Quit smoking, save money, lose weight and exercise more: the top New Year's resolutions, year after year. But if you make them, how can you keep them? Some tips from experts.


 1. Save money

Mark Marshall, a bankruptcy trustee and credit counsellor in P.E.I., does see an increase in the number of people looking to get their finances on track in January.

'People are more gung-ho to start something and see it through if it's a new year.' — Bernice Curran-Brothers, Health PEI RN

The key to saving, he said, is an effective budget.

"What I recommend is go through one month and keep track of every expense, like a ledger," said Marshall. "Then at end of the month, review your spending habits, see if you can eliminate any waste. Do you go to Tim Hortons a few times a day?"

Knowing where the money is going makes it easier to change habits, he said, but you still need discipline.

Marshall recommends clients set up two bank accounts. Once you know how much you spend on bills, leave enough money to cover them in one account, while the other account is for spending.

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Keep track of where every penny goes, advises Mark Marshall with Allan Marshall & Associates, then create a budget and stick to it. (Getty Images)

"It's almost like petty cash but you'd still have to monitor it through online banking, through your phone, or writing it down."

Many re-evalaute when debts get out of control, but Marshall said most people aren't living extravagantly, just beyond their means.

"The cost of living has gone up the past few years. Cellphones and cable bills weren't in our parent's budgets," he said. 

Marshall also advises people adhere to the old adage: pay yourself first. 

"If you can get into the habit of putting some money into maybe a Tax-Free Savings Account, maybe $100 a month instead of going for coffee, it'll add up quickly."


2. Quit smoking

"Traditionally we see more people in January," said Bernice Curran-Brothers, the registered nurse in charge of Health PEI's free smoking cessation program.

It operates year-round in five Island cities and towns.

'It really needs to come from a place inside yourself, where you feel it's something that's important to you.' — Bethany Vessey, dietitian and fitness trainer

"It's a five-week program for the heavy, pack-a-day smokers."

Curran-Brothers isn't sure if those who make quitting a New Year's resolution are more or less likely to succeed. 

"People are more gung-ho to start something and see it through if it's a new year," she said. "Although one guy who called recently, he picked Christmas as his quit day, so he could celebrate it every year."

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Gradually cutting down or going cold turkey, 'there's no right or wrong way,' says RN Bernice Curran-Brothers.

Many find the one-on-one counselling offered by Health PEI's program, which also involves homework booklets, helps them kick the habit.

"It keeps them accountable to have homework, and have to keep appointments," Curran-Brothers said.

With a counsellor, smokers pick a day to quit and come up with strategies to get there.

While some want to go cold turkey, others find it easier to cut down gradually, she said.

"They find it easier to practice simple little things like making their car smoke-free, making their home smoke-free. It's very individual. There's no right or wrong way," said Curran-Brothers. 


3. Lose weight (and get fit)

"We don't try to capitalize on the fact that it's New Year's and people are trying to make resolutions," said Bethany Vessey, a registered dietitian, certified fitness instructor and co-owner of Synergy Fitness and Nutrition in Charlottetown.

"[But] if you use the first of the year to reflect on current habits and things you've done over the previous year and maybe some changes you want to make, I definitely think it could be a good time of year to have that self-reflection."

Bethany Vessey

Bethany Vessey is a certitied fitness trainer, registered dietitian and co-owner of Synergy Fitness and Nutrition in Charlottetown. (Synergy Fitness and Nutrition)

First, she advises tackling one thing at a time: either fitness or weight loss.

If a client chooses exercise, Vessey recommends starting with a simple goal: work out for at least 30 minutes three times a week.

But just joining a gym in the New Year isn't going to cut it. Vessey advises asking the facility's trainer to help set up a routine and show you how to do it.

Then, when you feel ready to advance, ask them to help you revise your workout. 

"Starting sometimes isn't the issue so much as continuing," she said.

Second, set realistic targets. She uses the acronym SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

"Not just saying, 'I want to lose weight this year.' Well, how do you want to accomplish that? What are some of the things you might be currently doing that are preventing you from maintaining or achieving a healthy weight?"

Healthy goals for weight loss can be an average of one to two pounds per week, depending on the person.

Most of us know what we should and shouldn't eat, but writing everything down can be a powerful tool.

"Research has proven over and over that in nutrition especially, journalling is by far one of the most effective ways to keep people accountable and produce results," she said. 

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Most people need help setting and achieving fitness and weight loss goals, says Bethany Vessey, a Charlottetown fitness trainer and registered dietitian. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Vessey advises telling those close to you about your goals, so you feel both accountable and supported. 

But it's not easy. She said it takes about 66 consecutive days to change a habit.

"I work with people for a long time just changing one habit," she said, adding it depends on how motivated people are to change. 

"It really needs to come from a place inside yourself, where you feel it's something that's important to you."

And that's the problem with New Year's resolutions, said Vessey. 

"People feel that they're forced. 'Oh well, it's that time of year, I'd better do something,' which is sometimes not coming from the right place."