Setting Realistic Health Goals for 2021

It is the season when many of us are thinking about the year ahead.  If 2020 taught us anything it is that we don’t know what is coming (more on that later this week). But many of us set goals related to our health, fitness or weight.   So today we are talking about setting reasonable, attainable health-related goals. 

Like many who talk about goal setting, I recommend SMART goals.  SMART is the acronym that describes how to create goals that will keep you motivated and it stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound.

This year I am revamping my exercise routine.  My goal for aerobic exercise is to run for 45 minutes 4 days per week.  This is specific–I am defining exercise as running for 45 minutes (you could also choose a specific distance–for her 1100-day running streak, Laura Vanderkam defined running as having run at least 1 mile each day).  It is measurable–there is no doubt whether or not I have completed the task I have set for myself.  

I have looked at my schedule and determined that there are 5 days per week when I have an hour window during which to run, which means l have some wiggle room if the weather is bad or I need a rest day for some reason. I also know that I am capable of running for more than 45 minutes in general.  So, running 45 minutes 4 days per week seems achievable.  

Running 4 days per week is relevant to me because I am seeking to set a more balanced exercise routine.  I am also meeting the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines of 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week.  My goal is time-bound in that each week I am planning to accumulate the four separate events. 

Let’s apply the same concepts to losing weight.  The goal to lose weight is nebulous.  How will you know when you have achieved your goal? A better goal would be to lose 5% of your body weight (for most people this would be between 5-15 pounds) by May 1, 2021.  

This is a very specific goal.  It is definitely measurable, either you will or won’t be 5% lighter on May 1.  For most people losing weight at a rate of 1 pound per week is achievable, so a May 1 deadline requires an achievable rate of loss.  It is relevant, because a loss of 5% of body weight has been shown to improve a whole host of health parameters.  And it is time bound. 

The one thing this goal doesn’t do is define how you will lose weight.  What if, without a clear plan, you haven’t lost a pound on January 31.  Many of us would find this frustrating and might give up.  Process goals can help many of us avoid this trap.  

Instead of having a specific weight loss goal, maybe the goal is a behavior that will promote weight loss.  Examples of process related goals that might lead to weight loss include intermittent fasting Monday through Friday, cutting out all sugar sweetened beverages, limiting alcohol consumption to Fridays and Saturdays, and eating a green salad at dinner each night before the main course.  

Other impactful health goals to consider:

Setting a bedtime 8 hours before you want to get up each morning

Scheduling your mammogram or colonoscopy

Eating five servings of vegetables each day

Lifting weights for 30 minutes twice per week

Completing a balance training program (for those with osteoporosis or at risk of falling)

I would love to hear about your health goals for 2021.  Please share your goals in the comments. 

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