FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Many of us make New Year's resolutions to improve our lives. Two areas that are often targeted are losing weight and increasing physical activity. Improving either of these areas can boost our overall health.

Achieving a few hours of activity a week or a reduction of 10 percent of body weight can reduce the risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and more.

The trick is to follow through on the resolution.

On the surface, weight loss seems easy. Reduce how much we eat, exercise a little more and the weight will fall off, right? This is not the case for most people because of many metabolic, hormonal and other processes within the body that make losing weight much harder than it was to gain.

The good news is people can shed those pounds without having to go to the Biggest Loser campus. The key to having longterm success is making small daily lifestyle changes.

Plan the shopping list and weekly menu so that you control what to eat rather than relying on fast food because of a lack of planning. Re-establish the family meal by sitting down at the dining room table with the television, cell phones and other electronics off to enjoy a family meal. Be the investigator by taking time to read nutrition labels at the grocery store and before you go to restaurants.

Do you have to do all those things tomorrow to be successful? No, but it is important to choose one or two changes you can make tomorrow and to stick with them. As you master those changes, add two more. Master those, and so on.

The most important thing you can do is eliminate the "free day" where you allow yourself to eat whatever you want. Remember that it is harder to lose weight than gain it statement? That '"free day" can derail all the progress you have made the last one or two weeks or longer.

If you are determined to get more active, you may be wondering how much and how often you should be exercising? The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans states we need 2 1/2 hours of moderate intensity activity weekly just to achieve health benefits. Activity of up to five hours weekly or even more may be needed to lose or maintain your body weight.

Start small and decide what you enjoy most. Hate running? Maybe zumba is your thing then. Are you more of an outdoors person? Find a local state or national park to hike a few times a month. Too busy taking care of the kids? Bring them along for a family walk or have a family sport night playing one of their favorite sports.

Find something that you can consistently do that you enjoy doing. As with any significant change to activity level, please consult your doctor prior to starting your exercise program.

While we often make these resolutions with the best intentions, how can we ensure it is as important to us in August as it is today? Goal setting is a great place to start to ensure you can remain motivated all year. When determining your goals, be specific in what you want from yourself. Saying, "I want to lose weight" does not have the same authority as saying, "I want to lose five pounds by March and 20 pounds by December."

This allows you to monitor your progress and holds you accountable throughout the year. Also in your goal setting, you need to develop a plan (that five pounds is not going to fall off by March on its own). Decide on how you will decrease how many calories you eat and drink or how to increase your activity. Use this plan as a blueprint to meet those progressive goals throughout the year.

Unfortunately, there is no miracle pill or program that will make you lose weight and keep it off no matter what you hear and see. It takes making difficult changes in the way you live your life.

Page last updated Thu January 12th, 2012 at 10:45