If you’ve made or been thinking about making a New Year’s Resolution, you’re not alone. About 80 percent of the population makes at least one resolution. Although protecting the environment turned out to be popular in 2008, the majority of resolutions involve health and fitness, and the most common of those are weight loss and smoking cessation

Keeping resolutions, however, is a lot harder than making them, so here’s some advice and insights from local experts who want to help you stay focused on the prize.

Erin Guay – physical activity, nutrition and tobacco coordinator for Healthy Androscoggin in Lewiston.

“Although the ultimate goal (for many people) is often weight loss, people need to keep in mind that muscle weighs more than fat,” says Erin Guay. When resistance training, cardiovascular workouts and a healthy diet merge, it may take a while to see results, “but the weight loss will happen over time.”

Guay suggests keeping a food diary and tracking what you eat. “Make small changes that are sustainable,” she said, “and over time you will be more successful.” She urges clients to set both short and long-term goals so they can experience some immediate results.

“They might want to eventually run a 5K marathon. That’s a long-term goal, but a short term goal would be to start out walking a half-mile, then running a half-mile, so they can work up to it. Someone else’s short-term goal might just be walking 20 minutes,” she said. “Keep in mind that even if you have time constraints, three 10-minute walks still equal 30 minutes a day.”

After setting a goal, find a friend who can help support you, she advised. “Do activities as a family. Find a buddy to work out with. It’s a lot easier to get up and go if you know a friend is waiting for you.”

If you stumble, Guay suggests giving yourself a few days off and trying again.

“Celebrate your successes. So maybe you gained a pound back, but you should feel better about your health in general, so try again,” she said. “Learn the trigger that stopped you. Figure out what messed you up and keep going.”

Sarah Foster – fitness trainer at Planet Fitness in Lewiston.

“Losing weight, toning up and getting fit are the most popular resolutions,” notes Sarah Foster. “People who quit smoking also come into the gym to try and counteract the weight-gain effect.”

Foster suggests both cardio- and resistance training three times a week to see benefits, but if you’re looking for more dramatic results sooner, increase it to four or five times a week.

“Be prepared to be frustrated,” she tells her clients. “Most people want to see instant results, but it can take from four to six weeks.”

She expects about half of the people coming in with a gung-ho attitude will drop out of the program by March. “The important thing is to get into a routine and stick to it,” she said. “A lot of people commit to a longer membership, and that helps them stay. If someone gets to a point where they miss a workout and feel ‘off’ or bad about it, you know that person has made a lifestyle change.”

In addition to the obvious physical benefits, “working out helps relieve stress, gets you out of the house, combats seasonal affective disorder and sets the tone for the day,” she said. A varied workout routine is important to combat boredom, she stressed, and women shouldn’t fear “bulking up” if they include resistance training. It helps build muscle, which burns fat more quickly. “You might see a slight gain in overall weight at first, but it will get better, and who wants to have a hard time carrying groceries?”

Monica Dawe – clinical exercise specialist for cardiac rehabilitation with Wellness Solutions, Central Maine Medical Center.

“What people really need to do when setting goals is figure out what they’re willing to do to reach that goal,” says Monica Dawe, adding they need to be honest with themselves.

“What are they willing to do, willing to give up and not give up,” she continued. She suggests her clients use a visualization technique after each exercise session regarding whatever it is they’re trying to accomplish. “They should see themselves doing the activity they want to stop, then imagine that picture getting smaller and smaller.”

Every behavior has a payoff – good or bad, she said. “So you have to ask yourself, ‘How does this (behavior) serve me?'”

Dawe said many people don’t believe they are strong enough to make the changes they desire, but many times it’s changing the small things that put you on the right track to keeping your resolutions – no matter what they are.

“It’s not a matter of judging yourself, it’s just a matter of fact,” she explained. “If a person wants to reduce the stress in their life, are they willing to give up coffee? Are they willing to stay away from negative people? Are they willing to do deep breathing? Are they willing to exercise? You need to know that about yourself.” So pick some things you’re willing to give up or start doing. Elicit positive emotions for what you’re trying to achieve, she advises, noting, “Change is hard, but you really need to be honest with yourself.”

Jennifer Smith -Coordinator/Health Promotion Services, HealthSteps, St. Mary’s Health System.

“Plan a logical progression of activity,” says Jennifer Smith. “If you’re just beginning, start slowly.” She tells clients to think about each action as a building block toward a healthier lifestyle.

“Healthy choices can become as much a part of your day as jumping in the shower or buckling up in the car. Many people start exercising with frenzied zeal – working out too long or too intensely and giving up when their muscles become sore or injured,” she continued. “You can’t lose 20 pounds in a week, but you can certainly lose 1 or 2 pounds. Be realistic and consistent. Initially, it takes a lot of effort to make changes, but the more you practice the actions the easier they get.”

Other suggestions from Smith include:

• Break your large goal down into a series of smaller more manageable objectives. Having more realistic goals will not only be more reasonable, but also can serve as positive reinforcement each time one is reached.

• Keep in mind everyone make mistakes. Even if you have a slip-up or two, just get yourself back on the right track and continue on with your healthier lifestyle choices as if nothing happened. Whatever you do, don’t give up! Don’t let this be the reason (or excuse) you throw in the towel. Now it’s time to forgive yourself and then make a fresh start!

• Try viewing slip-ups in a positive light. Focus on what you’re doing right. Be your own best friend and support yourself instead of criticizing. Positive thinking can go a long way in helping you succeed. Persistence is key. Plan for problems before they arrive. Keep yourself armed with options. Make alternative plans if your regular routine is interrupted. Consistency is key in forming good habits.

• Improving your health is a never-ending journey. View this excursion as a thrilling time of self-discovery and excitement leading to greater fulfillment. Thinking of healthy choices such as exercising or eating veggies as yet another burden can only end in defeat. There’s always more to learn about nutrition, fitness, and your environment. Enjoy the journey! (It’s not a race.)

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