Chances are that you plan to ring in the New Year with visions of a thinner, fitter and healthier year ahead. Unfortunately, surveys show that 35% of Americans break their resolutions by the end of January. The key to success is to swap grandiose ambitions for smart, specific and achievable goals that do your heart good. That means making promises you CAN keep.

Here’s a look at heart-healthy New Year’s resolutions, plus science-based tips on how to make them work.  With the right success strategies and a little determination, you really can be your best, healthiest self in 2017–and beyond!

  1. Slim down. If getting to your ideal weight seems daunting, start with a more modest goal. Shedding as few as 7 to 10 pounds reduces risk for type 2 diabetes (a major risk factor for heart disease) by up to 70%, even if you are already pre-diabetic. A strategy that makes it easier to drop those stubborn extra pounds is tracking what you eat. In a study by Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research, people who kept a daily food diary had double the weight loss of those who didn’t keep any records.
  2. Fit in fitness. Instead of vowing to exercise every day for the rest of your life, commit to doing it for one month, then take that success forward for another 30 days. Also figure out what would make working out more appealing–would dancing to music make it a “fun break?” Would an exercise buddy help–or even a group session? And clip on a pedometer: Doing so motivates people to take 2,000 extra steps (one extra mile) per day, a study at Stanford University found. The BaleDoneen Method recommends at least 22 minutes of exercise daily. However, it’s important to check with your medical provider before starting a new fitness regimen to make sure it’s appropriate for you.
  3. Tame tension. Chronic stress takes a toll on every organ in the body, including the heart, by repeatedly activating the “fight-or-flight” response. Laughter is relaxing and improves blood vessel health, research shows. Try laughter yoga, which combines self-triggered mirth with yogic breathing to draw oxygen deep into the body. Also embrace the cuddle cure: Researchers from University of North Carolina report that holding hands—or even a 10-second hug from your significant other—significantly reduces tension, heart rate, and blood pressure. And it feels good!
  4. Shake the sugar habit. Drinking just one or two sugar-sweetened beverages daily raises risk for a heart attack or dying from heart disease by 35%, a Harvard study found. Since sweet beverages are the top source of sugar in the American diet, rethinking your drink is a smart first step towards going entirely sugar-free. As our October newsletter reported, fresh fruit is a healthy way to satisfy your sweet tooth: Studies show that people who eat the most fruit and veggies have the lowest risk for stroke. Try plain or sparkling water flavored with a spritz of lemon or lime as a calorie-free thirst quencher.
  5. Optimize your oral health. If you haven’t seen your dentist lately, here’s some powerful motivation to make an appointment: Keeping your gums healthy could help you avoid a heart attack! Conversely, having periodontal (gum) disease due to certain high-risk oral bacteria can actually cause cardiovascular disease, according to a landmark new BaleDoneen study published in British Medical Journal. To find out if you have this dangerous dental condition and how to safeguard your arteries–and your smile–if you do, check out our report on the next page of this newsletter.