7 small, doable, meaningful New Year's resolutions you can start today

Looking for a New Year's resolution?

If you want one that will actually improve your health, don't overwhelm yourself, advised employee assistance program expert Mark J. Sagor.

>> Read more trending news

"Successfully changing eating, activity or smoking behaviors requires steady and sustained effort and the vagaries of motivation, and the persistence of habit frequently derail the process," he noted at the CompEAP blog.

"So if you can't rely on motivation to power your progress toward achieving your health goals what can you do? The answer is as powerful as it is counterintuitive: to make big gains you should start by thinking small."

That means while you may have a sweeping endgame in mind - losing 50 pounds, getting off insulin shots, running a marathon - a more modest New Year's resolution might be far more suitable.

Here are seven goals that are minor, yet beneficial. All of them will encourage sustained effort and help with larger goals down the road:

Sure, walking 2 or 3 miles a day would be a great habit for the New Year. But if you're not ready to immerse yourself in walking, How Stuff Works Health notes, "Significant health benefits can be realized by simply ceasing to sit and starting to move. The risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, non-insulin-dependent diabetes, and colon and breast cancers can be reduced just by becoming more physically active." These three habits from Health.com will start you in the right direction:

  • Use the restroom one floor down (or up) at work instead of heading for the one just down the hall.
  • Ditto with your coffee.
  • Walk over to your co-worker's desk instead of communicating digitally

Make a simple sugar-replacement shake each afternoon

To avoid the negative health impact of too much sugar in the diet - including higher risk of heart disease - the American Heart Association recommends a daily target of no more than six level teaspoons for women and nine for men. But instead of a sweeping ban on all processed sugar, which is bound to backfire, resolve to take one simple step to cut down on sugar. AHA recommends sipping smoothies in the afternoon instead of having a sugary snack or sweetened coffee drink. Blend a half cup of frozen fruit (no added sugar) with 1/2 cup plain, unsweetened, low-fat Greek yogurt and 1/2 cup low-fat milk. Don't have a blender? Try mixing small pieces of fresh fruit with yogurt and milk and freezing for an hour.

Start making your own salad dressing

The heart health benefits of replacing saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats, such as monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are legion, from reducing the risk of heart disease to benefiting insulin levels and blood sugar controls. Still, it can seem overwhelming to introduce the MUFA/PUFA habit all at once. Instead, make the simpler change of switching to homemade salad dressing made with olive oil. Use it on all your homemade salads and as a marinade. After a month has gone by, consider switching to olive oil in other recipes, from pan popcorn to stir-fries and homemade pasta sauce.

Aim to cut 50 calories a day

According to Health.com, cutting just 50 calories a day, or even a couple of days a week, can cut down on your food intake over time. More importantly, it helps you to focus more on small things you can do instead of crashing your whole diet because a big goal seems overwhelming. Their tips for cutting 50 calories include:

  • Downsize your glass of wine before dinner from 5 to 3 ounces.
  • Invest in an oil spritzer for cooking instead of pouring from the bottle.
  • Skip the 30 calories per tablespoon of barbecue sauce in favor of grilling with fresh herbs and basting with fat-free (and low-salt) broth.

Exercise at your desk

Instead of complaining that you can't get to the gym and are gaining weight each time you commute, dedicate yourself to one exercise per work day from Forbes' list of the 10 best exercises to do at your desk.

Go for Meatless Mondays

There are wide-ranging benefits to going vegetarian, according to Harvard Women's Health Watch. "Compared with meat eaters, vegetarians tend to consume less saturated fat and cholesterol and more vitamins C and E, dietary fiber, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, and phytochemicals (plant chemicals), such as carotenoids and flavonoids. As a result, they're likely to have lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and lower body mass index (BMI), all of which are associated with longevity and a reduced risk for many chronic diseases." If you've vowed to become vegetarian before but have always fallen short, try a simpler resolution: Meatless Mondays. You'll get one-seventh of any potential health benefits and once you see how inexpensive and delicious the cooking (and restaurant) options are, you may be encouraged to eat vegetarian even more often.

Improve the air you breathe with houseplants

If your motivation to get moving is truly at a low ebb, make a resolution where you don't do the work yourself. Get a few inexpensive houseplants for your home and workspace. They can improve indoor air quality by scrubbing pollutants, increasing relative humidity and decreasing allergy-provoking dust accumulation. Just remember to take extra care to keep the plants alive!