Healthy Aging

Want a healthier New Year?

By now, most of us probably have read at least 40 or 50 stories about New Year’s resolutions. You know, all those articles telling you here are the best ones (never mind what you think), here is how to keep them, and how to focus in on your goals, quickly, before that ball drops in Times Square.

Well, we were bored with all that, too, so we decided to try a different tact.  We asked two experts—one a geriatrician, the other a health psychologist—for a fresh, new take.  Instead of a list dreamed up by others, here is what they said.

  • Think about broad areas of change you would like in your life, and then personalize the process of making New Year’s resolutions.
  • Think outside the box to help you keep whatever changes you plan for yourself in the new year.

Broad Areas to Personalize

You can start with three broad areas of change suggested by a noted geriatrician.   David Reuben, MD is Director of Geriatrics, UCLA Health and the Archstone Foundation Professor of Geriatrics of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA; he suggests this three point plan of action:

  • Do something for yourself—hopefully every day. You can pick what you want, but he suggests exercise. And yes, he says, do it every day (with your doctor’s approval). He disagrees with the experts who say to take a day off a week. Just switch the activity every day, he says—dance one day, swim another, aerobics or a walk another. Just do it. The payoff? Study after study has proven the health value of exercise, but in a recent report,  researchers found that it can reduce the impact of the major hallmarks of aging—including better muscle and heart function, less frailty and disability, and age-related decline in general.
  • Identify something that gives you meaning, and do it regularly. “This could be volunteering, a church-related activity, mentoring students, creative writing, art,” Reuben says.  Think about what would be interesting and meaningful before picking (and remember, Senior Planet welcomes volunteers, too). The payoff? “Connectiveness to something makes you feel like you are accomplishing things,” he says. “As opposed to getting on the computer and shopping. That’s not meaningful.” Many studies, including this one, have found that volunteering is good for your health, even linked with greater longevity. 
  • Stimulate your brain often. That means pursuing something new, Reuben says. Take an acting class. Read a new author. “It doesn’t necessarily need to be social,” he says, although social isolation has been linked to worse cardiovascular health and mental health, among other problems.  “I have a patient who is 101; he takes classes in calculus. His memory is very good.”  The payoff? “You become an interesting person, not only to others but to yourself.”  Stimulating your brain by engaging in rigorous cognitive activity—learning calculus or a new language would certainly count—is one of the best ways to prevent cognitive decline, the Alzheimer’s Association says. 

Keeping the Promises to Yourself

Once you’ve decided on the resolutions, how to keep them? It’s easier with a plan, say Reuben and Jessy Warner- Cohen, PhD,  health psychologist at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, New Hyde Park, NY. Here is their combined list of  stick-to-it-ness strategies:

  • Keep a calendar. Write down “Walk at 10 a.m.”  or “Gym Mon, Wed, Fri.”
  • Commit to your new activity verbally. Telling yourself or others you are doing something guarantees if you fail or slip, you will have some ”guilt action” going on, Reuben says.
  • Have cues to keep yourself on track. Example: You decide to always eat a snack before you exercise; pretty soon you will link the two activities naturally.
  • Feel free to ignore what others suggest you do, or how you should do it, Warner-Cohen says. It’s about you.
  • Break down resolutions into what some experts call smart goals, Warner-Cohen says. Not: “I want to exercise more,” but “I want to exercise 30 minutes 5 days a week.”
  • Decide to do something for a certain time period. Not: “I will eat healthier all year,” but “For the next week, I will eat healthier.” Then readjust the activity or plan, she says.
  • Set your own schedule. Who says New Year’s resolutions have to start January 1? “Maybe you still have family in town,” Warner-Cohen says. Maybe starting January 1 is going to stress you out so much you set yourself up for failure.  So, you decide when’s best to begin—maybe your New Year’s resolutions kick into high gear right after the ball drop, or maybe not until  February.

Your Turn

Do these tips help you think differently about making New Year’s resolutions? Feel free to share your top resolutions, and your secrets to sticking to resolutions of years past.  What good habits have you kept for years and how? Share in the comments!

Photo; Becca Matimba for Unsplash

Senior Planet will be amping up its Health and Wellness programming throughout 2019!  Look for news about activities at our Chelsea location – an event on 1/22 about self care strategies to make 2019 your best year yet; and a monthly fitness dance party beginning on 1/25 – plus exciting news about a  special program to kick off Heart Health Month on 2/1 in all Senior Planet locations. .  

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