​Resolution Rx (part 3): Eating, sleeping and exercise

Woman running along the lakeshore path

Welcome to the third installment of our "Resolution Rx" series, where experts from UChicago Medicine weigh in with their best advice for successful New Year's resolutions.

New year, new you – or so the cliché goes. Unfortunately, most new year’s resolutions fail, no matter how well-intentioned they are. That’s because sweeping lifestyle changes are hard. What works for one person doesn’t always work for another. Add in genetics, health issues and environmental triggers and suddenly resolution success becomes an uphill climb.

With that in mind, we asked UChicago Medicine clinicians what resolutions their patients are setting this year. (Spoiler alert: Weight loss topped the list.) Then we asked them to share their best advice to help people have a fighting chance at success.

We've already shared our expert's advice on how to stop smoking, offered suggestions on the first steps you should take on a resolution journey, and how to make strategic resolution choices. Today we continue the series. (Don't miss our final installment next week.)

Eat some fiber (and watch out for gluten-free food)

Most Americans only eat about half of their recommended 25-30 grams of daily fiber, said Vijaya Rao, MD, a general gastroenterologist.

“Adding oatmeal, eating whole fruits and vegetables (not just the juice), as well as beans, legumes and lentils, is an easy way to boost your daily fiber intake,” Rao said.

"Unless you have celiac disease, gluten is not your gut's worst enemy."

Meanwhile, beware of trendy diets that call for cutting out gluten, a type of protein found in wheat.

“Unless you have celiac disease, gluten is not your gut’s worst enemy,” she said. “In fact, gluten-free foods can often be calorie-dense and low in fiber, which may not help you if you’re trying to lose weight.”

Get some sleep

Sleep is important for memory and mood. And research shows that a lack of sleep can cause unhealthy food cravings. For those with diseases such as epilepsy, being well-rested can even help avoid seizures.

“Plan your days to get enough sleep,” said neurologist Naoum Issa, MD, PhD, director of epilepsy research at UChicago Medicine. “Naps are glorious.”

(Editor’s note: We agree.)

Take care of yourself

Brian Toolan, MD, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in caring for feet and ankles, cautions that too many people dive straight into a strenuous exercise program. That can cause injuries – and frustration. Begin slowly. Don’t forget to stretch, warm up and cool down, he said.

"Don't do new exercise with old shoes."

“They begin with a very ambitious time commitment,” Toolan said. “But they forget this added exercise activity is a change that their body needs to adapt to. That takes time and should be gradual.”

Start with shorter time periods for exercise and build up gradually over weeks and months.

And, he cautions, don’t forget about making sure you have proper gear.

“Don’t do new exercise with old shoes,” he said. “Wearing sneakers that are worn down exposes the foot to more stress because they have less shock-absorbing cushioning.”