I have a friend who happens to be a dedicated, self-described "gym rat." Annually, he bemoans the fact that right after New Year's Day, his efforts to get in a workout will be slowed and hampered by the influx at his fitness center of what he calls "resolutionists." Each year, just about the first week of February, he is once again happy with his routine, as the resolutionists have, for the most part, by now retreated from their short-lived cause of getting in shape.

Nearly half of us make New Year's resolutions for some type of self-improvement, such as losing weight and improving our cardiovascular health. Sadly, less than one in 10 of us actually make that happen. That said, even if you've fallen off the exercise wagon, you can still do yourself a lot of good, even if your activity level is occasional.

Many studies show active living can help decrease the risk factors for many chronic diseases including blood cholesterol levels, diabetes and hypertension. Further, moderate activity can improve your sleeping patterns and minimize your medical costs. The mental health advantages are also well known. Increased activity can:

• Reduce stress

• Improve self-confidence

• Prevent cognitive decline

• Alleviate anxiety

• Sharpen memory

How much activity do you need to accomplish any of this?

Published guidelines from the Health and Human Services Department suggested 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, which amounts to five 30-minute walks. The guidelines suggest that 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week, like jogging, would suffice. The problem is, 80 percent of us don't meet that recommendation.

Researchers haven't established a definitive time interval that would provide maximum health benefits but even a minute of hard effort followed by a minute of gentle recovery has been found to be effective. Research at Oregon State University suggests the health benefits of small amounts of activity – even as small as one- and two-minute increments adding up to 30 minutes per day – can be just as beneficial as longer periods of physical exercise at the gym. The nationally representative study of more than 6,000 American adults showed that an active lifestyle approach, as opposed to structured exercise, may be just as beneficial in improving health outcomes, including preventing chronic disease.

What's standing in your way? Mostly ourselves. In the end, if your health is important to you, you must make it a priority. You don't need that full hour per day to see results, but it does involve devoting some time. Put it on your calendar, as you would any important daily task.

The key is consistency. Start slow and work up. If you find yourself overwhelmed, you won't likely stick to it. Do something you enjoy and consider doing it with a friend. You're much more likely to keep at it when you're accountable to someone. I recommend my patients try to get that activity in as early in the day as possible. This is terrific for getting your metabolism off to the right start, not to mention your mental attitude.

We are constantly enticed with labor-saving technology. Instead of taking the elevator, use the stairs. Instead of driving a short distance, consider biking or walking. Swap the riding lawn mower for a push lawn mower. Try doing some sit-ups, push-ups or jumping jacks during television commercial breaks. Instead of seeking the closest parking spot, park far away from your destination and walk. And, instead of sitting through your childs sporting event, consider a walk during halftime and other breaks.

If you have concerns about certain activities, talk with your family doctor. Together, you can make a plan you can really live with.

Dr. Anna S. Wagner DO is with Advanced Family Care and can be reached at 816-988-9998.