The No. 1 resolution many people make is to get in shape in the new year, which could mean to lose weight or improve their physical health through more physical activity.

The chances most people will have abandoned these resolutions — good as they are — by mid-February are quite good. Why? People have good intentions, but their goals tend to be too broad and nonspecific to be achievable. People get discouraged and give up.

Goals need several things to be able to work. One, goals need to be as specific as possible — and realistic. Two, there needs to be a time element. Three, there needs to be an element of accountability. Four, there should be reward built in to the goal, so that when it is achieved, the person receives encouragement to continue and something for their effort so they feel their efforts have been worthwhile.

As an example, let’s say you say your goal for 2021 is to get in shape. You say, “I will run three miles a day, and be in shape in two weeks.” This goal has several flaws. Is it realistic and doable? Ask yourself, can you really commit (with all your other responsibilities and obligations) to running three miles a day, every day? Have you ever been a runner in the past? This goal does not have a realistic time element, accountability or reward in it. And, finally, is it realistic and doable from the start? Will you stick with it? Research indicates it takes about three weeks to make something a habit. Another question to ask: who am I doing this for? Am I choosing this activity because I think/believe I will enjoy it, or am I choosing it because everyone else is doing it?

Instead, the aforementioned goal might sound something more like this: “I will start walking for three days a week (your choice of which days), walking for 10 minutes and building up to an hour by the end of the month. I will call my friend to ask them to walk with me.” If this is not doable, begin with one day a week. The point being, that you start and build from there. This will also avoid injury, from trying to do too much, too soon. Injury is one reason people abandon any attempts at physical activity. If it hurts, why do it?

As always, before you begin a new physical activity, check with your primary care provider to be sure you are physically capable of beginning an activity regimen. Be sure you know how to warm up and cool down before and after your work out, both of which are equally important to avoid injury. The Oregon State University Extension Service has a walking program that is suitable for anyone who is beginning a walking program. It is called Walk With Ease. For more information contact the Extension Service Office at 541-426-3143.

Once you have worked your way up to your goal of walking for an hour three times a week, your reward might be a new pair of walking shoes.

The second resolution, lose weight, has many of the same flaws as “get in shape.” One must ask, how much weight? Am I losing weight to improve my health or for some other reason?

For example, as was stated above, “I’m going to lose 50 pounds by the end of the month” has several problems. First, it is dangerous to try to lose that much weight in that short of a period of time. Second, it is not realistic, for the reason just mentioned.

A better goal statement would be, “I am interested in being healthy. Therefore, I will increase my intake of leafy green vegetables to four servings a week, for a month. I will reduce my intake of sugar as well, by eliminating soft drinks, or drinking just one a day (depending on how many you drink currently). At the end of the month, I will see if this has helped me lose weight. I will enlist my family’s assistance with this (accountability). At the end of the month, no matter what, I will reward myself with a new book (or other nonfood-related reward).”

A safe weight-loss goal is 1-2 pounds a week. This plan helps to ensure the weight is lost for good, and keep people from falling into a path of yo-yo dieting.

No matter your health goals for 2021, remember to make them realistic, doable, with a time element to them, accountability and a reward and you will be on your way to a healthy you in the new year.

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Ann Bloom lives in Enterprise and has worked for the OSU Extension Service for 15 years as a nutrition educator. She studied journalism and education at Washington State University.

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