Diet and Fitness Tips for the New Year

Why do people make New Year’s resolutions? Because most of us benefit from the feeling of a fresh start after the excesses of the holiday season. And because of the momentum we gain when we commit to making positive changes in our lives.

But intentions alone won’t get us where we need to go. Building new habits can be hard to do, especially when it comes to weight loss, says Dr. Sarah Barenbaum, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and an assistant attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. “I recommend setting incremental, achievable goals,” she says. “For example, aim to lose 4 pounds a month.”

And choose a diet you can stick with long term, she suggests. If you hit a rough patch and stop losing weight or even start to regain it, don’t get discouraged. Seek help.

Think of losing weight as a journey.

“Be patient with the process,” Dr. Barenbaum says, “and with yourself. Trying to lose a lot of weight rapidly can be discouraging if you are not immediately successful. Think of it as a marathon, not a sprint.”

And if you aren’t sure where to start, she says, meet with a registered dietitian.

Consider seeking support and care at Weill Cornell Medicine’s Comprehensive Weight Control Center.

“At the center, we’re uniquely positioned to help people at any stage of their weight loss journey,” she says—from those about to embark on their first attempt to lose weight to those who feel they have tried everything, without success, to those who have successfully lost weight with diet, exercise, medications or bariatric surgery but who have regained weight over time.

The Comprehensive Weight Control Center includes physicians specializing in internal medicine and endocrinology with a subspeciality in obesity medicine, registered dietitians, nurse practitioners and a diabetes educator. Together, they help patients lose weight and maintain the loss through lifestyle changes, medication and a surgical referral when warranted.

When should I enlist the help of a doctor?

Before you embark on a weight-loss program, meet with a physician if you have a medical condition that might affect your safety or that requires close monitoring during the process, says Dr. Barenbaum—a condition such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or sleep apnea. Doctors can advise you on diet and exercise and prescribe weight-loss medications when appropriate.

Exercise: Slow and steady wins the race.

Like diet, physical fitness is a journey too, says Dr. Asad Siddiqi, a sports medicine physician and assistant professor of clinical rehabilitation medicine at Weill Cornell. If you’re out of shape, the start of a new year is the perfect time to get into the exercise habit.

The physical and psychological benefits of regular exercise are well known. Exercise helps to prevent or manage a wide range of conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, respiratory disease, high blood pressure and depression, among others. It also fosters social engagement.

Fortunately, says Dr. Siddiqi, “there are many types of exercise and many ways to combine them to suit your tastes and fitness goals.”

Choose from a wealth of exercise options.

Aerobic exercise is the kind that raises your heartbeat above its resting rate; the kind that makes you break a sweat. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity per week.

Running, bicycling and swimming can be done either moderately or more intensely, Dr. Siddiqi says. “With moderate-intensity exercise, you should still be able to comfortably hold a conversation, but you might have some difficulty singing a song!”

Aerobic activity is only one part of a comprehensive fitness regimen, he explains: “Resistance, flexibility, balance and functional movement training are all part of the mix, especially as we grow older. Tai chi, for example, is great for helping older adults preserve balance and avoid potentially devastating falls.”

Exercise is a critically important component of a healthy lifestyle for people at every age, he says, from childhood on.

Dedicate time every day to physical activity.

Whether in the form of an exercise class, walking, calisthenics or squats at home, incorporate physical activity into your day. “By scheduling time in your day, you signal to yourself that this is an important undertaking that is worthy of your time and effort,” Dr. Siddiqi says.

Next, think about the kind of exercise you would like to do and where: your home, the gym, an online class or the great outdoors.

A personal trainer can be a great option as well, either for a few months before transitioning to working out on your own or on a continuing basis.

The main thing, he says, is to take your time. Adopt a slow-and-steady approach, especially at first. Your body will thank you for it!

Exercise and weight loss work synergistically.

Developing healthy eating habits and engaging in regular physical activity are both essential for weight loss, Dr. Barenbaum says: “Exercise influences the composition of weight loss, targeting fat instead of lean muscle. The calories you expend in exercise also may help offset the reduction in resting metabolic rate—your metabolic “set-point”—that can occur with weight loss.”

Make fitness a family affair.

Go for a vigorous walk with your family or with a couple of good friends. Take a class together. Or plan a hike in a state or national park.

And remember, fitness isn’t about a person’s weight, appearance or clothing size. It’s about knowing what motivates you and staying motivated to stick with the program. It’s about wellness.

Another great way to stay on track: Keep a diet and fitness journal to help you build new habits—and keep them!

Ready to make healthy resolutions for 2023? Your care team can help you set your health goals for the new year. Find a provider today.