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How to make 2024 a year of healthy meaningful change in ways that won’t stress you out

Whether you want to quit unhealthy habits, lose weight, do more exercise or a bit of all that, don’t put pressure on yourself to make huge changes instantly

The excesses of the festive season, and the false dawn of resolutions promised and forgotten in the first days of January don’t mean that many people are not looking forward to making 2024 the year they make a significant change in their personal lives – becoming a little healthier, replacing bad habits or just lowering stress levels.

But not everyone will attempt a “total overhaul”, as Vanessa Keane has decided to do. “I will turn 40 this year and really need to do something about my lifestyle,” she admits. “I have been an occasional smoker for a good few years and noticed that during the last year or so, due to work stress, my nicotine intake has increased.

“With that, I have been drinking too much and have also put on about two stone in the past couple of years as my diet hasn’t been great and I have been relying too much on takeaways.

“I have wanted to make changes for a long time, but there has always been a reason for me to put it on the long finger – a friend’s birthday, a holiday or even a party – these should have given me more incentive to get in shape, but instead I kept telling myself that I wouldn’t enjoy myself if I was dieting or not drinking and smoking.


“But, I had a close friend who was diagnosed with cancer this year and it really made me realise how reckless I am being with my health – so I have made a vow to stop taking things for granted as if I don’t make some changes, I could be next.”

Giving up one unhealthy habit is difficult, but to do three at once is a big challenge – however, the Dublin woman says she thinks it will be easier to “tackle them all together” as there will be no room for slip-ups. “I think that by trying to change everything at once, I will be much more focused than if I just did one thing at a time.

“So for example, if I stopped smoking but didn’t change my diet, I would be using junk food as a crutch – I know myself and I know this is what would happen. The hardest part for me is food related as the smoking and drinking are mainly only on social occasions, but getting healthy at home is where I need to be at.

“I gave away all the chocolates and edible treats I got for Christmas and as soon as New Year’s Day dawned, I had a fridge full of vegetables, salad and healthy proteins like fish and lean meat and having bought myself some new recipe books, I did some experimenting with new dishes and some batch cooking.

“I have decided to try to reduce my carbohydrate intake so I have been having porridge with berries for breakfast, soup and a low-carb soda bread for lunch and dinners of fish or chicken with loads of vegetables. So far, it’s going great – I haven’t had a drink yet and have no craving for cigarettes, so am going to allow myself a glass of wine at the weekend and, as long as I’m not partying, I won’t want to smoke. I’m taking things one day at a time and I hope that by the time my birthday comes around in November, I will be two stone lighter, a total non-smoker and a moderate drinker – I owe it to myself to reach that goal.”

Diarmuid Ring is also hoping to lose weight this year. “I am a grandfather to four small boys and really enjoy my time with them,” he says. “But they’re very active and love sport and I was very conscious, particularly with vaping, that when I was playing hurling with them in the garden, my level of fitness was not where I wanted it to be.

“I smoked as a younger man, but giving up vaping was extremely difficult – I found it very addictive and accessible. You can vape practically anywhere – I even found myself vaping in the middle of the night. Once I gave up, I turned to comfort eating, particularly around Christmas, as there was an excess of chocolates and sweets – I cleared a whole box of Butler’s chocolates so I have to stop that. I also launched Ring Property Consultants in 2023, so I need good energy to build and grow that in 2024 and beyond – so being fit and having lots of good energy is essential to me this year.”

Giving up vaping isn’t the only change the 56-year-old, who lives with his partner Maria in Limerick, has made to his life. “I started the 100 Days of Walking challenge in January 2023, and aim to continue that this year,” he says. “I’m lucky to have good support – my daughter Niamh really motivated me and just before Christmas we started doing fitness classes together at the University of Limerick Sports Hall – and we will continue that. I also love walking with Maria every day and I’ve a few business friends who I can run with – it’s really great having people to motivate you.

“Last year, I did Dry January and that turned into Dry 2023 and I think I will continue as I didn’t find it difficult at all and I’ve noticed that a lot of people I know have also given up. I feel better, brighter and fitter, and didn’t find it any challenge whatsoever – it has given me a lot more mental alertness and energy and I don’t miss the heavy head in the morning.”

The father of three says that finding others with the same health goals can make a huge difference and he would advise people to focus on getting through each day. “Find some like-minded people who will go out with you on a dark January night as it’s harder on your own,” he says. “Also, take things one day at a time, otherwise you will pack it in before you see any benefits. I found the community around the 100 Days of Walking was a great motivator for me last year, so I will do that again.

“It’s also important to keep the bigger picture in mind – how you will feel and look and the renewed energy you will have. That is my motivation and I’m going to treat myself to something nice for the wardrobe as a reward for keeping going.”

Psychologist Peadar Maxwell says it’s important not to make goals so difficult that it causes unnecessary stress. “Deciding to make a healthy change is a great thing to do, but don’t put pressure on yourself to make huge changes or to do so instantly,” he says. “New year’s resolutions are a great idea when they work or when we learn something from the experience – but they are not a good idea when they are unplanned, unsupported or used to beat ourselves up.

“My advice to someone thinking of making a change is to plan for it and to give themselves time. There are great resources such as the HSE quit campaign for smoking cessation or Healthy Ireland for tips and recipes for health eating – also talking to family and friends and recruiting a buddy is good support.

“Making small changes can give us confidence of knowing we can do things while taking us out of our comfort zone, which is usually a good thing for our brains. But, even small changes can impact our health and create opportunities to socialise.”

Jillian Godsil embarked on a number of healthy lifestyle changes in 2023 and says that she has seen both mental and physical benefits as a result. “I was encouraged to walk an hour a day, regardless of weather,” says the 58-year-old.

“I was also on a limited calorie intake, but mostly, was encouraged to think positively about my ideal weight – and managed to lose a stone and a half.

“I am nearly back to my ideal weight and will undertake another course this month, because, as I saw the weight dropping off and my fitness improving, I was very motivated to continue. I also gave up alcohol for that period, which I enjoyed and found the hiatus gifted me clarity of thought and much, much better sleep.

“I am delighted with the weight loss and improved fitness – 60 is the new 40, so they say, and I want to be ready to shake the guts out of every day this year. Aside from being physically fitter, I am also mentally much stronger and more confident. So, I shall continue in 2024 on this path and am actually excited to begin again.”

Maxwell says we shouldn’t berate ourselves if we slip up. “Coming up with a plan and trying out a new behaviour is a success in itself. If you do plan to try to make a change this year, it should be to your benefit. On a day you can’t stick with the plan, just pick a time for a walk the next day it or look up a healthy recipe for tomorrow’s meal. But don’t be hard on yourself as the steps you’ve already achieved show you’re taking more control of your health.”

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