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5 tips for setting realistic health goals

Aging Well | Chronic Conditions | December 31, 2020
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Has the new year or pandemic renewed your resolve to live healthier? Here are some key tips to plan for your success.

The pandemic continues to disrupt many daily routines. Now is a great time to create new habits to live healthier.

It’s important to set some goals, according to Cecelia Jacobson, a registered dietitian at PeaceHealth who helps patients with metabolic disorders, diabetes, cardiac, pulmonary and other medical conditions. “Goal-setting is pivotal towards achieving your desired outcome.”

Here are five tips she offers on planning for healthy success:

1. Play to your strengths.

What do you find satisfying? Do you get excited about finishing what you started?  Keep your first goal simple. Choose one to “check off” before taking on more. This will help build your confidence for your next goal.

Do you like a challenge? If you’re eager to stretch, go for it.

Whatever your personal style or level of ambition at this time, play to your strengths when you’re setting your goals.

2. Prioritize.

Consider one “big” area to work on that will make the biggest impact towards your goal(s).

Carrying extra weight is a risk factor for many serious and sometimes life-limiting conditions such as heart disease and stroke. It can even lead to more severe cases of COVID-19. Losing as few as five or 10 pounds can make a difference.

Smoking or vaping is another area that’s well worth your attention since quitting the habit could cut your risk of developing cancer, respiratory problems and myriad other health issues.

If you’re at a healthy weight and you don’t smoke, focus on an area you feel will be most meaningful (i.e., nutritional choices, physical activity, mental health, etc.)

3. Crawl, walk, run and celebrate along the way!

Change doesn’t happen overnight. Give yourself permission to take baby steps toward the change you want to make. And don’t be discouraged if you have a bad week. Use it as motivation to start fresh the next day.

Be sure to set SMART goals, which are:

  • Specific or Significant.
  • Measurable or Meaningful.
  • Attainable or Action Oriented.
  • Relevant or Rewarding or Realistic.
  • Time bound or Trackable.

Check this handout for “Crawl, Walk, Run” examples of SMART goals.

If losing weight is your big goal, aim to lose just ½ pound or up to 2 pounds per week. Set a few SMART goals for diet and exercise to help you get there. For example, drink a cup of water before every meal or take a 10-minute walk after supper. These fit all the criteria for being SMART and can help you make inroads on your weight loss.

Remember that it could take a few days or even weeks to see a difference so celebrate your milestones. Give yourself credit for how far you’ve come rather than looking only at how far you have to go.

4. Plan to tap a support system.

If you have any kind of health conditions, be sure to check with your doctor for advice first—especially before you change your diet or exercise regimen.

Your primary care provider (or a specialist who helps you manage heart disease, diabetes or other chronic condition) is a great partner who can offer guidance and insight based on your personal health needs.

Use tools that match your goals and style. Numerous relatively low-cost fitness devices and free apps are available to help you track a variety of health goals. You can also choose paper-based tools or goal-setting worksheets.

Many exercise and other health classes are also now online. You might find a group or session on a virtual platform that will help you feel connected to others who are also trying to get healthy. Again, be sure to check with your doctor about any new exercise plan to make sure it’s right for you.

Talk with friends or family to stay accountable to your goals. As a bonus, your example might be the motivation they need to set their own goals.

5. Take the long view.

Ask yourself, “Why do I want to make this change?” Your answer can help you stay motivated if the going gets tough.

Once it is safer to venture out, do you want to travel? Spend quality time with the grandkids? Enjoy favorite hobbies?  Setting and achieving health goals now can help you prepare to take advantage of those brighter days ahead.

Finally, what habits do you want to keep for the rest of your life? Do you have older friends or family who serve as a role model? See yourself making and practicing healthy lifestyle choices now that will carry you well into the future.

Learn more by watching Cecelia’s 30-minute webinar, Picture Your Health: Strategies for Setting Goals for 2021.

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