The start of a brand-new year brings with it many things: reflections on the previous year, excitement over what is to come, and of course the challenge of starting to work on and stick to the resolutions we have set for ourselves. But as many of us know, even with our desire for self-improvement, sometimes we need support to stay the course. Luckily, there are plenty of strategies that we can lean on, so we can proudly profess that we did indeed meet our goals at the end of the year.
Quitting smoking, exercising more, achieving a healthy weight, and enhancing sleep are four of the most common New Year’s resolutions (1;2). Are you working towards crossing these classics off your list? Click on the links below to learn more about strategies that may be of assistance.
1. Quit smoking
If you are trying to ‘butt out’ for good, you have a variety of drug and non-drug strategies to choose from. These include nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), peer support, and telephone support from a counsellor or healthcare provider. Respectively, these options increase your chances of successfully quitting smoking by 50-60%, 50-130%, and 15-60% (3-6).
First, we have NRTs, which are over-the-counter treatments that come in various forms, such as long-acting (e.g. skin patches) and fast-acting (e.g., gums, lozenges, sprays, and inhalers) (3;4). Although both fast-acting and long-acting NRTs are similarly effective, combining them is more beneficial than using one type alone (4). NRTs are seen as generally safe (3). Second, we have group smoking cessation programs, which involve regularly attending sessions led by a trained facilitator and getting the opportunity to share experiences, struggles, and encouragement with others also working towards becoming smoke free (5). These programs can be done alone or in combination with NRT (5;7). Third, we have in-depth telephone counselling, which involves either receiving multiple calls from counsellors through smoker’s helplines or healthcare providers in settings outside of helplines (6).
2. Exercise more
From financial to physical to social, many barriers can deter older adults from engaging in exercise. These include the costs associated with purchasing workout clothes and materials, access to exercise facilities and transportation, illness and mobility issues, not having people to exercise with, exercise facilities that feel exclusionary, and a lack of relatability between those delivering exercise programs and older participants (8-11). Peer-led strategies can help tackle some of the social barriers identified. These strategies often involve older adults either delivering programs or providing advice, encouragement, education, and mentorship alongside health professionals in charge of delivery. More specifically, peer-supported lifestyle strategies may increase physical activity levels, while peer-led exercise programs and peer-support programs may improve adherence to or participation in physical activity programming (12;13).
Additionally, in instances where cost, transportation, and access to exercise facilities are barriers, digital technologies—such as websites, mobile apps, DVDs, videogames, and videoconferences—can be leveraged to exercise right at home (14).
3. Achieve a healthy weight
Goals related to weight loss can be especially difficult to accomplish since they often require changing the way we live, like how we eat. (15-17). Soft commitment devices, such as written pledges, behavioural contracts, or verbal agreements, commit us to achieving a specific outcome or behaviour without incentives/rewards. Alongside weight loss programs, soft commitment devices may help improve certain aspects of diet—including reducing the consumption of calories and unhealthy foods and increasing the consumption of healthier food groups—in adults living with overweight or obesity. There is also the potential for both short-term and long-term weight loss. There is some evidence to also support including a public component to the commitment, meaning having a peer or healthcare provider act as a witness (15).
4. Improve sleep
Sleep does not always come easy. Not getting enough sleep or good quality sleep can result from a variety of issues, including stress, your sleeping environment, or conditions like sleep apnea that prevent deep, uninterrupted sleep. Music-based strategies, such as listening to music, may help improve sleep duration, quality, and efficiency in older adults. What is more, they are generally deemed to be safe (18). For those living with sleep apnea, a mask known as continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP and dental devices are two of the most effective strategies for decreasing sleepiness and how many times breathing stops or is reduced during sleep (19). In general, exercising regularly, reducing daytime napping, light therapy, and establishing consistent routines around when to eat, sleep, and wakeup is recommended (20;21).
If you have included quitting smoking, exercising more, weight loss, and improving sleep on your list of New Year’s resolutions, you are likely not alone. A great first step is discussing your goals with your healthcare team so you can go through the pros and cons of all available strategies to determine which may be best for you and how to implement them safely.