New Year's resolution traps

Sticking to a New Year’s resolution can be tricky, but here are some tips to make them more attainable.

The best intentions, but the worst follow-through?

It seems that at the start of every new year, once the silly season's over, we resolve to do things differently this time around. It could be a commitment to exercise more, give up smoking or make some simple lifestyle changes to save money and live more sustainably. But a few months down the track the diet's out the window and the closest you get to a gym is walking past it on the way to a pub lunch. So, how do you stay motivated and avoid the pitfalls (and the monetary cost) of broken New Year's resolutions?

Gym memberships

As soon as the holiday period is over the streets, gyms and swimming pools of the nation are full of well-intentioned individuals trying to get fit or simply shed a few kilos. However, come Easter, many of these born-again exercisers have swapped the gym or the park for the couch and a bar of Cadbury's.

Australians spend billions on the fitness industry annually yet at the same time obesity rates continue to climb. So it seems that although many of us might actually join the gym and pay for memberships, we aren't necessarily making the most of the monthly fees.

And gym chains continue to pop up like a crossfitter on a burpee binge, offering something for everyone. There are the glitzy chain gyms like Fitness First and Virgin Active, women-only gyms such as Fernwood, 30-minute workout gyms such as Fit 'n Fast and 24 hour gyms where you can work out at 3am if you fancy it.

Most gyms require members to commit to costly memberships, and a past CHOICE investigation revealed that many of them also use aggressive sales techniques to sign up members and even more aggressive techniques to try to keep you, should you decide the gym is no longer the place for you.

Before you rush to sign up at a gym, why not stop and consider the alternatives? Swimming is cheap and offers a great low-impact workout, running can work for some, and the cheapest and easiest exercise of all is walking.

For more ideas, see our article on exercise myths and tips. There's even a guide on how to set up your own home gym for less than $100.

Beware the fine print

If you have your heart set on the gym, be very wary of special offers, promotions and verbal promises. Here's what to watch out for:

  • Don't take their word for it. Never take the salesperson's word when it comes to special offers; always take the gym contract home and read all the terms and conditions before you sign up. When CHOICE conducted a shadow shop of gym sales tactics, some of the gyms refused to hand over the contract they expected the member to sign. This contravenes the code of practice set out by the industry body Fitness Australia, and should set off alarm bells for the consumer.
  • Check the fees and charges. If you do have the contract, be sure that the fees listed on the contract are the same as the price you've been quoted. In particular, check the administration fees for setting up or renewing your membership. These are non-refundable even if you cancel the contract during the cooling-off period.
  • Cancellations can also cost. Some gyms charge up to $300 to cancel your membership. Check your contract to see what's required for cancellation. Even if the contract requires you to visit the centre to cancel in person, it's also wise to do it in writing – then you can prove the date you requested to end your membership.
  • Direct debit issues. Many gyms ask for payments by direct debit, but even when your membership expires it doesn't mean the payments will stop. Check the contract before you sign. If the fitness centre continues taking payments, talk to your financial institution.

What to consider before joining a gym

  • Does it suit your needs? Is the gym convenient to get to? What will happen if you move or change jobs? Does it provide childcare if you need it? Does the gym have enough machines/lockers/space? Visit the gym several times and at the times you plan to visit.
  • Ensure the gym is a Fitness Australia member. Members must comply with the Fitness Code of Practice which includes providing a copy of the contract to members and a cooling off period upon joining.
  • Don't be pressured into signing up on the spot. Consider a casual membership for a month or a few visits to see if the gym is right for you.

There's an app for that

Couch to 5k

Available for iPhone, iPod and Android, this handy little app will help get you into shape using a simple three-day-a-week workout program spanning nine weeks. It guides you through an interval training session step by step, all while playing music of your choice.

Quitting smoking

Even though it seems almost impossible to smoke anywhere in public these days, it's surprising that at last count nearly 17% of Australians still smoke regularly. And although kicking the habit is one of the most difficult things to do, it's worth it because:

  • smoking-related diseases killed 14,900 Australians in the 2004–05 financial year, which equals 40 preventable deaths every day
  • the major tobacco-related diseases include cancer, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • smoking resulted in more than 750,000 days spent in hospital and $670 million in hospital costs in the 2004–05 financial year.

A spokesperson for the Cancer Council, says that the secret to quitting requires commitment and usually an 'aha' moment as smoking is a complex behavioural, emotional and addictive behaviour and no one size fits all. Most people eventually quit by going cold turkey, and many people try several times before being successful, so don't let your commitment to quitting go up in smoke just because it doesn't work straight away.

Trapped – don't pay to quit

Despite cold turkey being the most successful strategy for giving up, there's no shortage of products and services that will be happy to take your money with promises of a magic bullet – from electric cigarettes to programs that promise you'll quit forever in just seven days… all for the right price, of course.

"People should be wary of any method, intervention or program that claims to have a 100% success rate," says the spokesperson. "Quitting is hard – so hard that only a small percentage of quit attempts last for 12 months or more."

Tips to quit

  • Nicotine replacement therapy and prescribed medications like Champix (which reduces the effects of nicotine in the body) can help with the addictive aspect of nicotine.
  • Cutting down, with or without pharmacotherapy, will increase the likelihood of quitting because it reduces nicotine dependence.
  • Getting counselling through Quitline (13 7848) helps to work through behavioural changes, and gives advice on quitting tips and methods.
  • Some people find hypnotherapy works for them (even though it's not supported by randomised controlled trials).
  • Understand there's no magic solution when it comes to giving up – it all depends on what works best for you individually, but there are plenty of options.

Help is only a click away

Although there are a fair few anti-smoking apps available for iPhone and Android, a recent review in the US of those currently on the market revealed that none meet the acceptable standards proven to help people kick the habit. However, there's a range of good online support programs available, such as QuitCoach.

Saving money and the planet

To many of us, ringing in the New Year can mean an opportunity to get the household budget in order. And in recent years, one of the biggest issues – and motivators to save more – is rising energy bills.

Doing so can be as simple as making a few small changes, such as turning off appliances at the plug. Other actions include choosing a high-efficiency TV, washing machine, dishwasher and fridge, which could save a household thousands of dollars in energy and water usage costs over 10 years, compared to low-efficiency choices.

These may seem like small changes, but they also contribute to the greater good. It's been estimated that if all Australian households cut their energy use by just 10%, there would be a saving of almost $2 billion a year – not so small after all.

Steps to save money and energy

  • Australian households spend nearly $1 billion a year on standby power. This could be slashed simply by turning many appliances off at the plug. 
  • Changing the thermostat on your air-conditioning or heater by just one degree can alter heating bills by 10%.
  • If you don't use a water-saving showerhead, you could be using up to an extra 48 litres of hot water per shower. That's up to $100 extra per year. 
  • Washing clothes in hot water is much more expensive, as a hot-water cycle uses up to 90% more energy than a cold-water wash.