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Taking your fitness, health, spirituality, relationships and commitments to a whole new level is an honorable New Year’s tradition.

But when committing to lofty ideals, it is important to set reasonable attainable goals and not set yourself up for failure. Fitness and weight loss are probably top on everybody’s list. I firmly believe in the importance of regularly working out and healthy eating.

Here is the caveat. So many times I have heard from patients, acquaintances and friends how they were going to hit the gym five days a week or tackle another overly- ambitious endeavor. They keep their resolution for a week or two or even three and eventually give up when they don’t meet their goal.

My suggestion is be realistic in your goal setting and be kind to yourself. Take baby steps. If you are a weekend warrior, add one gym session during the week. If you are the type who needs to go all or nothing, keep in mind when you push forward, you will experience pain. Pain is normal. Most commonly you will feel the pain 24-48 hours after an intense work. This DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Sensitivity) will make you feel sore and achy. Hydrate, stretch and don’t let the pain discourage you. No pain, no gain.

But there are limits to the no pain, no gain theory. Proper form is essential for healthy gain and reducing the risk of injury. Hire a coach or trainer to ramp up your workout or introduce you to new routines. If you have cardiovascular or orthopedic issues, request physician clearance before starting. And if you have chest pain at any time during your workout, seek immediate medical attention. There is no gain with chest pain.

Smoking Cessation is another common resolution. The health benefits are extensive. Research indicates after just 12 hours, the excess carbon monoxide levels are cleared.After one year, your risk of cardiocascualr disease decreases by 50% and in five years, your arterial and vein size normalize.

Here is the caveat:

  • Many people will replace smoking with another oral habit and eating seems to be the prime culprit which can undo your weight loss.

  • To avoid substituting one unhealthy habit for another, try chewing gum or drinking water. If the issue has more to do with keeping your hands occupied, substitute another tactile experience such as needlepoint, carpentry, model making and drawing.

  • My last precaution is to stop smoking under medical supervision. There are medications to stop smoking may cause vivid dreaming and in rare, very rare circumstances may increase the risk of suicidal ideation.

Banishing Booze or at least reducing alcohol intake is also common.The benefits are weight loss, lowers cholesterol, sugar and inflammatory markers and improved sleep quality. Here’s the but…. This challenge comes with a word of caution. While most have no problem cutting back on wine, beer or spirits, a rare but small amount of others, who have been accustomed to drinking daily, may be at risk of putting their health, and their life in danger.

  • Regular drinkers may experience delirium tremens (DTs) and shakes, hallucinations as well as palpitations, high blood pressure may be an unintended consequence of making this seemingly smart and healthy choice.

  • So before going cold turkey or if you have a history of chronic heavy alcohol consumption or a history of the DTs, consult your medical professional and or connect with your local rehab program. The support of a 12 step program such as Alanon, can make the difference of success vs relapse.

  • I am a big believer in New Year’s resolutions and a strong proponent of the positive change you choose to make in your life. Personally, I support your initiatives to stretch your limits and challenge your body and mind outside your normal comfort zone.

Professionally, I am more cautious and always suggest embracing life in small steps. It’s a hazard of my profession as a cardiologist. My parting words: Looking back, you will see nothing happens by chance. So, as Author John C. Maxwell titled his book, “ Fail forward and and turn your mistakes into stepping stones for success.” Here’s to a healthier you in 2018!

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