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Larner College of Medicine

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From UVM College of Medicine Experts: Tips for Making – and Keeping – New Year’s Resolutions

New Years Resolutions

The transition from the “old” year to the new compels many people to pledge to make improvements, particularly in the area of healthy behavior, but many resolutions seem daunting to sustain. Below are tips shared by University of Vermont (UVM) College of Medicine faculty members whose research focuses on creating programs that make healthy behaviors achievable.

Philip Ades, M.D., UVM professor of medicine, director of cardiac rehabilitation and preventive medicine, and Fletcher Allen cardiologist, recently received the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Presidential Recognition Award in honor of his significant research contributions and commitment to improving health outcomes for cardiovascular disease patients through cardiac rehab, diet and exercise.

“If there was a single thing for a non-smoker to do, it would be to establish a regular exercise program,” says Ades, who shares that it’s okay to start small – just two five-minute walks each day – to develop the habit. “In the long term, 30 minutes per day, five days per week has the best benefits” according to research, he says, but “any amount of exercise is beneficial, even if the two five-minute walks per day eventually works up to 15 minutes per day of exercise.”

Mary Cushman, M.D., M.Sc., UVM professor of medicine and director of the Hemostasis and Thrombosis Clinic at Fletcher Allen, is a longtime American Heart Association (AHA) volunteer and currently serves on the organization’s national board of directors, as well as chairs the Vermont board. She specializes in studying people’s risk for cardiovascular disease, including stroke and has conducted a number of studies using the AHA’s Life’s Simple 7 factors as a means to measure risk and reduced risk. 

“Moving up a level on the AHA’s ‘Life’s Simple 7’ metric is a great New Year’s resolution,” maintains Cushman, who adds that these health factors include be active, control cholesterol, eat a healthy diet, manage blood pressure, maintain a healthy weight, control blood sugar and don’t smoke. She and colleagues have proven that making small lifestyle changes in these areas can reduce the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.

Stephen Higgins, Ph.D., UVM professor of psychiatry and psychology and director of the Vermont Center on Behavior and Health, is an internationally respected expert in contingency management – the use of financial and material incentives to reduce unhealthy behaviors like substance abuse, including smoking. He recommends the following American Lung Association’s (ALA) research-proven strategies for quitting smoking:

1) Seek support: You don't have to quit alone. Ask family, friends, and co-workers for their help and support. Having someone to take a walk with, or just listen, can give a needed boost. Online support includes stop-smoking programs like the ALA’s Freedom From Smoking® Online from the American Lung Association.

2) Take time to plan: Designate a day to quit on the calendar and stick to it. Avoid peak times of stress, such as the holidays, and gather in advance the tools and medications you will need.

3) Exercise daily: Exercise is proven to help smokers quit, combat weight gain, improve mood and energy levels, and reduce the stress of quitting.

4) Prioritize nutrition and sleep: Eat a balanced diet, drink lots of water, and be sure to get plenty of sleep.

5) Talk to your doctor or pharmacist: They can discuss with you the various over-the-counter or prescription medications available to help you quit.