Resolution Rx (part 2): Expert advice on how to make and keep your New Year's resolutions

A man running on a path

Welcome to the second installment of our "Resolution Rx" series, where experts from UChicago Medicine weigh in with their best advice for successful New Year's resolutions.

New year, new you – or so the cliché goes. Unfortunately most new year’s resolutions fail, no matter how well-intentioned they are. That’s because sweeping lifestyle changes are hard. What works for one person doesn’t always work for another. Add in genetics, health issues and environmental triggers and suddenly resolution success becomes an uphill climb.

With that in mind, we asked UChicago Medicine clinicians what resolutions their patients are setting this year. (Spoiler alert: Weight loss topped the list.) Then we asked them to share their best advice to help people have a fighting chance at success.

We've already shared our expert's advice on how to stop smoking and offered suggestions on the first steps you should take on a resolution journey. Today we continue the series.

Be specific

It takes about two months for habits to stick, so make a specific goal and then try to stick with it for an eight-week period.

“If patients set tangible goals, they will be more likely to succeed,” said Farah Hasan, MD, endocrinologist at the Center for Advanced Care in Orland Park. “Instead of saying ‘I will eat healthier,’ try ‘I will not eat chips for two months.’ Instead of joining a gym, commit to going to an exercise class twice a week.“

Get outside

Neurologist Naoum Issa, MD, PhD, director of epilepsy research at UChicago Medicine, says many of his patients resolve to lose weight each January. Instead, he wishes they’d consider taking a 20-minute stroll outside each day.

Why?

“We know exercise – even just plain walking – is good for heart health, and what’s good for heart health is good for the brain,” he said. “The best way to reduce your dementia risk is to improve your cardiovascular health. Adding a 20-minute walk to your daily routine is a great way to start.”

Instead of resolving to lose weight, consider taking a 20-minute stroll outside each day.

And, he says, “there’s just something special about exercising outside.”

“Migraine experts think that ‘green exercise’ reduces the frequency of headaches and, over time, makes them less intense,” he said.

The extra time outside can also help boost Vitamin D levels, which typically dip in the wintertime due to the shortened days and lack of sun exposure.

That can improve bone health and help prevent exercise-related bone pain.

“It can even help you avoid stress fractures,” said Brian Toolan, MD, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in caring for feet and ankles.

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Want to learn more about successful resolutions? Check out our stories about how to take the first steps and our suggestions on the best way to give up cigarettes. You can also find other installments of the series here and here.