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Turning Resolutions Into Routines

5 tips to help you achieve your health goals

Quit smokingWe've all made New Year's resolutions, from losing that pesky spare tire to going to the gym more than twice a year. 

But how often have your resolutions fizzled after a few weeks or months? How many times have you made the exact same resolution as in the past? If you're like most people, more often than you'd like to admit.

The good news is that it is possible to turn resolutions into routines. Whether you want to give up cigarettes, eat better or be more active, Rasa Kazlauskaite, MD, of the Rush University Prevention Center has five tips that can help you form and maintain healthier habits year-round.

1. Plan ahead.

One of the biggest challenges in keeping resolutions is time management.

Eating healthily is not only about selecting healthy foods. It's also about eating on time and planning ahead. If you don't eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, for example, you might get too hungry to exercise self-control and make good choices.

So if you're busy, plan ahead: This can be as simple as packing a healthy sandwich and raw veggies for lunch. Or keeping healthy snacks, such as roasted almonds or whole wheat crackers, in your desk drawer or glove compartment. 

And if getting to the gym after work is a constant challenge, pack your workout clothes and bring them with you to work. Then, change at the office so you're ready to start working out as soon as you get to the gym.

To ensure hunger doesn't derail your evening workouts, have a light late afternoon snack (just don't eat too much or you may feel too full to exercise). 

2. Don't skimp on sleep.

Another important part of the equation is getting enough rest.

Research has shown that the effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive function are similar to the effects of alcohol intoxication. And we all know you don't make the best choices when you're tipsy or drunk. 

To keep your mind sharp and focused, strive to get at least seven hours of sleep each night. Good sleep habits will also help you feel more refreshed in the morning and give you more energy to power through the day (including that evening workout).

3. Keep track of your behaviors.

From fitness devices to calorie-counting apps to old-fashioned pedometers, these days it's easier than ever to monitor your health.

These tools can help ensure that no matter how busy you are, you're getting enough physical activity and not overeating.

And charting your progress as you increase activity and shed pounds can help you stay motivated to keep going. 

4. Enlist your family and friends.

When it comes to eating right, exercising and quitting smoking, having a partner to share the journey can make a huge difference. You'll have someone to encourage you, but also to hold you accountable.

This is especially important when you're trying to shed bad habits, such as smoking. 

As much as possible, surround yourself with people who lead healthy lives and don't engage in the behaviors you're trying to change. That way, you'll have support when you make your own healthy choices. 

5. Embrace your inner child.

If you're looking for a way to be more active, think back to the activities enjoyed doing as a child. You might still enjoy them as an adult. Try to return that sense of play into your life — because if an activity isn't fun, you're not going to stick with it for long.

So take that hip hop class. Tackle the rock climbing wall. Go roller skating or skateboarding. The key is to get — and stay — active.  

At the same time, don't quit doing something immediately if you don't love it. With any type of exercise, it can take five or seven sessions to find out if you truly like it. And if you stick with changes, they will eventually become your new norm, rather than something you have to force yourself to do.

Finally, don't think of resolutions as being restrictions. Instead, focus on what you hope to accomplish this year, and how good you'll feel when you get there.

Could you resist the temptation of sinful snack foods and calorie-rich beverages — and instead choose to eat only healthful foods — every day for the rest of your life? For most of us, the answer is no, but the reasons why may surprise you.

Even if you don't carve out time each day to work out, you can still get — and stay — in shape. There are lots of ways to sneakily burn calories and tone muscle. Learn some tips on how to get the health benefits of exercise without feeling like you’re exercising.

Quitting smoking can be a challenge but your health and lifestyle will reap the rewards. Here are some tips for kicking the habit.