Psychologist shares how to set, celebrate sustainable health and fitness resolutions
New Year’s resolutions should be celebrated, not belittled or set begrudgingly.
That’s the advice of Dr. Justin Ross, licensed clinical psychologist and director of the Workplace Wellbeing Program at UCHealth in Denver, who said New Year’s resolutions are important to celebrate as long as the resolutions are sustainable steps of daily goals and include a form of accountability.
“Resolving to be better is deeply human and should be celebrated,” Ross said. “Celebrating the desire to get healthy is an amazing thing to focus on for the year. Let’s help people build accountability structures so that they can be successful.”
The psychologist said the reason many people do not follow through on resolutions is they focus on the major life change outcome ranging from weight loss to stopping smoking rather than focusing on the process needed to get there.
A goal of losing 20 pounds in 2023, for example, might be the underlying motivation, but the resolutions toward that goal should be manageable, such as exercising five times a week for 30 minutes and making mindful food choices every day. That 30 minutes of exercise could be achieved by joining a fitness class, walking along the Yampa River Core Trail, taking the dog for a long walk or even shoveling snow, Ross said.
Human accountability measures such as finding a workout group or walking partner, or joining an exercise class or support group, can be the most effective, Ross said.
“Human accountability to another person is a major driver to follow through especially as it relates to health-changing behaviors,” Ross noted.
Other people find support using habit tracking or smart phone apps for a method of personal accountability. A Gallup Poll in December asked Americans their likelihood of setting personal goals for 2023, and 38% of respondents said they were somewhat likely and 33% were very likely to do so.
Accomplishing a “cornerstone habit” can lead to motivation to complete other goals, Ross said. A cornerstone habit is something people have full control over that can create a positive ripple effect on aspects of their lives such as energy, mood and nutrition. For example, getting sufficient sleep by setting a regular bed time and wake up time is a good cornerstone goal.
“Focus on one thing that is within your control but doing so can fundamentally impact a bunch of other habits,” Ross said.
Exercise is a “gold standard” cornerstone habit, but another foundational habit could be purposefully setting aside technology for 30 minutes a day to pursue meaningful connections with friends, family or children, he said.
The psychologist said New Year’s resolutions do not have to add something new but instead could be setting accountability methods to maintain current healthy lifestyle habits.
Setting a goal of going to the gym every day may not be the best resolution.
“Setting a resolution for working out every day in January could end up being a recipe for disaster if it is not intended as a stepping stone for life-long sustainable change,” Ross said.
Monthlong resolutions such as Dry January, where people do not drink alcohol for the month, could serve as a catalyst for continued life changes, Ross said.
“If Dry January comes from a place of human beings recognizing they want to improve, then it’s a good reset button,” Ross said.
Although traditional “new year, new you” classes and workshops may not have gained steam again due to curtailments during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Yampa Valley already is home to plenty of options to support resolutions.
Northwest Colorado Health offers a free cardiovascular and diabetes screening that includes a full cholesterol panel, blood glucose level and body mass index check, personalized prevention tips and one-on-one follow-up education sessions.
Gyms, dance studios, Old Town Hot Springs and Colorado Mountain College offer a dizzying array of workout class options.
Nonprofit The Health Partnership hosts an active Clean and Sober program with activities for people in recovery, loved ones supporting that recovery, the sober curious or people choosing a sober lifestyle. Activities range from yoga to game nights to indoor climbing.
The Colorado QuitLine at CoQuitLine.org, is a free service to assist people trying to quit using tobacco, either smoking or vaping. People who get help from the QuitLine are seven times more likely to succeed in quitting, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Memorial Regional Health in Craig offers tools to help patients who want to moderate or end their alcohol use, according to Dr. Elise Sullivan, a family medicine physician at MRH.
Nonprofit United Way maintains a database for a variety of health care related and other assistance outlets through 211Colorado.org.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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