How to Make Healthy Habits Stick in the New Year

Every New Years, people make countless resolutions – to earn a pay raise, to lose 10 pounds or to quit smoking – and every year, many of those resolutions fall through. So how do you change resolutions from something you say you’ll do, to something you stick to? A doctor gives his advice.

“The problem with resolutions, especially New Years, is that they are sudden changes in lifestyle that are different from what we normally do and easy to sabotage,” said Dr. Michael Monaco, an MDVIP-affiliated primary care physician.  “If you have a bad week, you may overdo it at a party on the weekend, or if you get busy at work, you may not exercise and get out of the routine for a few days.”

Monaco, who has worked in internal medicine for more than 20 years, has compiled a list of achievable goals meant to improve physical health, emotional health and overall wellness after years of tracking and counseling his own patients.

Tips to Help You Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

“You have to do things that are realistic,” Monaco said.  “I came up with resolutions that help people physically and emotionally.  If we feel better emotionally, we tend to do better physically – better health, better blood pressure, and it can also help you be more active.”

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By following the right kind of resolutions, Monaco said people could expect a number of improvements in their lives, including better moods, feeling stronger, better stamina, less stress, less fatigue - and, yes, weight loss.

Here are Monaco’s doctor-approved resolutions for 2012:


1. Sleep
“Adults usually need on an average of seven to eight hours of sleep each night.  If the adequate amount of sleep is not achieved, it will be difficult to perform tasks and this program, at peak levels,” Monaco said.

He stressed the bedroom needs to be calm and peaceful, where the mind can relax – that means leaving your Blackberry elsewhere.

2. Sharpen Your Mind
“To sharpen your mind, simply change your routine,” Monaco said.  “Tweak your habits a bit and brain synapses happen as a result.  Brush your teeth with the left hand instead of the right, take a different route home, and put the right shoe on before the left.”

3. Show Gratitude
“Cortisone studies have indicated when our brain is stressed – financially or emotionally, for example – hunger increases, sugar levels increase and weight gain increases,” Monaco said.  “Try to reduce anger, fear or apprehension by giving thanks to the things you have.”

He suggested people do this by writing down three things for which they are thankful for, such as a vacation, friends and family, catching up on sleep, having the time to read a book or go to a movie.

4. Find a New Hobby
“If you already have a hobby, find a new one, and if you don’t, get one,” Monaco said. “New activities keep your brain sharp.  So take up knitting, fly a kite, take a dance class, and invite a friend to play a game.  You will feel better.”

5. Give Back
Monaco recommended that people pick one day out of the month and mark it on the calendar as a day for ‘giving back.’  Giving back can include volunteering, reaching out to a friend in need or even allowing someone into a lane you are driving in.

“A small act of kindness will make you a happier person,” Monaco said.


1. Stretching
Stretching reduces injury and stress and keeps your range of motion, according to Monaco. The three exercises that will work the most important areas of your body – the legs, arms and core - are the quadricep stretch, runner’s stretch, and figure 4 stretch. Do the exercises on both sides for 20-40 seconds, Monaco advised.

2. Growth and Family Exercise
Exercise and personal relationships are both an important part of life – so why not combine them?  Exercise is often most effective with a partner, Monaco said,

“Exercising with a buddy is not only good for you socially, but it will also make you more likely to exercise,” Monaco said.  “That person can help you stay on task.”

3. Fitness on Vacation
Don’t shelve your fitness routine when away from home, Monaco warned, because it can sabotage your success.

“If you cannot do your regular routine, why not try something different like hiking, swimming or biking on a new path,” he said.

4. Make Healthy Habits Stick
Change a habit into a real goal, Monaco said.

“Write it on a Post-It note and display it prominently so you never forget; note it on your computer, tell friends and family,” he suggested.

5. Strength
Aerobic exercise is important for burning calories (aim for 150 minutes a week), but strength training is also essential

“Strength training is the key to revving your metabolism, Monaco said. “Whether it is lifting weights or using machines in a gym, strength training burns fat even at rest.”


1. Pantry
“Your pantry is the cornerstone of your diet,” Monaco said.

He said it is important to stock up on herbs and spices – to make foods taste better and to improve digestion.

“Get every spice you can,” Monaco said. “Cumin, coriander, sea salt, oregano, fresh ground pepper, flavored vinegars, and different types of infused olive oil.    You will love food more, and it will open up on whole new world of tastes.”

2. New Recipes
Using the same recipes over and over can trap you in a rut – which sends many people out to restaurants, where it’s hard to control salt and sugars.  Monaco recommended trying one new recipe a week.

3. Become a Locavore
“The reason that some people dislike fruit and vegetables is that they are probably buying them in a supermarket,” said Monaco, who recommended visiting local fresh markets instead.

The reason supermarket produce can be subpar is because many of the foods are picked before they are ripe or at their peak so they tend to be tasteless or mealy.  Foods at local markets, on the other hand, are often picked at their peak and much more flavorful, according to Monaco.

4. Learn How to Shop
When you are at a supermarket, learn how to shop, Monaco said.  Stick to the perimeter of the store where all the fresh foods are, including fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, milk and juices.  The center of the supermarket is typically relegated to processed foods.

5. Read the Labels
“Food  labels are there to provide you information,” Monaco said. “Read them.  Learn what they are saying.  Keep the fats, carbohydrates, and trans fats down and keep the protein, good fats and fiber high.”

Always consult your physician before starting any diet or exercise program.