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Realistic Expectations Key to
Maintain Wellness Goals

It's never too late to set goals to live a healthier life; remembering a few guidelines will help you stick to those goals.

In the area of exercise, for example, it's important to be realistic, stressed Audrey F. Manley, who served as acting surgeon general.

"The best exercise is one that you are actually going to do," said Manley. "Many well-intentioned people set overly ambitious exercise goals at the start of a new year. Once they get sore or injured, they quit exercising, but a more moderate approach would keep them on the road to improving their health."

Moderate physical activity, as defined by the recent Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health, is any activity that uses 150 calories of energy per day, or 1,000 calories per week. Examples include walking briskly for 30 minutes, washing and waxing a car for 45 to 60 minutes, gardening for 30 to 45 minutes, pushing a stroller 1.5 miles in 30 minutes, and swimming laps for 20 minutes.

Setting realistic goals is key to keeping most resolutions, according to Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, chief medical research officer for Prudential HealthCare.

"Many of us vow to live healthier by giving up bad habits or making changes to our lifestyle," said Koplan. "To be successful, people should try to focus on one or two resolutions and set realistic goals with an action plan for accomplishing them."

However, a telephone survey conducted for Prudential discovered that less than half of American adults who make resolutions have a plan in place for achieving them.

Nearly 60 percent of the resolutions are specifically related to health, the survey found. The most common ones include losing weight, exercising and quitting smoking. Health-related resolutions mentioned less frequently include stopping drinking, improving health, having an annual physical exam, seeing a doctor and seeing a dentist, Prudential said.

When asked about examples of action steps they would take to achieve their resolutions, respondents mentioned preventive steps — like the following — less frequently: getting a physical exam (55 percent); getting an evaluation for health risks (46 percent); quitting smoking (31 percent); beginning a stress management program (29 percent); and, for women, having a mammogram (41 percent).

"The survey suggests that a majority of people who make health-related resolutions aimed at better health, don't have a specific action plan that includes these important preventive steps. This is surprising, since prevention is the foundation for good health and well-being," said Koplan. "People need to take preventive steps to keep their health in check throughout the year."

The following checklist by Prudential HealthCare can help keep you on track:

Set realistic goals. Pick only one or two that are the most important to you.

Develop an action plan of specific steps to accomplish your goal. Make a list of some simple next steps to get your resolution off the ground. For example, if you want to quit smoking, talk with your doctor and look into smoking cessation programs, which can provide the support and reinforcement needed during the difficult withdrawal period. Check with your employer or health plan to find out whether these programs or other items in the checklist are covered; many wellness programs will contain one or more of these components.

Find out if you're due for a physical exam and health risk assessment. This step might include a review of your personal and family medical history, any necessary preventive screenings such as blood pressure and cholesterol tests, and counseling on health habits and such practices as diet and exercise, injury prevention and substance use. This type of assessment can help identify specific health risks and make recommendations for improving your health.

Watch your diet and exercise. Lack of routine physical activity and overeating can lead to obesity and high blood cholesterol — major risk factors for heart disease. To help reduce risk, limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, such as meat and dairy products. Regular exercise can also help strengthen and condition the heart. Experts recommend you start off slowly with your exercise regimen and gradually increase your activity.

Schedule a mammography and breast exam.

Visit your dentist regularly. During the check-up, ask your dentist for an update on the best techniques to floss and brush your teeth. You also may want to find out about highly successful preventive treatments like the use of sealants and fluoride for you or your children, and other recommendations for healthy teeth and gums.

Manage your stress. Stress can have a negative impact on your health. Stress-related disorders, such as alcoholism, heart disease, ulcers, hypertension and emotional distress, have become common among Americans. However, stress management programs teach a variety of strategies and behaviors to help achieve and maintain happier, healthier and more productive lives.

Addresses: Surgeon General, Public Health Service, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, 200 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20201; (202) 619-0257. Prudential HealthCare, 1260 Springfield Avenue, New Providence, NJ 07974; (800) 333-7232.

© 2001 Health Resources Publishing