Staying faithful to New Year's resolutions is harder for some than for others. People with heart disease are surprisingly less likely to make life-style changes, study suggests.
As January comes to an end, so does many people’s dedication to following through on their New Year’s resolutions.
For some, a dance with death would be enough motivation to quit an unhealthy habit. A recent study, however, found some disturbing results: People with heart disease are unlikely to change their lifestyle, even after a health crisis.
The study, led by Dr. Koon Teo, a professor of cardiology at the McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, found that only 4 percent of the 8,000 worldwide participants who had a near-death experience, like a heart attack, quit smoking and changed their lifestyle to include regular exercise and a healthy diet.
Deciding to get fit, eat healthy and quit smoking are among the top 10 resolutions Americans make every year, according to a study by the University of Scranton that was published earlier this month in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.
It’s no easy task to accomplish a resolution. Only 8 percent of people are successful in achieving their goal, according to the study.
“Behavior is extremely hard to change once habits are formed,” said Thomas Plante, a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University and adjunct clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. “Even after health scares, such as a heart attack, people find altering their diet, exercise, drinking behavior and so forth is very difficult.”
Undeclared freshman Kaylie Gomez, however, has stayed faithful to her resolutions for this year.
“I do it just for the fact that I look better and feel healthier,” she said as she took a break from her run around the UA Mall.
The ability to follow through with a resolution differs from person to person, and depends on what is going on in the person’s life at the time, said Anne Bowen, a UA psychology professor.
“If you’ve always loved peanut butter,” she said by way of example, “it’s hard to give it up.”
A successful resolution depends on two elements, according to licensed psychologist Leslie Becker-Phelps. The first is to get good advice, and the second is to think positively. Becker-Phelps is also the author of “Making Change,” a blog found on psychologytoday.com.
“If you are trying to lose weight or start exercising more, you are more likely to give up if you are self-critical,” Becker-Phelps said. “If you are positive with yourself, compassionate to your struggle and accepting that you might make mistakes, it’s more likely you will be more successful in the end.”
Plante says that although two-thirds of people who begin an exercise program drop it within six months, there is still hope.
“We can develop good health habits early in life, like in college, which will serve you well later,” he said. “Also, we can structure our environments to force us into healthy behaviors.”
Bowen said that having a friend to keep you accountable will help.
“One of the first interventions is to find a buddy,” she said. “Somebody to go walking or running with, and who prevents you from sitting at home thinking about eating cake.”
Gomez said that she runs with a close friend who is a more experienced runner to help keep her accountable.
“People think there are easier ways to do it, like taking pills, or that sitting down and being lazy is easier than getting up and going,” Gomez said. “It shouldn’t take a heart attack for people to realize they should start working out every day.”