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Get in Shape this Year: 7 Easy Changes to Keep Your 2016 New Year's Resolution

New Year's Day means so much more than swapping out a calendar and enjoying a day off work. To many people, this day offers a new beginning and a symbolic clean slate. But how many people actually follow through with their resolutions and achieve the goals they've set? Roughly one-third of resolution makers abandon their goals within 30 days. Only an abysmal 8 percent keep their resolutions the entire year.

For most people, simplicity is key to following through on these promises. Overly ambitious or vague goals tend to set you up for failure. When you trade lofty resolutions for concrete, realistic goals, your chances of success skyrocket. In that spirit, here are seven lifestyle changes you can easily incorporate to accomplish that wildly popular and equally elusive New Year's resolution of getting in shape.

1. Go for Simple Food Swaps

Suddenly going from the button-busting Bacchanalia of the holidays to an ascetic, low-calorie regimen can shock your system. A jarring transition to healthy eating without an adjustment period will make it more difficult for you to stay the course.

Instead, ease yourself into your new lifestyle by making small but effective food swaps. The difference in calories may seem small in the short term, but, over the course of a year, those saved calories will translate into major pounds. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Instead of nonfat blueberry yogurt, try nonfat Greek yogurt with blueberries. Traditional nonfat yogurt is still loaded with sugar, and its protein content pales in comparison to Greek yogurt. Plus, adding fresh blueberries will give you a healthy dose of fiber and antioxidants.
  • Instead of bread, try a lettuce wrap or bowl. By banishing bread from your lunches, you'll save hundreds of calories every day. For example, a six-inch serving of Subway's wheat bread will cost you 210 calories. Go with low-calorie fresh lettuce for sandwiches. If you prefer burritos, try a burrito bowl instead of a tortilla.
  • Instead of pasta, try spaghetti squash or zucchini. You'd be surprised how well spaghetti squash stands in for pasta in your favorite Italian dishes. You can also sub thinly sliced zucchini for lasagna noodles or zucchini sliced in a spiral cutter for pasta dishes.

2. Don't Stand for Sitting

Trying to sustain a healthy lifestyle when you work full time is a challenge, and it's even more so if you sit at a desk all day. For one, studies have linked excessive sitting to a long list of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Second, standing is an easy hack to sneak in calorie burning when you're tethered to a desk.

Consider that if you're a 150-pound person who works eight hours per day, you would burn 900 calories per day if you sat for all eight hours. If you stood instead, you would burn 300 more calories per day. This means you would lose one pound in about 12 work days without hitting the gym once. If standing desks aren't an option where you work, just try standing while you make calls or read reports.

3. Trade Crunches for Planks

To get the most bang for your buck, try doing planks instead of crunches. Planks don't just work your abs. They also give your entire core a workout, along with your shoulders and thigh muscles. As a bonus, the American Council on Exercise has recommended planks as a way to reduce low back pain.

Planks are also incredibly efficient and easy to modify according to your fitness level. Start by trying to hold a plank for one minute. If that's too challenging, try planking on your knees at first. Once you build your core strength, aim to do three plank sets, or one minute of planking followed by 30 seconds of rest three times, a few times per week.

4. Work Out at Work

If you can't stand all day in your cubicle, there are plenty of other ways to incorporate exercise into your day. First, consider swapping your chair for a stability ball. You'll improve your balance, burn more calories, and start chiseling that six-pack.

Turning your desk into a gym doesn't stop there. One "deskercise" that works the upper body is known as the Magic Carpet Ride. To do this move, cross your legs so your feet are on your chair. Placing your hands on the armrests, contract your core, and push yourself up one or two inches off your chair. Hold for 10-20 seconds, rest for 30 seconds, and repeat five times.

When you need a quick break from your desk, try a wall sit. With your back against a wall, bend your knees until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Try to work your way up to holding it for one minute. When that gets too easy, amp up the difficulty by extending one leg out or crossing it over the other.

5. Short on Time? HIIT It

Subjecting yourself to grueling, one-hour sessions on the treadmill is not the most efficient or effective way to burn calories, according to the latest exercise science. When you're doing cardio, think quality over quantity. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) allows you to exercise for less time while burning more calories. This is good news if you're looking for sustainable ways to get in shape this year.

The unique thing about HIIT is that not only does it burn more calories than endurance exercise in a shorter amount of time, but it also it revs up the metabolism so you continue to burn more calories even after your workout is over. To get a good HIIT workout in, all you need is about 20 minutes. You can do HIIT just about anywhere, in or out of the gym. Here's a basic HIIT treadmill workout to get you started:

  1. Warm up at 3 mph with the incline at level one for five minutes.
  2. Set the incline as high as you can sustain at a speed of at least 3 mph for two minutes.
  3. Set the incline back at one and jog or run for two minutes, preferably at a speed of at least 5 mph.
  4. Set the incline at three and a half and the speed at 3.5 mph, and actively rest for one minute.
  5. Repeat that five-minute pattern four times for a total of 20 minutes of HIIT.
  6. Cool down for five minutes.

6. Sneak in Exercise Everywhere You Can

One of the most common reasons New Year's resolutions fail is that people just can't find the time. Going to the gym five days per week for an hour each time is a noble goal, and, if you can accomplish it, more power to you.

If you have trouble carving out a continuous block of time, the good news is that small bouts of exercise are just as good as one continuous stretch. A 2001 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that two 15-minute bouts of exercise and three 10-minute bouts were just as effective at improving aerobic fitness and promoting weight management as one 30-minute continuous bout.

Almost anyone can find a five- or 10-minute block of time here and there to sneak in some exercise every day. Try these tips to work in more activity:

  • Make it a rule to stand while talking on the phone. Even better, take a walk while you talk.
  • Take advantage of breaks at work. Instead of reading or getting coffee during your 10- or 15-minute break at work, take a quick walk around the building or run up a few flights of stairs. 
  • Cut your lunch hour short. You can kill two birds with one stone here. By not going out to lunch, you can save calories and make more time to get active. Take 20 or 30 minutes to eat, and use the rest of the time to power walk. If the weather isn't cooperative, walk inside the building.
  • Fight for the worst parking spot. The farther away you park from your destination, the more steps you can sneak in. Crummy parking spots are an easy way to force yourself to walk.
  • Hold meetings on the go. Invite coworkers for a brisk walk to talk about your latest project.

7. Gradual Changes Are Key

A New Year's resolution as general as getting in shape can feel overwhelming if you don't break it into manageable pieces. You want to celebrate lots of small victories along the way to keep yourself motivated. Try setting goals for a week or a month.

For example, during the first week, you might set a goal of drinking 64 ounces of water every day. In week two, you might try incorporating some of the above office exercises. Also, make sure you document your progress so you can see how far you've come. If weight loss is your goal, do weekly weigh-ins to stay on track.

Becoming a member of the elite 8 percent of people who keep their New Year's resolution is as easy as keeping it simple. Focus on small changes, recognize small milestones, and you'll be astounded at your progress by 2017.

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