As 2023 draws to a close, many people begin thinking about new goals and intentions for the fresh year ahead. Whether it’s setting new fitness goals in the gym, improving mental health or releasing stress around finances, the new year brings an opportunity to initiate meaningful changes.
A previous Forbes Health survey on New Year’s resolutions for 2023 found that survey respondents were mainly focused on improving their mental health. However, the latest release of these poll results indicates a shift in focus toward physical health as a primary goal in 2024, with the majority of respondents citing fitness as a top resolution for the new year.
While an overall shift in focus from mental to physical wellness is noteworthy, prioritizing fitness can have wide-reaching impacts. In fact, experts agree that improving fitness may also have a positive effect on mental health, too.
Top 2024 New Year’s Resolutions
When it comes to New Year’s resolutions for 2024, a Forbes Health/OnePoll survey of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted in October 2023 found that nearly 48% of respondents noted that improving fitness was their top priority, with just 36% focusing on their mental health.
That’s a big shift in focus from 2023 New Year’s resolutions. Last year, 45% of respondents noted an improvement in mental health as their top priority, with just 39% citing improved fitness as their number one goal.
Still, mental health remains top of mind for many respondents, and improvements in both mind and body are tightly linked. In this year’s poll, when respondents were asked whether improving mental or physical health was more important to them in the coming year, a whopping 55% said that these two goals are equally important.
What’s more, research shows that physical fitness may have a positive impact on one’s mental health. In fact, a 2023 review of studies examining the effects of physical activity on mental health found that exercise may help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, boost one’s mood and improve sleep quality .
Other popular 2024 New Year’s resolutions from the Forbes Health/OnePoll survey include improving finances (38.2%), losing weight (33.8%) and improving one’s diet (31.6%). Meanwhile, fewer people are focusing on goals like learning a new skill (8.8%), making more time for hobbies (7.1%) and traveling more (5.9%).
How Physical Health Impacts Mental Health
“There are many benefits of physical activity on mental health,” says Sabrina Romanoff, Psy.D., a Harvard-trained clinical psychologist and Forbes Health Advisory member based in New York City. “Exercise demonstrates perseverance and drive working toward a goal,” Dr. Romanoff explains, adding that exercise also allows us to escape self-imposed limitations and prove to ourselves that we’re stronger than we may have previously thought.
“This helps with confidence when facing challenges instead of succumbing to self-doubt,” says Dr. Romanoff. “It’s a tangible instance of when determination exceeds skill and this will bleed into other facets of your life.”
The positive impact of exercise on one’s mental health can also be attributed to how exercise impacts our brain chemistry. “Exercise increases the amount of happy and excitatory neurotransmitters in your brain, including endorphins and dopamine,” says Judy Ho, Ph.D., a triple board-certified and licensed clinical and forensic neuropsychologist and Forbes Health Advisory Board member, based in Manhattan Beach, California.
“Mental and physical health are inextricably linked,” says Dr. Ho, adding that physical activity may offer the following benefits:
- Improved mood
- Emotion regulation
- Improved sleep
- Increased focus and attention
- Stress management
- Reduced risk for conditions like major depression and panic disorder
- Improved confidence and self-esteem
Engaging in less strenuous activities like mindfulness and journaling and practicing emotion regulation strategies can also aid in mental and physical health, notes Dr. Ho. Indeed, the recent Forbes Health/OnePoll survey findings suggest more people intend to use technology like online therapy, fitness apps and calorie counter apps to help create and stick to healthy habits in the new year.
Despite a small shift away from focusing on mental health in 2024, a large percentage of poll respondents are still planning on using meditation apps (32.6%) to stick to their resolutions, while nearly 18% plan to use online therapy providers like Betterhelp or Cerebral. This is a significant increase from the 2022 survey, which showed 10% of respondents sharing intentions of using an online therapy provider and 17% saying they plan to use a meditation app.
The Average New Year Resolution Lasts Less Than 4 Months: Expert Tips on Persevering
The intent to keep one’s New Year resolution only lasts two to four months before goal-setters give up or forget about it, according to Forbes Health survey findings. Just under one in 10 (8%) say their resolutions have lasted a month, 21.9% report two months, 22.2% report three months and 13.1% say their resolutions have lasted four months in the past.
“We often fail in achieving and keeping New Year’s resolutions because they focus on a specific outcome (e.g., a precise body weight),” says Dr. Romanoff. When individuals focus on a particular outcome, it can be challenging to persevere in your efforts if results are not immediately apparent, she explains. “Goals take time, and many folks become discouraged and eventually relent before attaining the goal.”
Experts agree that setting resolutions that align with one’s personal values (instead of a specific outcome) can serve as a great source of motivation. Additionally, setting short-term goals to stay motivated along the way toward bigger-picture resolutions can be helpful. To help individuals stick to their goals, our experts offer the following advice.
Link Your Goals to Your Values
“Values are never actually achieved, rather they operate as a compass, constantly informing and guiding our behaviors,” says Dr. Romanoff. Instead of focusing on a specific number on the scale, she suggests using your specific motivation to lose weight—whether it be improved health or self-esteem—as a value to incentivize your goal. This can help ground your resolutions in purpose and contextualize them in a meaningful way, Dr. Romanoff says.
Create Short-Term and Long-Term Goals
One of the biggest factors that lead people to abandon their resolutions is setting goals that are unrealistic, according to Dr. Romanoff. “Divide your goals between those that can be accomplished either in the long or short term,” she suggests, adding that, “creating an action plan that links the long-term goal with the near-term achievable and realistic goals will ensure success.”
Jeff Temple, Ph.D., professor, psychologist and associate dean of research at UTHealth’s School of Behavioral Health Sciences and Forbes Health Advisory Board member suggests setting goals that are specific and measurable. “You’re more likely to succeed if your goal is: ‘I want to lose one pound per month for six months’ as opposed to: ‘I want to lose weight,’” he says. It may also be helpful to enlist an encouraging, non-critical friend to keep you accountable, he says.
Dr. Ho recommends starting with small changes to help build confidence. “Things that you can shift in your habits a little at a time, beginning with something you can accomplish within a few minutes to 15 minutes a day,” she says. Some small changes Dr. Ho suggests are taking a walk around the block during your lunch break, tracking how much water you drink, doing a five to 10 minute yoga or stretch routine upon waking up and engaging in a hobby you enjoy for 10 to 15 minutes like knitting, playing music or drawing.
Make a Plan to Overcome Obstacles
Dr. Ho suggests assessing potential barriers and making a plan to navigate those barriers before they happen. “This involves visualizing the barriers that might get in the way of your goals, and then making ‘if/then’ plans for each barrier,” she says. For example, if you’re tempted to skip a morning workout, put on your running shoes and drive to the gym anyway, “because once you get to the gym, you’re much more likely to get out of the car and go in, at least for a few minutes,” notes Dr. Ho.
Be Flexible—and Reward Yourself
Dr. Romanoff encourages individuals to have an easy grasp on their resolutions, and let go of any rigid thinking around them, as accommodating change and being adaptive can help resolutions stick.
Another key to sticking with your New Year’s resolutions? Rewarding yourself for steps taken toward achieving your goals. “This will shape and reinforce improvement and sustain motivation,” says Dr. Romanoff.
To do this, Dr. Romanoff recommends setting measurable benchmarks toward your goal. “For example, if you walk 5,000 steps daily in the next month, buy yourself special headphones to use on your walks. If you exercise four days per week for the next three weeks, buy yourself a new workout set you’ve been eyeing.”
Dr. Romanoff also suggests giving yourself a reward that extends beyond purchasing something, but rather focuses on how you spend your time or involves a valued activity. As a reward for making progress toward your resolution, Dr. Romanoff recommends giving yourself a spa night, eating your favorite dessert or giving yourself permission to have a lazy morning in bed.
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The Pressure to Set New Year’s Resolutions: How to Find Goals That Stick
As the new year creeps closer, 61.7% of the Forbes Health/OnePoll survey respondents say they feel pressured to set a New Year’s resolution. Furthermore, many respondents plan to commit to multiple goals, with 66.5% stating they plan on making three or more resolutions for the year ahead.
Experts recommend setting resolutions that are both meaningful and achievable to ensure you don’t lose sight of your goals and progress. “Planning and asserting goals are the first step to achieving them,” Dr. Romanoff says, adding that resolutions can act as a compass and offer direction and guidance in our daily lives.
Setting resolutions that reflect your values and long-term aspirations can help connect your goals “with something that is truly important to us, rather than something that is important to someone else or something that is done for appearances’ sake,” says Dr. Ho. What’s more, establishing resolutions that reflect your values and long-term aspirations can help encourage tangible behavior changes, explains Dr. Romanoff.
“Physical and mental health are inextricably linked,” notes Dr. Temple, adding that “improving your mental health will improve your physical health and vice versa.” This means that those who want to improve their physical health will ultimately improve their mental health, too—even if that’s not a direct goal.
This online survey of 1,000 U.S. adults who plan to make a New Year’s Resolution for 2024 was commissioned by Forbes Advisor and conducted by market research company OnePoll, in accordance with the Market Research Society’s code of conduct. Data was collected on Oct. 23, 2023. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 points with 95% confidence. This survey was overseen by the OnePoll research team, which is a member of the MRS and has corporate membership with the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR). If you have any questions about this survey, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Mahindru A, Patil P, Agrawal V. Role of Physical Activity on Mental Health and Well-Being: A Review. Cureus. 2023;15(1):e33475.
- Mental health of older adults. World Health Organization. Accessed 11/13/2023.