Q&A with Dr. Dan Blumenthal
Dr. Blumenthal is the Medical Director for Devoted Health Plan. He’s also a cardiologist (heart doctor) who’s on the faculty at Harvard Medical School.
Every year, millions of us make New Year’s resolutions with high hopes, only to see them fizzle out before the calendar flips to February. But stay strong! We talked to Dr. Blumenthal to find out how to make new habits stick — no matter when you want to make a change.
Why do so many New Year’s resolutions fail?
Breaking old habits and forming new ones is hard, and it takes more than willpower. So we tend to underestimate what it will take and then we get down on ourselves when we start to slip into old routines. One key to preventing this is to make sure that your new behavior is one you can sustain — and that means working it into your everyday routine.
What are some ways to do that?
It could mean riding your stationary bike in the afternoon during your favorite TV show. Or eating a salad instead of a sandwich on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Or if you want to start meditating, begin with five minutes of guided practice before you brush your teeth in the morning.
You’re more likely to stay with new habits when you focus on the practical details. You can look for ways to make them happen more easily. That’s why some runners even put their sneakers right next to their bed.
We can’t talk New Year’s resolutions without mentioning weight loss. Any tips for losing weight and keeping it off?
Set small, reasonable goals that you think you can achieve. It’s not realistic — or healthy — to lose 60 pounds in 30 days. But you set yourself up for long-term success by focusing on gradual weight loss, even if that’s just a few pounds to start.
What do you recommend to someone who wants to start exercising?
First, if you're over the age of 50, haven't exercised regularly in the recent past (i.e. the past several months), and particularly if you think you're at risk for heart disease, talk to your doctor before you do anything. Aside from that, the basic idea is the same. Set reasonable expectations for yourself and find ways to work it into your routine. And don’t go from 0 to 60! Think about your typical level of physical activity and make small changes from there.
So a couch potato shouldn’t have the same goals as someone who already goes to the gym a few days a week?
Exactly. Remember, this is about what’s healthy for you, and about your personal goals. It also depends on your age. For a younger person, the goal of starting an exercise routine may be to train for a race. As you get older, you may be more focused on maintaining your independence and strength. Keeping active by using your muscles is a great way to help you remain mobile and able to care for yourself. Maybe start by setting a target of walking around your house 10 times a day. The ultimate goal is to stay active and make sure you feel good every day.
What if you have trouble sticking to a routine?
Try the buddy system. For example, call a friend or neighbor and set up a daily walk. You’re much more likely to follow through when you have someone else to keep you accountable. Plus, you get in some extra social time, which is also great for your health.
Any other tips for the New Year?
Stick with one resolution. It may not be as exciting as setting multiple goals, but it’s more likely to work. I’ve had patients who try to quit smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol at the same time, and they often end up not doing either. Whether it’s quitting cigarettes or sugar or doing more yoga, take things one step at a time. If you get that one thing to stick, it’ll have a positive ripple effect, but give yourself that one success to get things going.
Creating new habits can be tough, but you can do it. Here are some key tips on making a change that sticks:
- Work your new habit into your everyday routine
- Focus on practical, concrete ways to support your new habit
- Set realistic goals and celebrate small successes
- Choose just one thing to work on
The information in this newsletter is only for reference. It's not supposed to be a guide or a replacement for proper medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment you'd get from a doctor, nurse, or other health professional. So don't try to treat any health conditions based on what you read in this newsletter — that's not how we intended it. See your own doctor instead!