Evidence based New Year resolutions for healthier 2022

It has come to that time of the New Year when most people make resolutions to drop some ‘bad’ habits and adopt healthy ones. Unfortunately, reports have shown that most people are not able to stick to their resolutions for more than three weeks.

Little wonder, the terminology ‘dry’ January. Some people make resolutions to quit alcohol, smoking and other unhealthy habits on January 1 but find themselves back to the same acts by the next month.

However, medical experts insist that it is a good thing to make healthy New Year resolutions.

According to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE and titled “A large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals” the most popular resolutions take into account physical health, weight loss, and eating habits. At a one-year follow-up, 55 per cent of responders considered themselves successful in sustaining their resolutions. Participants with approach-oriented goals were significantly more successful than those with avoidance-oriented goals (58.9 per cent vs. 47.1 per cent). The group that received some support was exclusively and significantly more successful compared to the other two.

The study revealed that New Year’s resolutions could have lasting effects, even at a one-year follow-up.

The researchers concluded: “In conclusion, the results from this study suggest that New Year’s resolutions should be further studied as a potentially effective strategy for behaviour change. Participants receiving some support reported greater success than those receiving extended support, and those receiving no support. This suggests that information, instructions and exercises regarding effective goal setting, administered via the Internet, could affect the likelihood of success—another question to further study.”

Medical Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Best Care Hospital, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun States, Dr. Osanyin Peju, told The Guardian that New Year resolution on health varies depending on the person and personality.

Peju, however, said, resolutions to improve health include but are not limited to the following: “Improvement on personal hygiene, that is, exercise more, improved diet, taking more relaxation events, to improve meditation and also yoga exercise.

“Quit smoking all sorts of things like cigarettes, weed, shisha, etc. on the other hand to stop the intake of alcohol or any alcoholic drinks even the ones under the guise of herbal concoctions and herbal drinks.

“Stop snuffing or inhaling snuffs like tobacco, illicit narcotics like cocaine, heroin, and other substance of addiction. Eat well for better living, and take well-nourished and balance diets. Taking recommended and prescribed drugs and medications appropriately.

“Attending clinical appointments as at when due for medical check-ups. Ensure appropriate time to sleep. Sleeping for a minimum of about eight hours per day. And to also avoid stress, like family, social and peer group pressures and doing what is in tandem with your body system. Not forgetting your spiritual life too.”

Also, several studies recommend losing weight to beat COVID-19 and for healthier 2022. A new study showed that among patients with obesity, prior weight loss achieved with bariatric surgery was associated with a 60 percent lower risk of developing severe complications from COVID-19 infection.

The research was published in the journal JAMA Surgery. Numerous studies have established obesity as a major risk factor for developing serious illness from an infection of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus type 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19. Obesity weakens the immune system, creates a chronic inflammatory state, and increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, blood clots, and lung conditions. All of these conditions can complicate COVID-19.

MEANWHILE, to illustrate how to go about making New Year resolutions, The Guardian asked a few people about their health resolutions. A cinematographer, Gbangbayau Nifemi, shared his New Year resolutions. He said his first mission is to focus more on rest. “I want to make sure I have time to rest, ensuring that I take enough rest before and after I engage myself in work. I plan to rest for not less than six to seven hours a day because of my age,” he said.

Secondly, he said he intends to watch what he takes. Nifemi said he wants to limit his intake of sugar, food seasonings and junk foods. He also said he wants to make his breakfast compulsory. “Breakfast is the most important food of the day, so I intend to take my breakfast as early as 8 am or 9 am. Even if I want to skip any meal it won’t be breakfast,” he said. Nifemi added that he plans to start taking eggs. “One egg per day,” he said.

Nifemi said he wants to stop the habit of sleeping immediately after taking night food. “Once I finish eating, I should rest for about 45 minutes to help digest the food.”

Nifemi said he plans to exercise more frequently in 2022.

A staff member of Ikeja Electric Distribution Company (IEDC), Mr. Detola Ibiyemi, said his resolution is on what he eats and to always consume enough water. Ibiyemi said that he wants to work on his sleeping pattern. “I need to have at least eight hours of sleep every day,” he said. Ibiyemi said he wants to watch his diet and avoid junk food.

Also, a new study has suggested exercising as hard as one can is better at alleviating chronic anxiety than drugs or therapy.

Researchers in Sweden looked at how anxiety symptoms fell over the course of 12 weeks as a result of both ‘moderate and strenuous’ cardio and strength training.

Both exercise intensities effectively alleviated symptoms of anxiety even when the disorder was chronic, the researchers found.

The results suggest that more ‘simple’ treatments are needed for anxiety than drugs and therapy, which are costly and sometimes ineffective for patients.

The results showed that their anxiety symptoms were significantly alleviated even when the anxiety was a chronic condition, compared with a control group who received advice on physical activity according to public health recommendations.

ALSO, despite their popularity, merely a handful of studies on New Year’s resolutions have been published, most of which are limited in terms of the number of participants, follow-up length and frequency, and categories of New Year’s resolutions studied.

According to the PLOS ONE study, Marlatt and Kaplan, who published a longitudinal study, that compared weight loss among New Year’s resolvers and a control group, proposed the earliest example. This study included the possible effects of monitoring progress using periodic questionnaires. No significant differences in effectiveness were found for either participants’ setting of New Year’s resolutions or their use of the periodic questionnaires. However, after fifteen weeks, participants with pledges unrelated to weight loss considered themselves successful with 75 per cent of their resolutions. Marlatt, Curry, and Gordon as well as Gritz, Carr, and Marcus published studies on cigarette smokers resolving to quit, identifying high rates of relapse throughout the year of the resolution. Gritz et al. also investigated the effects of more frequent monitoring but identified none.

Norcross and Vangarelli followed 200 New Year’s resolvers. Resolutions among participants concerned not only weight loss and smoking cessation, but also relationship improvement, and more.

One week into the New Year, 77 per cent of participants had maintained their resolutions; the number decreased to 55 per cent after one month, 43 per cent after three months, 40 per cent after six months, and 19 per cent at the two-year follow-up. Norcross and Vangarelli found that participants who reported greater use of stimulus control, greater willpower, and the more consistent use of self-reward achieved greater success rates.

In another paper from the same project, Norcross, Ratzin, and Payne reported that readiness to change was related to positive outcomes. Subsequently, Norcross, Mrykalo, and Blagys followed 159 New Year’s resolvers and 123 comparable non-resolvers interested in changing a problem later. At six months, the resolvers reported higher rates of success than the non-resolvers (46 per cent compared to four per cent): Self-efficacy, skills necessary to change, and readiness to change all predicted positive outcomes for resolvers.

Testing the effects of a more comprehensive intervention, Koestner, Lekes, Powers, and Chicoine followed 59 students who had made one or more New Year’s resolutions. These participants were randomised to one of three groups and were instructed to either establish implementation intentions (considering where, when, and how their goals would be reached), reflect upon why they wanted to achieve their desired changes, or do neither. At one month, no significant differences in success were found between the groups, and this time point was the only reported follow-up.

In most of the previous studies, participants’ New Year’s resolutions were categorized based on their topics. All studies found similar results regarding the most common categories of resolutions, with physical health, interpersonal relationships, personal growth, and academic results being recurring topics. No significant results have been reported regarding differences in success rates based on the topics of the participants’ resolutions, with the exception of Marlatt and Kaplan. The authors determined lesser success rates among participants who resolved to lose weight. However, questions could be raised regarding the categorization in previous studies. It is often unclear how many categories have been applied and whether the categories have been formulated a priori or from current data. These issues persist in polls and market-research reports, wherein participants are often asked to make a selection from a set number of options. Alternatively, responses are categorised by the interviewer, who in some cases leaves half of the responses in a “miscellaneous” category.

These studies, polls, and market-research reports constitute the available reference material on New Year’s resolutions. Given the fact that millions of people pledge to make a change for the better every year, there is a need for more systematic research. However, looking at research on personal goals, in general, provides a bit more insight into the process of changing one’s behavior. Several studies have examined the importance of goal orientation, often finding that approach-oriented goals are more favorable than avoidance-oriented goals. In terms of secondary outcomes, striving toward and successfully reaching personal goals have long been considered essential aspects of human well being. In a meta-analysis of nine published studies, Koestner et al. found that goal progress is associated with improved effect over time.

Common New Year’s resolutions focus on changes in behaviour with an expectation of positive outcomes regarding physical and mental health. Increasing the likelihood of people succeeding with their New Year’s resolutions could both be beneficial for the individual and for society.