A new year, a new you: for nothing

Make 2012 the year you get fit, lose weight, eat healthily and stop smoking, all without spending a fortune.

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The Independent Online

Up to three-quarters of us will make new-year's resolutions this weekend. But with finances short, sticking to them could end up being even harder than most years. The good news is you do not need to throw cash at your chosen resolution(s). All you need is willpower, which is free.

Kim Stephenson, occupational psychologist, said: "When making a resolution you need to bear in mind three things. First, make sure it is your goal and matters to you, second have a plan for its completion, and third have something that motivates you to take action such as a reward – non-monetary – to keep you on the straight and narrow."

This could mean taking up running, and having a goal of training for a charity 5k or 10k run; the reward could be a night out or even a foodie treat.

Mr Stephenson also believes we can reward ourselves simply by telling ourselves how great we are for sticking to our resolutions. He added: "Some 'expert' talking on TV or writing in a magazine isn't you, doesn't know what you want and doesn't have a clue what your abilities are."

Resolution: Getting fit

With many gyms competing to offer discounts on membership it can be tempting to sign up. But for most people, fitting in the time to go to the gym is enough to act as a distraction.

Running is one of the UK's fastest-growing amateur sports and it is free. For the monthly cost of a gym membership you can kit yourself out with trainers, but the best thing is you can choose when to exercise.

If going out on a cold winter morning seems too much, team up with a friend or check out websites such as RunningPartners.org.uk which can match you with other new runners in your area.

The NHS website NHS Choices at Nhs.uk also has free downloadable podcasts and fitness tips for those wanting to attempt a 5k in nine weeks.

If you'd rather stay indoors, TribeSports.com offers daily challenges which you can take part in online with other people who are new to exercise.

The site includes challenges which can be used to help you reach your goals, ranging from 100 crunches a day for 14 days through to how to run a 10k in less than 40 minutes.

If you want to try a new sport or activity such as yoga or pilates, HealthClubTV.com offers downloadable routines for 39p. You can download the clips direct to your laptop or mobile phone to build a tailored workout.

And if even that seems too much there are simple tweaks you can build into your day.

David Gothard, head trainer of Phoenix Boot Camp in Herefordshire, said: "Start the day with some simple yoga exercises. This will help you relax and build flexibility.

"Walk, or cycle the kids to school. While at work always take the stairs and always walk up escalators. At lunchtime, head out of the office and take a walk which will help to burn calories.

"Small changes like this might give you an appetite to try other exercises."

Resolution: Losing weight

Beware of expensive diets promising quick fixes. In the long run they will not work because you will simply go back to the habits that made you overweight in the first place, said Becky Stevenson, a dietician who works with Mr Gothard at Phoenix. "The cheapest way to lose weight is re-educate your eating habits. Most people are not aware of how much they eat."

Ms Stevenson recommends keeping a food diary and taking a good look at portion sizes. "Some people think it's fine to fill up on rice, but too much of anything will make you put on weight, even salad."

Losing weight and eating healthily should be combined. The NHS Change4Life website at nhs.uk is aimed at families and the NHS Choices website, also at nhs.uk, has online advice and support for those wanting to lose weight. The service is free.

Anne Milton, Public Health minister, said anyone wanting to lose weight should visit their GP first. She said some people who were extremely overweight may get help towards the cost of a slimming club such as Weight Watchers or Slimming World.

If you are tempted to join a slimming club, join one which does not ban food groups, said Ms Stevenson. Weight Watchers presently has a deal so you can sign up for three months for £50.

If you have an iPhone, Bupa has launched a free health-finder app which includes free diet tips. The app can be downloaded from the Apple "App store" straight onto your iPhone or iPad.

Ms Stevenson said going out or takeaways were often a dieter's downfall.

"If you know that you are going out and having a big slap-up dinner that evening, eat sensibly during the day.

"Always choose extra vegetables and salads to fill up on. Opt for dishes that are grilled, baked, steamed or poached rather than fried – check with the waiter/waitress. Select lean meats, or fish or vegetable-based dishes as a good, healthy, low-fat option.

"Choose tomato-based sauces and avoid creamy sauces. Be careful with portion sizes and don't feel obliged to finish all the food on your plate."

Resolution: Stopping smoking

The bad news is quitting cigarettes is probably the hardest resolution to make – nicotine is incredibly addictive. The good news is, if you have made the committment to quit then there is plenty of free support available. Ms Milton said: "If you are a heavy smoker your first call should be to your GP, who will enrol you in a quit-smoking programme. This can take the form of regular counselling sessions, free nicotine replacement therapies such as patches or chewing gum, and even group support."

Alternatively, you can also visit www.nhs.uk/smokefree or call 0800 085 5052. The NHS is also testing a free online quit-smoking service – you can take part in the initial survey at www.quitsmokingstudy.co.uk

Cutting down on alcohol

After the self-indulgence of Christmas, many decide to keep January a dry month, to save money and their liver.

Ms Stevenson said abstinence was only really necessary if you have a drinking problem. "If you are a social drinker always try to eat something before you start drinking. Don't drink alcohol if you are thirsty. Quench your thirst with water or a non-alcoholic drink first."

If you are worried about someone else's drinking, Turning Point (turning-point.co.uk) offers help to families.

If you are worried about your own drinking, call Alcoholics Anonymous on 0845 769 7555 or go online at alcoholics-anonymous.org,uk

And finally

If you've been sticking to your resolutions you deserve a reward, and you do not have to spend much to get it.

For example, many salons offer free or heavily discounted haircuts. If you live in a city, larger chains such as Toni & Guy and Vidal Sasson, have hairdressing academies where you can get a cut and highlights from upwards of £10.

Local colleges will offer large discounts on beauty treatments carried out by students, such as the London College of Beauty Therapy and the Manchester College.

January is also a good time to get a free day pass to a gym, but instead of working out you can use the spa facilities. Virgin Active, Nuffield Health and Fitness First are among those gyms which are offering a free pass.

Case study

Peter Howell, 41, is director of an engineering company and lives in Essex. He gave up smoking in October 2010. The father of three then got fit and lost several stone, thanks to a home gym and a couple of motivated friends. "I bought some gym equipment and in September 2010 we had a barbecue with a friend. I showed him the gym in the garage and he said he wanted to train. So we started on the Monday and since then we train Monday to Friday at 6am. A few weeks ago another friend started. We all do weights on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and use the cardio machines on Tuesday and Thursday. I might fit in a Saturday morning. I've also got a bike which I sometimes use to travel to work."

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