With the end of the year approaching, it's not uncommon to start thinking about health goals for the new year, like losing weight, eating healthier, exercising and quitting smoking. But though we may have good intentions, choosing January 1 to make promises to get on a healthier track year-round doesn't always work. In fact, according to a 2017 Marist poll, about a third of people who make a New Year's resolution fail to stick with it.
This doesn't mean we should give up on setting health goals for the new year. But it does mean we might need to rethink our goal-setting strategies.
According to some experts, rather than setting a year-long goal at the start of the year, a more effective approach is to make "Monday resolutions": weekly goals that can be thought of as mini-resolutions, taking advantage of the natural momentum of our weekly cycles, giving us a chance to start fresh each week.
"If I mess up my diet on Tuesday or Wednesday, I know I can get back on track the following Monday," said Lindsay Schwartz, a busy mom of two based in New York, who aims to eat healthfully and stay fit but finds herself eating one too many of her kids' Charleston Chews left over from a birthday party or her own favorite indulgence, a handful of Lindt chocolates. There's no sense starting again on Thursday or Friday, or even Saturday, and Sunday is basically a "free-for-all," according to Schwartz. "Monday is the only day that will work."
Unlike other days of the week, Mondays offer the opportunity for a health reset, when you might set intentions, celebrate progress or simply get back on your plan.
"Monday can be thought of as the New Year's of the week -- a time to refresh and put our past bad deeds behind us and try and do better in the coming week," said Joanna Cohen, director of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Institute for Global Tobacco Control.
Peggy Neu, president of The Monday Campaigns initiative, agrees that "it makes achieving our health goals more sustainable. New Year's only comes around once per year, but Mondays come every seven days. You basically get 52 chances a year to stay on track."
Focusing on a new goal or health initiative each week that will build on the previous is also an excellent way to ease someone into a new healthier lifestyle, said Marjorie Cohn, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Monday resolutions can help create more tangible positive outcomes for people to recognize."
Reflecting on small successes can be empowering. "Setting mini-goals creates a feeling of accomplishment, and when someone feels positive, they tend to make more positive choices. It's the snowball effect," Cohn said.
This may be especially true when it comes to weight loss. "Losing 50 to 100 pounds seems impossible. The amount of work, the length of time, the reality of it seems daunting and can truly deter people from even trying," said Amy Shapiro, registered dietitian and founder of Real Nutrition, a New York-based private health practice. "When we break it up into weekly goals, it helps to see progress, feel confident, reach benchmarks and feel motivated to continue."
Using Monday as a cue for quitting smoking can be particularly beneficial, according to Cohen. "For most people, it takes multiple tries to actually quit for good. But there's a lot of self-learning that happens each time you try. With a weekly cue, you get to try again more often and learn more quickly and hopefully be more successful sooner, versus only trying to quit on New Year's Day," Cohen said.
In fact, research shows that Mondays are a natural opportunity to engage smokers and reduce their likelihood of relapse. "It's the January of the week, the day that smokers are looking for help," Cohen said.
The Monday effect on health
In a study titled "What's the healthiest day?" published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Cohen and her colleagues set out to determine whether there were any "circaseptan" or weekly patterns in health-promoting behaviors among individuals. The goal was to figure out whether the days of the week seem to make a difference in terms of when people are thinking about improving their health.
"It made sense from a practical perspective that at end of the week are parties, and you may not necessarily be at your healthiest. ... Maybe you are eating more food than you should. And the idea was that maybe, when you get to the beginning of the week again, it's behind you, and you might think of being healthier."
Cohen's team looked at people's Google searches from 2005 to 2012, particularly search terms that included the word "healthy."
"We looked at things like 'healthy recipes,' 'healthy diet,' those sort of things, to see if there were patterns in searches by day of the week. And indeed, at the beginning of the week -- specifically Monday and Tuesday -- more people are searching for healthy things, and then it sort of drops off as you get closer to the weekend," Cohen said.
In fact, Monday and Tuesday "healthy" searches were 30% greater than the combined Wednesday through Sunday average. "You make the connection that the searches are an expression of what people are thinking about ... and people are thinking about being healthier earlier in the week rather than later in the week," Cohen said.
The Monday Campaigns
Cohen's research revealed that for people who want to help others be healthier, it might make sense to reach them in the beginning of the week instead of a Friday or Saturday, when they are less likely to be thinking about being healthier. Her research helped to inform the Monday Campaigns, a nonprofit initiative that has taken the foundational concept of Monday as a health reset and applied it to health behaviors, providing individuals and organizations with tools and resources to help them achieve their health goals.
For example, "Move it Monday" developed "The Monday Mile," an activity designed to help people start their week moving together. "All you have to do is map a route wherever you're at, gather your group and have fun walking!" said Shannon Monnat, the Lerner Chair for Public Health Promotion at Syracuse University.
"Many organizations, universities and cities have adopted the Monday Mile activity and have seen great results," said Monnat, who has relied on resources from Move It Monday to help implement 30 permanent, easily accessible Monday Mile routes for Syracuse community members to jump-start their weekly physical activity goals.
Camille Casaretti, the PTA wellness chair at P.S. 32 in Brooklyn, started "Kids Cook Monday" in her home before bringing the initiative to her children's school about three years ago. The program encourages families to make and eat tasty nutritious meals together and provides nutritious kid-friendly family recipes, like an "eye see you stir-fry."
Casaretti's daughter is a fussy eater, but the initiative has helped her daughter become a star chef.
"My daughter is 10 now, and she can basically make an entire dinner meal now by herself from start to finish," Casaretti said.
"Just the awareness of fresh fruits and vegetables has become a regular conversation at our dinner table," she said. "When we go to the market, my kids know where all the vegetables are. ... They know how to read labels on packaged foods, and they are very aware of what is being marketed to them, and that helps them to make better choices in what they are eating."
"Kids Cook Monday" has been very well-received at P.S. 32, according to Casaretti. "Parents really enjoy coming out with their family and cooking a meal together. We have cutting boards and knives that aren't too sharp, and a variety of recipes, which are sent out in advance." Recipe directions include "kid," "adult" and "together" steps.
"The black-eyed pea stir-fry is delicious. It has kale in it, and we had just been introducing kale in the cafeteria as part of the school foods menu. The recipe is really great. It's really easy to make, and the kids, parents and staff all loved it. It was really a winner."
So whether your goal for the New Year is to cook more with your children, lose weight, get moving or quit smoking, just think: "Monday" is the new "January 1."
For more on the concept of Monday resolutions, check out the Happy New Week YouTube video.