Medical Examiner

This Year Will Be the Year

How to make New Year’s resolutions succeed.

Illustration by Rob Donnelly.

Illustration by Rob Donnelly

If you’re like millions of Americans, you’ll set a fitness resolution for 2015. Most likely, unfortunately, you’ll fail to meet your goal.

A study published this year in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that weight loss and improved fitness are among the 10 most common New Year’s goals for the 47 percent of Americans who make resolutions. The study also found that only 8 percent of New Year’s resolutions are successful. Despite overwhelming evidence of the health benefits of activity, only 20 percent of Americans meet recommended levels of daily fitness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


As a sports medicine physician, I want my patients to be active, and the reasons go far beyond weight loss. In just the past year, numerous studies have furthered the science on the extensive benefits of exercise. From treating depression to reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s to increasing longevity simply by running for five minutes daily, exercise is irrefutably the safest and most accessible medicine in the world.


Last year around New Year’s, I wrote about viewing exercise as a drug that physicians should prescribe to patients. On Tax Day, I advocated for financial incentives to encourage movement. Today I offer my five keys to making your resolutions successful in 2015.

No. 1: You need a goal.

Setting a goal is the initial foundation of success. In the sports medicine world, studies have shown that effective goal setting leads to improved training adherence. A goal can be anything you like: a 5-kilometer race, a swimming competition, even a ballroom dance event. The goal should be both inspirational and a bit outside your comfort zone. Inspiration is good reason to start training, and the fear factor keeps you motivated. In terms of timing, the best goal is several months away. Long enough away that you can still make a difference, but close enough to feel urgent.


No. 2: Be realistic.

When you set a goal, keep it real. In my office every year, I pull many would-be marathon runners from races with injuries, often because they have violated the “rule of toos”: too much, too fast. Data on injury rates among novice runners suggest that ramping up training volume too quickly is a surefire way to get injured. Injury leads to discouragement, which leads to dropping out. The first event you choose shouldn’t be a marathon or an Ironman. Take time to build your fitness portfolio and you’ll find success.


No. 3: Get social.

In my Ironstrength fitness class, the camaraderie among participants is what inspires everyone to work harder than they might on their own. A study of British rowers found that both exertion level and enjoyment increased when exercising in a group rather than solo.


Newer information on fitness commitments suggests that much of the benefit from meeting your friend in the park and going for a run can now be achieved virtually. Meaning while you’re in New York, you can compare your workout to a friend’s in Sydney. Virtual fitness communities have changed the landscape of peer fitness. Even half a globe apart, the benefits of peer-to-peer activity through new-generation fitness apps and tracking devices work wonders.

No. 4: Smile.

This can’t be stressed enough: If exercise is fun, you’ll be more compliant. Evidence suggests that exercise enjoyment and program adherence are strongly linked. The more fun an activity, the more likely people are to participate. Fun simply means you’re smiling when you’re moving, so make sure that’s the case.


No. 5: If you commit, you won’t quit.

If you want make exercise work, commit to a schedule. Pay a trainer and set up a weekly visit, or create or join a group fitness class that you must attend. Find a way to commit to a specific event or program and make yourself accountable to someone else. Joining a gym is a start, but it’s too easy to skip a workout when nobody’s watching. Making yourself accountable to a third party increases your chance of success—guilt works wonders.

As we head into 2015, my one hope is that everyone can get up and move. It’s simple, it works, and it will give you a better life. I hope to see you on the road!