Setting Realistic Health Goals the SMART Way

Do these goals sound familiar to you?

“I’m going to exercise more often.”

“I want to try to eat healthier.”

“I’m never going to eat sugar again!”

The problem with these types of goals is that they’re too broad and aren’t realistic. Just what does exercising more often or eating healthier truly mean? How likely are you to never eat sugar again? It’s much smarter to set realistic health goals for yourself that you know you’ll be able to achieve. The SMART goal format makes it easier for you to understand what an achievable goal is and what it is not. Just remember SMART, and you will be on your way to setting goals that you can achieve.

Specific. Narrow down a broad goal, such as “eat better,” into one clear, specific goal. For example, you might think about making time to eat breakfast each morning, or remembering to include vegetables with lunch. Or, you might commit to bringing a snack to work instead of buying something from the vending machine.

Measurable. Make sure that you are able to track the progress of your set goal. This way, you can know that you are actually seeing it through. So, instead of saying that you will exercise more often, you might set a goal to walk before lunch or go to the gym right after work. Then you can look back on each day and know if you have been making progress with your set goal.

Attainable. Set a goal that you’re sure you can achieve. Instead of saying you’ll “never eat sugar again,” say that you are going to choose a piece of fruit instead of cookies at lunchtime two days a week. You might also say that you are going to drink water instead of sugary soda three times a week.

Realistic. Set a goal that you can see yourself doing, and believe that you can achieve your goal. If going to the gym after work is too hard, try setting a goal to walk for 10 minutes before you leave work instead.

Timely. Break down large goals like “eating healthier” into small, weekly steps. Each week, take one more step toward reaching the larger goal. If your large goal is to eat more vegetables, start by eating a salad at lunch. Once you meet that goal, set a new goal to include at least one cooked vegetable at dinner. Once you’ve met both of these goals, take the next step by eating raw vegetables for a snack.

Set SMART goals to make lasting change to your food and exercise habits, and start feeling good about those changes.

Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, CPT, CWC is a health, food and fitness coach online at and in Prescott, AZ.

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Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, CPT, CWC is a health, food and fitness coach online at and in Prescott, AZ.

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