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Keeping Healthy in the New Year

January 2008

Nicole Ann Dvorak, Dietetic Intern, Montclair State University
Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS, Family and Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

With the close of every year, many people use the holiday season to overindulge. They then decide they should follow this behavior with goals to eat right, exercise, and lead a healthy life. These New Year’s resolutions are often abandoned within the first month, as enthusiasm fades and progress slows. However, there are many small changes that can be made to help keep a person healthy that do not require gym memberships or complete lifestyle overhauls.

First, enjoy your food, but eat smaller portions and do not overeat. It is not necessary to “clean your plate” or push yourself to eat a lot because a food tastes good. Avoiding your favorite foods is not necessary. They are not “bad” for you, they just need to be consumed in moderation.

Second, plan for healthy snacks. If you know that you will be away from home most of the day, grab some dried fruit and nuts or a granola bar to hold you over until you get home and can eat a healthy meal. Keep low-fat options like pretzels and air-popped popcorn around. Limit favorite snacks like chips or ice cream if you know you won’t be able to resist them. Also, avoid eating in front of the television; it is too easy to mindlessly snack while your favorite show is on.

Third, when choosing a dessert, try items that include fruit, plain cookies or angel food cake since they tend to have fewer calories, less fat, and are healthier. If not, try to limit yourself to one or two bites of a higher calorie dessert such as pie, layer cake, or fancy pastries. This is often just enough to satisfy a food craving.

Fourth, make sure you engage in some form of physical activity for at least 30 minutes each day. This is necessary to keep yourself healthy. It is not necessary to join a gym or spend a lot of money to work out. Keeping active most days of the week is easy if you find an activity you enjoy. Consider breaking up the activity such as walking into several small segments a day, rather than doing it all at once.

Fifth, try incorporating more activity each day. Need to go upstairs? Try walking up the stairs instead of using the elevator. Take the dog for an extra long walk or engage in some household cleaning, both great ways to get moving. Try walking in the mall on a cold day or exercising indoors at your home or office, or in a local community center or YMCA.

Remember, your New Year’s resolution needs to be realistic and doable. Create a list of 5 to10 small steps that you can take and start with number one. Master it and go on. Whatever steps you take to change your food and fitness behaviors will make 2008 a healthier year for you and your family. When you eat right and get moving, your energy level will improve.

What are your small steps for a happy and healthy new year?