5 Healthy New Year’s Resolutions for Men

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The new year is a time many men rethink their lives and make plans to get
their health back on track. Are you one of them?

At least 40% of adults make one or more resolutions each year, and at least
two-thirds of them vow to change something unhealthy about themselves,
according to a small study conducted by John C. Norcross, PhD, professor of
psychology at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. The popular
resolutions concern weight gain, fitness, and smoking.

WebMD examined these common objectives and added a couple more that men
might want to consider in their pursuit of good health. We then asked health
experts to offer advice on how best to approach the resolutions for maximum
success. Consider their suggestions, and see what works for you. Good luck!

New Year’s Resolution No. 1: Get Fit

When men want to get fit, they tend to aim for weight loss in the stomach
area and muscular definition in the biceps, chest, and abdominals, says Cedric
Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on
Exercise.

To achieve these goals, men do little cardiovascular exercise, and a lot of
resistance training — a strategy that Bryant says is not ideal.

“Men need to participate in a balanced exercise program where they are
involved in strength training that is for all the major muscle groups. They
need to participate in some aerobic exercise, because that’s going to help them
to expend energy and burn calories,” says Bryant, who also notes that good
nutrition is crucial to fitness success. “You need the whole package if you
want to get optimal results.”

For instance, a man who performs many abdominal exercises may become
frustrated because he is not able to obtain the “washboard abs” he
desires. He may well have beautiful, washboard abs, but a layer of fat may be
hiding them.

“Until you lose body weight and body fat overall, people aren’t going to
see the fruits of your labor,” says Bryant. He says there’s no such thing
as spot reducing — targeting certain areas of the body for fat and weight
loss. When people lose weight, it usually comes off all over the body.

To get rid of the flab and pounds, Jean Bonhomme, MD, MPH, a member of the
board of directors for the Men’s Health Network, suggests choosing an enjoyable
physical activity, even if it is not a traditional workout.

The idea is to move the body, doing anything from running, hiking, walking,
or martial arts.

With any new or renewed activity, it is important to start slowly, gradually
raising intensity. Starting out at a level that is too aggressive could cause
pain, injury, and a sense of dejection.

New Year’s Resolution No. 2: Watch What You Eat

Meat and potatoes have somehow been associated with manly men. “For some
men, it’s a macho thing to eat a lot of red meat,” says Bonhomme.
“We’re supposed to be the hunters, and we bring home the deer and the
elk.”

There is certainly nothing wrong with a juicy piece of steak, but
overindulgence can be a problem, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, a spokeswoman for
the American Dietetic Association. “Diets that promote large amounts of
protein and fat, like the low-carb diets, are really not the way to go. Men
have a tendency to do that more,” she says.

Low-carbohydrate and high-protein diets limit intake of particular grains,
rice, potatoes, pastas, fruits, and starchy vegetables. They sometimes
encourage meat and fat consumption to promote weight loss.

Studies show low-carb diets do help people lose weight in the short term.
After a year, however, researchers found no difference in weight loss between
the low-carb diet and the standard low-calorie diet.

Experts are still waiting for long-term data on low-carb diets. Critics fear
the diets will have negative effects on the heart, particularly since fatty
foods have been shown to raise risk of heart disease. Many of the restricted
foods on the low-carb diet, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, have
also been shown to prevent cancer, and lower risk of heart disease.

To lose weight, Taub-Dix recommends a well-balanced diet, with emphasis on
whole grains, fruits and vegetables. She says three servings of low-fat dairy
can also be beneficial. Besides improving bone health, some studies show
calcium may make it easier to shed pounds.

Instead of a beefsteak, try tuna or salmon steaks. A turkey burger could
replace a beef burger. There are also vegetarian meat substitutes.

If this does not sound appetizing, try mixing healthy items into the meals
you normally eat. For instance, a beef dish could be mixed in with tofu.
“So you can get some of what you want, but not enough to hurt you,”
says Bonhomme.

(Have you resolved to diet this year? Check out WebMD’s Diet Assessment tool.)

New Year’s Resolution No. 3: Go to the Doctor

Do you have a twisted ankle, back pain, blood in the urine, an enlarged
mole, or unexplained sadness lasting more than a couple of weeks? These are all
good reasons to see a physician. Yet plenty of men simply don’t do it.

Men make 130 million fewer visits to the doctor than women do, and that’s
not including childbirth visits, says Armin Brott, author of Father for
Life
. He says men tend to discount pain and see themselves as
indestructible, especially at younger ages. He says this general thinking stems
from ideas promoted in childhood — that big boys need to be tough and they
don’t cry. As men grow up, they are raised to think of themselves as providers
and protectors.

“We’re supposed to be taking care of our families, and we just don’t
have time to take care of ourselves,” says Brott, noting a great percentage
of the time men go to the doctor because their wife sent them. By the time they
go, however, their condition could have progressed to more troublesome
stages.

Promise yourself that if something doesn’t feel right, you’ll go to the
doctor, Brott tells men.

Besides treating ailments, a medical practitioner can screen for potential
problems, and keep a record of normal fitness levels. Health exams can give
doctors a baseline for things like blood pressure, and cholesterol. If a man
does not go to the doctor, it becomes harder for physicians to determine the
severity of a problem.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends the following screening
tests for men:

  • Cholesterol Checks. Have your cholesterol screened at
    least every five years, starting at age 35. Have it done at age 20 if you
    smoke, have diabetes, or have a family history of heart disease.
  • Blood Pressure. Have it checked at least every two
    years.
  • Colorectal Cancer Tests. Begin testing at age 50.
  • Diabetes. Have a test done if you have high cholesterol or
    high blood pressure.
  • Depression. Talk to your doctor if you’ve felt sad for two
    weeks straight, and have had little interest in normally pleasurable
    activities.
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Ask your doctor whether you
    should be screened.
  • Prostate Cancer Screening. Talk to your doctor about the
    risk and benefits of performing the prostate-specific antigen test, or the
    digital rectal exam.

Brott says it’s also a good idea for men to give themselves a regular visual
exam, taking inventory of how they feel and look.

New Year’s Resolution No. 4: Quit Smoking

Giving the nicotine habit the boot is one of the most popular resolutions
for both men and women. It is a difficult task, and for some people, success
does not come until after multiple tries.

Experts say the best way to deal with the problem is to get help. “You
get no extra points for being macho,” says Brott.

There are a number of resources for support. You may visit your primary care
doctor and/or join a smoking cessation program in person, online, or by phone.
You may consider medication, or nicotine replacements such as patches, gums,
sprays, inhalers, and lozenges. Or you may contact groups such as the American
Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, and the CDC’s Office on Smoking
and Health for help.

Robert Stenander, corporate services clinician for the Illinois Institute
for Addiction Recovery, recommends face-to-face support groups. The personal
interaction, he says, can help raise accountability, and can provide vital
social connections.

“You can describe and talk about what your issues are with regard to
your smoking cessation, and you’ve got other people who may be able to give you
some hints and suggestions as to what they’ve encountered,” says
Stenander.

A relapse is a real possibility, but it’s important to look forward and
avoid negative thinking. “Don’t give up,” says Stenander. “Don’t
get yourself in a defeatist attitude that you can’t do something. Let’s talk
about what you can do.”

If one smoking cessation method doesn’t work for you, try another one. You
may also consider different support groups as some may work better than
others.

Don’t forget that you can also enlist the support of family and friends.
Many former smokers have found loved ones as a vital source of
encouragement.

New Year’s Resolution No. 5: Ease Stress

Got stress? Who doesn’t? Men have their lion’s share partly because society
hasn’t given them the freedom to process pressures that well, says Bonhomme.
“A lot of times men will hold things inside … they won’t talk about
them.”

The pent-up negative feelings can cause feelings of anger and hopelessness,
promote destructive behavior, or manifest themselves in physical ailments.
Research shows stress can have adverse effects on the cardiovascular, nervous,
immune, and digestive systems.

Bonhomme suggests exercise as a “masculine” way of relieving
tension: “If you’ve had a stressful day and you work out, you burn off
stress hormones.”

It also helps to identify what is causing the stress, and try to deal with
the issue, says Brott. Sometimes, he says this may mean talking to your
girlfriend, wife, or a minister.

If none of these methods work, talk with your doctor, or a psychologist.