Skip extreme resolutions in favor of small, smart health changes you can actually stick to.

Chocolate bars
Credit: Tina Rupp

Resolutions are great, but let’s face it: The more radical they are, the more likely you are to drop them. And then feel bad about doing so. Instead, try adapting a few smart new habits based on science-supported statistics. The changes you’ll make to your routine are practically effortless (will you have a hard time, say, incorporating chocolate into your diet?), but they can have life-altering benefits.

The stat: Eat chocolate five or more times a week and you may be 57 percent less likely to have coronary heart disease than people who don’t.
The details: Studying more than 4,900 people, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, found that those who ate chocolate—dark, milk, whatever!—five or more times a week were less likely to have heart disease than chocolate teetotalers. While the study didn’t examine the physiological reasons for the results, experts surmise that the antioxidant flavonoids found in chocolate may help lower blood pressure, which in turn protects the heart.

The stat: Exercise moderately for 30 to 60 minutes a day and you may have up to an 80 percent reduced risk of developing breast cancer.
The details: According to the National Cancer Institute, research from more than 60 global studies shows that women who are physically active have a lower risk of developing breast cancer than their sedentary peers. One explanation: Exercise may prevent tumors from developing by lowering hormone and insulin levels, improving the body’s immune system, and keeping body fat low (having a high percentage of body fat is associated with developing breast cancer).

The stat: See an eye doctor when you detect vision problems as you age and you could decrease your risk of developing dementia by 64 percent compared with people who don’t get their eyes checked.
The details: Using data from Medicare, researchers in this study conducted by the University of Michigan Health System found that elderly people with vision problems that go untreated were more likely to develop dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease) than those who sought vision care. In fact, experts now believe that poor vision may be a predictor of dementia (not just a symptom, as was previously thought), if it is not treated.

The stat: Walk at least six miles a week and you’ll help protect your memory as you get older.
The details: University of Pittsburgh researchers found that people who walked roughly six to nine miles a week had greater gray matter volume (read: bigger brains) than people who didn’t walk as much. Increased gray matter volume has been linked to fewer age-related memory problems (typically, the brain shrinks as you get older, which has been shown to negatively affect memory).

The stat: Get your thyroid checked by your primary care physician and you may have up to a 69 percent lower risk of fatal heart disease.
The details: Study authors at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that women whose thyroid levels were on the high end of the normal range (between 2.5 and 3.5 milli-international units per liter) were nearly 70 percent more likely to die of a heart attack than those whose levels were lower, though they’re not sure of exactly why.

The stat: Lose 7 percent of your body weight if you’re overweight and you can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 58 percent.
The details: In an American Diabetes Association study of more than 3,000 overweight patients who had a condition called prediabetes (in which blood glucose levels are elevated, though not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes), researchers found that those who reduced body weight through eating less fat and fewer calories and exercising for at least 150 minutes a week were able to delay—or, in some cases, prevent—the development of diabetes. The study authors surmise that weight loss and physical activity improve the body’s ability to use insulin and process glucose.

The stat: Quit smoking and after five years your risk of developing cancers of the mouth, throat, and esophagus is cut in half. After 15 years, your risk of developing lung cancer is as low as that of a lifetime nonsmoker.

The details: Cigarette smoke contains at least 250 chemicals that are toxic or carcinogenic, all of which compromise your body’s ability to fight off infection, bacteria, and disease. When you stop exposing your mouth, throat, and lungs to these chemicals, your immune system can begin to work at its maximum potential again, according to the American Lung Association.