Do New Year's Resolutions Ever Work?

There's something about January 1 that makes us all want to live healthier lifestyles. But do we actually make good on these promises?

It’s that time again—time to feign interest as friends, family members, and colleagues regale you with the details of the resolution they plan to make on Saturday, Jan. 1. Or maybe you yourself are one of the many people who decide that the first day of the New Year is the perfect time to make a change in your life.

But as people who write about health issues year-round, the editors at HCPLive beg the question: is a resolution made on Jan. 1 any more effective than one made on any other day? What is it about New Year’s Day that inspires people to do things they should’ve done long ago, and are these promises kept?

Here’s what the statistics tell us.

How many people in the US make resolutions?

According to Health magazine, one in three Americans pledges to change some aspect of his or her life for the better as Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest lead the count-down. Some estimate that the figure is even higher, and that as many as 40-45% of Americans make a pledge on the first day of each year.

What are the most common resolutions?

In the past 25 years, the top goals have been as follows, according to WebMD:

  • Lose weight
  • Exercise more
  • Improve relationships with friends and family
  • Quit smoking

No surprises there. But...

How many people actually keep these resolutions?

Not too many, unfortunately (which makes sense—logic dictates that if you really want to quit smoking, waiting until a certain date on the calendar isn’t going to make a world of difference).

As time goes on, the numbers decline, says Yahoo news:

  • After 1 week, 75% of people stick to their goals
  • After 2 weeks, 71% are still on target
  • After 1 month, 64% are chugging along
  • After 6 months, 46% are still making good on that promise

So with success rates like these, why people keep trying? Maybe it’s because there is at least a chance of achieving the goal. Or maybe because, like Charlie brown trying to kick that football (or a Cubs fan clearing his schedule in October), we hope that this time, things will be different.

And sometimes, they are—especially when there is added motivation to keep a resolution.

For example, if you pledge to spend more time with friends, keep in mind the 2010 study in PLoS Medicine which suggests that a lack of social bonds can damage your health as much as alcohol abuse and smoking, and even more than obesity and lack of exercise.

Or if you promised to go back to school, bear in mind that a 2007 study found that middle-age adults who had gone back to school (including night school) sometime in the previous quarter century had stronger memories and verbal skills than those who did not. In addition, several studies have linked higher educational attainment to a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

And if you need any added motivation to quit smoking, remember that the risk of having a heart attack starts to drop after only 24 hours after your last cigarette.

So yes, while some of us might be a bit cynical when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, we’re always in favor of people taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle. If you decide to make a pledge to improve your life, we wish you the best of luck. Below are some helpful links.

  • Common-Sense Strategies to Long-Term Weight Loss (University of Maryland Medical Center)
  • Helpful Hints to Kick the Habit (University of Maryland Medical Center)
  • 5 Healthy Resolutions for Women (WebMD)

Happy New Year!