UPDATE: There is a strong tendency for those of us who write health-related columns to use the first column of the new year to encourage readers to set health-related goals. I have given in to this urge in the past, but I'm not sure that setting a long list of goals for the new year in any area of our life is all that helpful for any of us. In fact, if we set too many goals of any kind, we are almost sure to fail in at least some of them. It may be that most of us do better with goals if there are not so many of them - and if they seem easy to accomplish. That way, we can make a few small changes and learn to live with these changes before trying to make other changes.

For the next few weeks, I'd like to help you make some healthful lifestyle changes in your life. I'll try to make them easy to accomplish, but will only present a few at a time. If you will make the change in lifestyle suggested each week, in a few weeks your lifestyle could be significantly affected. Of course, if I suggest a change that you have already made, you can just ignore it and wait for the next suggestion.The changes I will suggest will relate mostly to exercise and eating. If you smoke cigarettes or drink excessively you will need to address these issues with your personal physician, because these changes are difficult to make without some medical help. However, if you have a problem wearing your seat belt regularly, you need to take a minute before driving and start developing this habit.

Suggestion No. 1: Begin an exercise program. One of the most important changes you can make for the new year is to begin a formal exercise program. Research has clearly shown the positive health benefits associated with regular exercise, and sooner or later you need to get active if you want to be really happy.

The first step for beginning an exercise program is choosing the type of large muscle activity you would be most interested in doing. If you have no exercise machines in the house, you might be most successful beginning a walking program. This would require bundling up when the weather is cold and going outside, or finding a mall or other indoor area for your walk. Otherwise, you could walk up and down stairs in your house or get a small stool (from 10 to 15 inches tall) and step up and down on it. If you have an exercycle, rowing machine or cross-country ski machine, you could use it for your program. A jump rope or aerobic tape could also be used.

CAUTION: If you have any question about your health that makes you worry about the safety of doing exercise, check with your family doctor before starting. Otherwise, just decide what exercise you will use and get started!

It is important that you do not overdo this first week. Because we want to begin at an easy level to avoid injury and soreness, limit your exercise to about 10 minutes a day for this first week, even if you feel like doing more! Exercise daily if possible, but take the weekend off.

Suggestion No. 2: Start to make some diet changes to lower fat and cholesterol. This week the only change will be to buy 2 percent instead of whole milk next time you shop.

Try to get these changes going in your life and I'll add information each week to help you progress properly. Happy New Year!