New Year's Resolutions: Those Little Things that Mean a Lot

ALBANY, NY (12/30/2009)(readMedia)-- "Last New Year's Day millions of Americans resolved to lose the beer belly, exercise daily, and cut out junk food. But before long, most of us were eating as many donuts and French fries as ever. We've long since regained the few pounds we managed to lose, and the treadmill is once again a place to hang pajamas," says Dr. Eliezer Schnall, a psychologist in New York City and member of the New York State Psychological Association.

"In all likelihood, our broken resolutions were too large to be realistic. While the majority of us know that modest commitments are most likely maintained, we feel that only substantial changes can make a difference. However, 21st century scientific research shows that even tiny lifestyle changes may give our health a big boost – the trick is choosing the right ones."

For example, the Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine recommends a full hour of exercise each day for good health. While that may be ideal, a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine of the American Medical Association revealed that exercising as little as one or two hours per week was associated with an impressive 40% decrease in heart disease risk. Even those who exercised less than one hour per week were at a respectable 15% reduced risk of heart disease, compared with those who did not exercise at all. A related study, published in the American Journal of Hypertension, found that when adults with high blood pressure performed as little as 30-60 minutes of exercise per week, they succeeded in significantly lowering their blood pressure.

These results follow on the heels of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, also showing the cardiovascular benefits of something seemingly small. Previous research had suggested that fish meals, if eaten often enough, may be advantageous to health. Yet further research, a 12 year study that followed over 43,000 participants, revealed that even one serving of fish, as infrequently as once or twice a month, reduced the risk of stroke in men by a whopping 43%.

Similarly, scientists have long known that moderate drinking may reduce the risk of heart attack. On that note, research published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests just how sensitive that relationship may be. Those who consumed alcohol as infrequently as once or twice a week still saw their chances of heart attack drop by 16%, even after taking into account participants' age and smoking status. Evidently, the risks of cardiovascular disease, the number one killer of Americans, may be reduced by something seemingly trivial – half an ounce of liquor. And another study presented to the American Society of Hypertension found that moderate drinkers have increased elasticity of both large and small arteries, and lower heart rates, both signs of cardiovascular health.

But it can work the other way as well: sometimes a very small dietary component can do surprising harm. Unlike foods with cholesterol or sodium, for example, where moderate amounts can be safely enjoyed, researchers at the Institute of Medicine have found that consumption of any trans fat whatsoever seems to increase the risk of heart disease. Used in certain brands of foods including cookies and chips, trans fat provides enhanced taste and a longer shelf life, along with potentially harmful health effects. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has considered a footnote on all trans fat containing foods that would imply that the ingredient, in any amount, could be detrimental.

"As scientific research further refines our knowledge of what's good for us and what's not, it becomes increasingly clear that a little bit of the right thing does make a difference, and a little bit of the wrong thing can hurt," Dr. Schnall continues. "So rather than again committing to unrealistic New Year's resolutions, let this year's be different. My list: exercise once a week, and maybe drink some wine at least as often, eat fish once a month, and an occasional snack with good old-fashioned fat – just not trans fat. Of course, it's important to check with your doctor before starting any new routines. But my doctor was fine with my taking a walk, eating some tuna, and cutting back on trans fat. Thanks to modern science, this year my New Year's resolutions are small enough to stick to, yet they pack a punch."


Dr. Eliezer Schnall is Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychology at Yeshiva University. He has published in such noted academic journals as Family Medicine, Psychology and Health, and the Journal of Counseling and Development. His research has been featured in the New York Times, on CBS television news, and in numerous other national and international media.

The New York State Psychological Association (NYSPA) is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in New York and is the state's largest association of psychologists. NYSPA's membership includes 3,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions and affiliations with county psychological associations, NYSPA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare. The Foundation of NYSPA's primary purpose is to increase public knowledge and understanding of psychology, the psychology profession and the science upon which mental health depends.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, to arrange an interview with the author, or to receive regular editorial and public information articles from the New York State Psychological Association, contact Diane Fisher at 800-732-3933 ext 106, or