Welcome to the new year: the traditional time to review the past and to make plans for the year ahead.

Many people make New Year's resolutions about their health:

• Lose Weight!

• Exercise More!

• No More Doughnuts!

These are great ideas, since maintaining or improving your health should be near the top of your list of priorities. If your health suffers because of being out of shape, overweight, drinking too much alcohol, smoking or using drugs, then everything else in your life will suffer, too.

Unfortunately, a lot of people break their resolutions by the end of January, basically because human beings are creatures of habit. We eat what we eat, and we get exercise or don't get exercise because that's our habit. It's hard to break out of comfortable routines.

Why do we have routines? Even though there are so many options available for us to choose from, our tendency is to create daily and weekly routines and rarely change them. My theory is that because there are so many options, we must have routines or we would soon become overwhelmed by all the choices we would have to make every day.

So, the best way to make changes and keep resolutions is to recognize your routines and decide which ones you want to and can change. Making specific resolutions helps. "Lose Weight!" is vague and hard to keep. "Eat baked potatoes instead of French fries" is more specific and easier to do.

"Exercise More!" is hard to do, especially if you are not in the habit of exercising at all. First, you need to look at your routines and find time to exercise. Second, you have to find some type of activity that is enjoyable and makes you feel strong and healthy. Unless you create a new routine that you enjoy, you might as well forget this resolution.

Want to exercise more but don't have time? Here are some ideas:

• Park half a mile or more from your workplace and walk that distance every day.

• Exercise while watching the evening news or your favorite TV show: jump rope, do calisthenics, jog in place, dance, lift weights, stretch.

• On work breaks, take a short walk.

• Consider getting a dog that will need walking every day, or make a commitment to walk a neighbor's dog several days a week.

• Make a plan with a friend to go on a long hike every weekend to explore new places.

To be successful, it's best to make just one or two resolutions that you can keep. Write them down in a place where you will see them every day. Tell your family and friends what you want to do and ask for their encouragement.

The most healthy and successful people are those who create goals for themselves and regularly spend time thinking about how they are going to achieve them. If you have a clear vision of what you want your life to be like in five or 10 years and work toward that image, you are less likely to find yourself in a rut.

That's the beauty of New Year's resolutions: they make us look at our lives critically so we can filter out some of the unhealthy and unimportant stuff and focus on what really matters. They give us the chance to look ahead and see the possibilities for a better and healthier future.


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