Keeping Your Health and Fitness Resolutions

If you are like most people in this country, odds are you made at least one New Year's resolution aimed at improving some aspect of your health. Whether it is losing weight, improving your fitness, eating better or controlling a chronic health condition, your intent was to improve your health, but right about now these resolutions may be getting old fast and perhaps even on their way to being forgotten until next year. This is an opportune time to reflect on the basic motivation that inspired you to make those resolutions and offer a strategy to keep your good intentions going strong.

Most resolutions are blank statements such as, "I am going to lose 20 pounds." That's a great start, but many people don't have a plan and such resolutions end up being forgotten by Super Bowl Sunday. So let's build on that initial resolution and develop a plan to increase the chances of success.

The key to success is having a plan in place. A successful business has a strategy and plan in place; it is the plan that contributes to the success. This principle can be applied to your personal life as well. Studies conducted in the fitness industry show that people with written plans achieve their goals more consistently than people with no plans. Here is an opportunity to rekindle your motivation to improve your health and develop a plan that will keep the motivation to continue well into the future.

Motivation — Motivation is one of the most difficult aspects of human nature to understand and nurture. If you don't believe this, just ask your officers or chiefs how difficult it is to understand and tap into a member's motivation. You will hear one of their biggest challenges is to keep their members motivated.

When it comes to your health, your motivation to take control is solely in your power. You need to identify your internal motivation, be it a desire to perform better on the fireground, set an example for others to follow or to feel better about yourself. Say your goal is to run 30 minutes a day four times a week. That's a good goal, but it is time for some introspection and to find out why you want to do it. Maybe it is to improve your endurance on the fireground. Whatever the reason behind your resolution, it is time to find the inner voice speaking to you. This voice tells you why you need to do this and make that New Year's resolution in the first place. It is so important — grab a piece of paper and write it down. It is going to be part of your own personal "business statement," or the foundation on which to develop the plan.

State your goal — This is the next step of the process. What do you want to accomplish? Lose 15 pounds, increase your fitness, control your blood pressure or eat better? Once again, this is so important, write it down. Now we have the "what" (the goal). Next, we need to know "why" you want to do this (the motivation), so combine the two into one statement. A sample goal statement is (fill in the blanks) "I want to _ because_" or "I will _ so I can _". This is your personal goal and is the foundation for the rest of your plan.

Make sure your goal is achievable — This is the gut check and can be a setup for failure. If your goal is too grandiose or unrealistic, chances are you are going to become discouraged and give up. If you haven't worked out in years and you want to run a marathon in two months, it just may not be possible to accomplish this goal. A simple five-kilometer race may be more appropriate in this case. Failure will lead to frustration and decrease the chances that you will attempt another try at improving your health. If you are not sure whether your goal is realistic, ask a friend, your spouse, your doctor or a colleague for input. They may give you feedback that your goal is too difficult to achieve and let you modify your goal to increase your chance of success.

Develop a plan — How are going to accomplish your goal? It is great to say, "I would like to drop 20 pounds," but this is the time to put action to the words. Until now, you may have done a good job sticking to your resolution without any structure, but how are you going to keep your resolution going next month? One way is to put your head in the game. Figure out what you need to do to accomplish your goal and do some research.

Search for information on health-related topics from a variety of sources, including books, health-and-fitness magazines, and the Internet. If you are pressed for time, ask a colleague or friend who accomplished a similar goal or ask your health care provider for advice. A goal of losing weight won't do any good if there is no plan on how to accomplish your goal. Once again, write down your plan, clearly describing how you will accomplish your goal on a daily or weekly basis. Set targets for every week or month as well.

Set benchmarks — Improving your health is not easy. If it were, this country would have much less obesity, heart disease, chronic back pain and other maladies. To stay focused on your goal, break it into smaller goals to measure your progress and maintain your motivation. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, set benchmarks every two weeks. Make it your goal to lose three to four pounds every two weeks over the course of three months. This way, you can measure your progress and have a sense of achievement. Once again, record your progress, so if you get frustrated, you can review how much you have already accomplished and overcome any discouragement. Keep a daily log detailing how you followed your plan. For example, if your goal is to improve strength and endurance, keep a daily log of the exercises you performed and the number of reps and sets. This will help you stay motivated and adjust the plan as you progress with accomplishing your goal.

Allow for cheat periods — It is almost impossible to adhere to a strict plan, so allow for some cheat periods. If you are trying to lose weight, let yourself consume a forbidden item you have restricted from your diet. Or if you want to skip the gym one night because you are tired, give yourself a night of rest. The key is to not make habits of the bad habits. Better yet, allow yourself some pleasure for your accomplishments. Treat yourself with a reward for meeting a benchmark. If you stick to your plan 90% to 95% of the time, you will still be well on your way to achieving your goals. Rewarding yourself for your accomplishments will also make it less likely that you will randomly stray from your plan.

Making changes to improve your health isn't easy, and it is easy to lose motivation. Use the plan you developed with this column to keep on course. If you run into a period when you are discouraged or stray from your efforts, look back at your personal mission statement and recall your initial motivation. What was important then is probably just as important now. Hopefully, you can recognize the progress you have already made or pick up where you left off.

DR. RAYMOND BASRI, MD, FACP, is in the private practices of internal medicine and diagnostic cardiology in Middletown, NY. Dr. Basri is a Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine and president of the Mid-Hudson Section. He received the 2008 Laureate Award of the American College of Physicians, of which he is a Fellow. Dr. Basri also is clinical assistant professor of medicine at New York Medical College, attending physician in the Department of Internal Medicine at Orange Regional Medical Center and on the consulting staff in cardiology at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, NJ. He is a member of the Excelsior Hook and Ladder Company in Middletown and a deputy fire coordinator for Orange County. Dr. Basri is the senior physician of the Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT NY-4). He is a senior aviation medical examiner for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and chief physician for Health & Safety Specialists in Medicine, which does onsite medical examinations for the fire service and consultant to ERIC BERGMAN, PA-C, is a physician assistant practicing internal medicine at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, CT. He earned a bachelor of science degree in allied health from the University of Connecticut and a master's degree from Albany Medical College. He is a member of the Killingworth, CT, Volunteer Fire Company; a past company officer and life member of the Avon, CT, Volunteer Fire Department; and a past member of the Shaker Road-Loudonville Fire Department in Colonie, NY.

*Through March 31, 2010
Source: U.S. Fire Administration
11 Stress/overexertion 55%
4 Vehicle collision 20%
2 Struck 10%
2 Other 10%
1 Caught/trapped 5%
10 Heart attack 50%
6 Trauma 30%
1 Asphyxiation 5%
1 Burns 5%
1 Stroke 5%
1 Other 5%
*Through March 31, 2010
Source: U.S. Fire Administration
1 Under 21
1 21 to 25
1 26 to 30
1 31 to 40
3 41 to 50
6 51 to 60
6 61 and over
1 Unknown