So Your New Year Resolutions Fizzled Here’s Why You Need to Put Self Care First

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At the start of the year, you probably made a healthy resolution or two. Maybe you wanted to lose a few pounds, or try to calm the worry tornado in your head, haul yourself into bed at a decent hour, or carve out time to exercise regularly. You began with the best of intentions, then…life got in the way. Sound familiar.

It does to us. As the editor of a magazine reaching 16 million women, and a physician and the director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the NIH, we’ve seen firsthand that healthy resolutions don’t always help women make lasting, significant changes in their lives. In fact, a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that only 40 percent of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions achieve their goals.

The consequences of women abandoning their health goals are greater than an unused gym membership or forgotten vegetables that go bad in the fridge. The scary truth is that women are getting sicker. In general, women live longer than men, but are often affected by disability in those later years. And women also face health challenges earlier in life. Death rates for women rose in about 43 percent of U.S. counties between 1992 and 2006. U.S. women are greatly trailing women in other high-income countries in terms of the chances of surviving to age 50.

So what’s the answer? For starters, the way we think about health needs to change—and a simple rebranding could be the key to a new approach. Let’s expand the concept of women’s health and start talking about the health of women. Tweaking this phrase is a signal that women need to think more broadly about their health. Instead of hanging your hopes on one issue (“I resolve to exercise three times a week”), it’s about looking at the bigger picture (“Exercising more will help my heart and give me more energy to handle my full life.

Approaching health holistically can be empowering and successful. Recognizing that even small shifts can make a big difference, start by focusing on changes that can have a ripple effect across your life. Extra protein at breakfast means more energy for a midday walk, which reduces stress, which leads to a better night’s sleep. (And quality shuteye helps you stick to your commitments, according to experts from the Sleep Disorders Centers at the University of Michigan.) One nurturing change leads to the next, and the next.

So if you have to make one resolution this year, make it a big one: to practice self care. Women spend so much time helping everyone else make 2018 your year to refill the tank in a new way. Put the health of you first, and the rest will fall into place.