and monitor progress along the way in a journal or on a computer spreadsheet.
Debates rage over which workouts cut the most pounds. Which is it — running, bicycling, or high-intensity interval training like Crossfit?
“The best exercise to lose weight is the one you’re going to do,” Whitfield says.
Find an exercise you will do consistently and enjoy it, Whitfield says.
For those just getting off the couch, nothing beats walking. It’s the “simplest and easiest and least expensive exercise if you don’t have any disabilities,” Whitfield says.
To start a walking program, Whitfield encourages those who lead a sedentary lifestyle to start with five to 10 minutes a day for six to seven days a week. Then walk more after a month or two.
“You’ve got to break a sweat,” Whitfield says. “You’ve got to put some effort into it.”
Don’t rely on willpower. Tell a good friend, someone who can motivate you, about your goals.
“You find someone who’s going to hold you accountable, but not going to tear you to bits,” Whitfield says.
Every Monday and Friday mornings, Whitfield posts his workout pictures on the photo sharing social network Instagram. His followers hold him accountable.
“If I don’t post a day — sometimes I’m busy and I run out of the gym without posting — (friends) will say, ‘Hey, did you workout today?’”
If they can afford it, Whitfield encourages his patients to hire personal trainers.
“When I hired a personal trainer, I paid this guy ... I knew I could not commit to this and then not go,” he says.
Most diets fail, Whitfield says, because they focus on the negative — what you can’t eat.
“You’re always talking about what’s bad versus what’s good,” he says. “To a certain extent that’s OK. But it’s really, really hard for most of us to maintain the willpower and attention it takes to determine what’s good and what’s bad.”
Whitfield encourages a balanced diet.
“A little more sustainable approach to that is to learn to balance eating for enjoyment and eating for nourishment,” he says. “If you like soda, you can have a mini can of Coca-Cola. But six mini cans of Coca-Cola is not moderation.”
Choose fresh or frozen food over processed and canned foods, he recommends. Substitute grilled meats and vegetables for fried foods and have two to three servings of fish a week to encourage a healthy heart and strong joints.