January is a fresh start for our minds and bodies. Learning to set SMART goals means you can follow through on your good intentions, all year long.
2015 is a fresh start to refresh our minds and bodies. As we tear the wrappings off a new calendar, those empty, blank days represent blank slates bursting with opportunities for us to embrace health like never before.
Setting SMART goals
If you’re the type to set New Year’s resolutions—three-quarters of Canadians say they follow this practice—but success at achieving your goals seems to evade you, you’re not alone. In fact, only 8 percent of us ever accomplish our resolutions. But don’t feel bad. It’s not you; it’s the goals themselves!
You see, we often create goals that are too extreme to be achievable or too abstract to be motivational. A simple trick can help. Psychologists recommend building our New Year’s resolutions around the acronym SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-specific. For example, “I want to lose weight” is too general, but “I want to lose 10 pounds in the next four months” better fits the SMART criteria for success. Any goal can be customized around this acronym!
The following wellness resolutions set the foundation, revitalizing our minds and bodies so we can face whatever this year may bring.
The benefits of exercise are astonishing. For example, research estimates that every minute of exercise adds seven minutes to our lifespan! “Exercise is the fountain of youth, making us look better, feel better, and live longer,” says Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist and certified strength and conditioning specialist. “Nothing else confers all three of those things like exercise.”
Unfortunately, most of us remain unfazed. Statistics Canada reports that nearly 70 percent of Canadians are sedentary. This year, let’s resolve to add a little more action to our day!
Make it SMART
Instead of saying “I will exercise more,” pick a specific exercise, a workout intensity goal, and a deadline. Holland suggests finding a local fitness event, such as a 5 km run. “This ensures that you have a specific exercise-related goal to shoot for with a specific date,” he says, noting that this gives purpose and specificity to your workouts.
Think outside the gym
The average gym membership costs $50 a month—no small sum for many of us! Thankfully, every situation offers opportunities for us to move just a little more than we might usually. For example, do chair yoga while sitting in your office and take the stairs instead of the elevator. In every moment, ask yourself, “How can I add movement to this situation?”
You won’t get magic results right away. Don’t let that discourage you! “One of the biggest exercise pitfalls is expecting big results in a short amount of time,” says Holland. “The secret is consistency. Don’t do a lot of exercise a little; do a little exercise a lot.”
Take a break
When starting a new fitness routine, your excitement may push you to exercise every day. However, if you don’t give yourself time to rest, you may experience burnout and fatigue that sabotages your resolve. In general, allow yourself 24 to 48 hours of rest time between high-intensity workouts.
Make it bigger than you
If you find your enthusiasm waning, stay motivated by working out with a friend. Researchers have found this encourages people to stay committed to their exercise and even motivates them to work out longer and harder! Holland agrees. “Consider [exercising] with friends and/or for a charity to maximize your adherence to the program,” he says.
We often use medicine to treat problems in our bodies, but good food is good medicine. “Healthy eating can help prevent many chronic diseases,” says registered dietitian Jane Schwartz. “It can mean the difference between living a full, vibrant life or a life riddled with illness and medication.”
Alas, researchers analyzed 30 years of diet data and found Canadians aren’t doing enough to improve their eating habits. Revamping our diets doesn’t require an extreme dinner-table makeover. The following small changes have huge payoffs.
“There’s an undeniable link between eating an abundance of vegetables and the prevention of chronic disease,” says Schwartz. Adults should eat 10 servings of vegetables and fruit daily. A medium apple is a serving of fruit while a serving of veggies equates to a cup of spinach. To make this a SMART goal, Schwartz recommends we add one additional serving of fruits or vegetables every week until we hit our daily 10-serving goal.
Favour friendly fats
Canadian adults should get approximately 20 percent of their calories from healthy fat. On a 2,000-calorie diet, that’s approximately 44 g of fat daily. Healthy fats fight inflammation and lower cholesterol. Sources include avocados, fatty fish, and nuts—add them as a garnish or as a side to your favourite meals.
Cut the sugar
“More and more research is showing the harmful effects that sugar has on your body,” says Stephanie Goodman, a certified nutritional consultant, noting that sugary beverages are more addictive than many drugs and have been linked to arthritis and more. For a SMART goal, Goodman suggests the following resolution: “I will eliminate refined sugar from one of my meals each week until I have eliminated all refined sugar.”
Fill up on fibre
Many Canadians eat fewer than 19 g of fibre daily, but we need twice that to experience fibre’s benefits. This year, ensure every meal has a source of fibre. Options include a pear with lunch, which adds 5 g of fibre, or a cup of lentils at dinner, which packs 15 g of fibre.
If you purchase commercially prepared food, read the ingredients. Many common food additives have been linked to increased cancer risks and other problems. This year, focus on avoiding the biggest culprits: food dyes, high fructose corn syrup, and partially hydrogenated oil.
Many Canadians get fewer than seven hours of sleep nightly, and almost 10 percent get fewer than six hours. Catching enough ZZZs reduces your risk of chronic diseases, improves weight loss, and more. This year, make a goal of getting seven to eight hours of sleep nightly. If you’re finding rest elusive, don’t count sheep—try the following suggestions instead.
Our body’s rhythms are governed by light. Before modern times, the setting sun signalled our brains to feel sleepy. These days, the late-night light from TVs and electronics messes with your brain and makes it difficult for your body to establish healthy sleep schedules. Keep gadgets out of the bedroom and avoid looking at bright screens for three hours before bedtime.
For centuries, Rhodiola rosea, passionflower, and the ever-popular camomile flower have been used as remedies that may help you fall asleep. Each is available in teas, tinctures, and other forms, but consult your health care practitioner first to see if they’re right for you.
Sweat to sleep
One study found that just 150 minutes of exercise a week improved sleep quality by 65 percent. Exercise may even have a significant effect against insomnia. If you can’t sleep, exercise in the morning or early afternoon to snooze better at night.
We know caffeine makes it hard to sleep, but other stimulants such as tobacco and alcohol have a similar effect. Refrain from smoking, and avoid drinking six hours before bedtime to ensure the best rest.
Decorate your bedroom
This year, turn your room into a sleep sanctuary. Use blackout curtains to make your room as dark as possible. Keep your room cool—around 65 F (18 C) is perfect—and try spritzing your pillow with lavender essential oil, which may relax you and lower your blood pressure.
Approximately one in four Canadian workers report being highly stressed, and stress is one of the top three reasons people end up at the hospital or in their doctor’s office. “The more we study it, the more we see that stress is connected to many diseases,” says Tiffany Cruikshank, an internationally renowned yoga instructor and educator. “Working on stress is the best way to work on the health of the whole body.”
Positive self-talk, meditation, and other methods of self-soothing can reduce your fight-or-flight response to stress. “Deep breathing throughout your day is the quickest, most helpful way to address stress,” says Cruikshank. She recommends deep breathing exercises every day in the morning, afternoon, and evening.
Walk it out
Brisk aerobics improves your mood and reduces tension, with antianxiety effects kicking in after the first five minutes of a workout. Be proactive. The next time you start to feel stressed, pull on your running shoes and go for a walk or jog.
Stressed people often crave junk food, but that doesn’t help the actual problem or your waistline. Grab a de-stressing alternative instead. Complex carbs from whole grains and fruits may increase serotonin to reduce stress, while the cocoa in dark chocolate may reduce anxiety.
The soothing warmth of a cup of tea helps relax tension and stress. Take it
a step further by steeping potent herbal remedies. Barley tea has been shown to relax the body, and valerian root has traditionally been used to treat anxiety.
Identify your triggers
Stress often catches us unawares. Spend a few minutes daily journalling your emotions and what happened whenever you felt stressed. Over time, this helps you see patterns in your day and identify stress triggers. Once identified, you can work on creating schedules, making lifestyle modifications, and activating other changes to minimize your exposure to stress triggers.
Fill nutrient gaps
We should get our nutrients from food, but our diets may need a little help to stay balanced. Talk to your health care practitioner to see if supplements are appropriate. Several nutrient gaps are present in many Canadian diets and you may benefit from the supplement options offered in your local health food store.
Add the sunshine vitamin
Vitamin D has been linked to a reduced risk of many diseases, but millions of Canadians have inadequate levels of this vitamin. Most adults should get 200 to 400 IU of vitamin D per day; however, some researchers recommend getting up to 1,000 IU per day. Check with your health care practitioner for specific advice.
Fight inflammation, dementia, and other illnesses with omega-3 fats, which most North Americans don’t get enough of. Try fish oil or vegetarian-friendly flax oil.
Some Canadians, especially young women and seniors, may be low on iron. Requirements vary by age and gender. Health Canada recommends 18 mg a day for
most women and 8 mg a day for most men.
Be aware of interactions
Before taking supplements, research how they interact with each other. For example, zinc supplements reduce the efficacy of iron supplements, while vitamin C improves the absorption of iron.
Watch the clock
Unless the label specifies otherwise, take supplements with a meal and split them into multiple doses spread throughout the day. This may prevent nausea and also enhances absorption, since your stomach acid kicks into gear when you eat food.
Tips to achieve your goals
Arrange the world for your success. For example, if your goal is to exercise, keep a gym bag in your car so you always have what you need to work out, suggests Josh Klapow, a licensed clinical psychologist.
“Your car, office, refrigerator door, and bathroom mirror can help you be successful,” says Klapow. Place inspiring photos in your office and post your food goals on your fridge.
Reward yourself at each milestone. This can be any small reward, such as indulging in 30 minutes of a guilty pleasure TV show. “Treats are important in the beginning when you’re starting a new health behaviour,” says Klapow.
Don’t get discouraged. Klapow recommends a three-day rule: “If you go three days without doing your health habit, write down the reasons for not doing it. Then, pick a date you plan to start back up. Put that date on the calendar and tell at least one person the date. This strategy will help you catch a slip-up early and give you a plan for getting back on track.”