For New Year's resolutions, go for gradual changes for a big effect

How to keep that New Year's resolution? Take it slow.

Nearly everyone has made New Year's resolutions, and nearly always they do not survive January. That's often because we tend to overreach. The truth is, real change is often subtle, gradual, the way leaves slowly come out in spring. So in 2015, try to act like the leaves, with ideas for gradual changes that can have a big effect on your life.

Gradual weight loss

With nearly two-thirds of Americans overweight or obese, it's hardly surprising that weight loss is among the most common New Year's resolutions. It's also one of the most commonly abandoned. Why?

Generally, people make unrealistic — and sometimes unhealthful — weight loss resolutions. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that a person lose no more than 1 or 2 pounds per week. It also recommends that this take place through modest calorie reduction, moderate but consistent exercise and long-term lifestyle changes.

One problem with fad diets is that often what you are losing is water weight. Once you return to a normal diet, the weight generally will be regained. Another problem is that fad diets often are nutrient-poor and can cause long-term health problems, such as muscle wasting, if followed for too long. Many of them can also be too low-calorie for diabetics.

Of course, the problem with the slow-and-steady method of weight loss is that it's slow. It takes time, patience and commitment. However, the more slowly you lose the weight, the more likely you are to keep it off.

Daily detoxing

Detoxing is incredibly popular nowadays, and there are certainly arguments for why detoxifying the body is so good for your health. It can help rid the body of pesticide residues and heavy metals resulting from exposure to environmental toxins in our air, water and food. It can improve liver function and thus result in both improved digestion and a more effective immune system to ward off illness and disease. It can also help with weight loss, though it should not be seen as a substitute for healthful living.

The problem is that many of the "detox diets" being offered are quick-fix schemes that can be harsh or dangerous to the system. Like many fad diets, they are, again, nutrient-poor, generally unsafe for diabetics and can cause more health problems than they claim to cure. Electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, nausea, diarrhea and abdominal pain are common complaints of people on radical detox programs. Also, if these detox programs also call for enemas, there is a danger of a perforated colon, which is considered a medical emergency.

A healthier, sustainable alternative is a daily detox.

This can be as simple as drinking green tea, water with lemon juice or diluted apple cider vinegar. Drinking six to eight glasses of filtered water a day still remains one of the best ways to flush the system out.

It can also mean eating foods known for their detoxifying properties: high fiber beans, lentils and other legumes, as well as cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli or kale, and high-pectin fruits like apples. Foods rich in antioxidants, such as berries, are also considered to have strong detoxifying properties.

These foods also will help with general health in other ways and provide you with a wealth of minerals, vitamins, dietary fiber and phytonutrients that can help strengthen immunity, improve digestion, increase energy levels and even prevent chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease or cancer.

15 minutes of quiet

A frenetic pace seems permanently built into American culture. Unfortunately, the resulting stress is a great and silent killerlinked to conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, weight gain and sleep disorders, to name a few.

One of the healthiest and most do-able resolutions you can make for 2015 is to take 15 minutes out of each and every day to simply be.

Yoga is a great discipline for lowering stress levels, and many websites have suggestions for 15-minute routines that require only a few poses. A brief walk through a park or garden is another way to let the stress simply roll away. And taking 15 minutes out of the day for a contemplative activity, such as meditation or prayer, can also recharge your emotional batteries and leave you more relaxed and productive.

Brian Wu is a medical student and founder of the Storybook Illustrated Guides about health and medicine,

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