There's something impossibly optimistic about New Year's resolutions. Every year, despite a long record of less-than-stellar behavior, we vow with all sincerity to do better and adopt habits that will make us healthier. The good news: New Year's resolutions pay off more often than lottery tickets. The bad news: the early weeks of January are littered with lapsed plans and unfulfilled promises. To increase the chances of success, we asked some experts for their advice on how to make this year's resolutions pay off. Here's what we learned:
LOSE WEIGHT We all know that the basic formula is to eat less and exercise more, but being hungry often makes us lose our resolve. Susan Roberts, a nutrition researcher at Tufts University, recommends eating plenty of fiber--found in beans, whole-wheat pasta (there are new varieties that taste better, honest!) and, of course, vegetables. Super-high-fiber cereals also help. The aim is to plug up your stomach so that it releases its contents more slowly, thereby triggering fewer hunger pangs. "Fiber isn't the only way to lose weight," Roberts says. "But for people who struggle with dieting because they are hungry, it really seems to help."
STOP SMOKING There are more ex-smokers today than current smokers, says Dr. Steven Schroeder of the University of California, San Francisco. Most folks quit cold turkey, usually after more than one attempt, but you'll improve your chances with medication--like a nicotine patch or gum--and some counseling. If you call a stop-smoking hotline like 1-800-QUITNOW, you'll be given an individualized program that's based on your smoking history and needs. "Quit lines are smoking cessation's best-kept secret," says Schroeder. "They work, patients like them, and they are very convenient."
GET MORE EXERCISE Start small, with simple changes, says James Hill of the Health Sciences Center at the University of Colorado. Buy a pedometer and keep a log of how much you move now. Then try to increase your activity by 2,000 steps a day. Once you have achieved your first goal, it's time to set another.
REDUCE STRESS The best way to manage stress is through physical activity or yoga, says Dr. Mehmet Oz, a heart surgeon at New York-- Presbyterian Hospital. "Yoga basically tricks you into meditating," he says. "I would recommend learning the sun salutation and starting a five-to-seven-minute practice early in the morning. It gets you limber, gets your heart beating and gets you breathing."
Hmm. Five to seven minutes in the morning. Who doesn't have time for that?