The celebration of the New Year is the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4,000 years ago when the new year began with the first new moon after the vernal equinox, which we know today to be the first day of spring. At that time it was thought that the planting of new crops was a logical time to start a new year.

The Romans continued to observe the new year in late March, but their calendar was continually tampered with by various emperors so that the calendar soon became out of sync with the sun. The tampering continued until Julius Caesar, in 46 BC, established what has come to be known as the Julian calendar. It was at that time that Jan. 1 was established as the first day of the new year.

While all of that might be, quite literally, ancient history, there is one facet of the New Years holiday that has survived time . . . the New Year’s resolution!

There are many holiday traditions — some are religious in origin and some come from the practices of our families — but the one ritual that is almost universal in its practice is when we make a promise with the intention of making the future better. Millions of people engage in this practice annually.

I think one reason we make resolutions at this time of year is that we usually have the time to reflect. We think about what works in our lives and what doesn’t, as well as what we can do to make things better.

I am a member of a team of people that have been dedicated to bringing a new facility to the Vineyard community that will promote healthy lifestyles. A new building for the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard will provide a home in which we can continue the services we now provide and expand into areas that are much needed by our community.

Studies confirm again and again the vital role that interaction and connectedness play in our long-term health and well-being. We all struggle to balance work, family and health, and the need to connect is as strong today as ever before. Our small community is not immune to the issues that face the rest of the country — on the contrary, we are but a microcosm that mirrors the serious health issues that are the focus of YMCA programming. Supporting data may be alarming, but turning the tide is possible:

• Our nation is facing a dramatic lifestyle health crisis. Sixty million adults—about 30 per cent of the U.S. adult population—and 9 million children are obese or overweight; 16 per cent of our children have Type II diabetes. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the current generation of American children could be the first to lead shorter lives than their parents.

• Small changes can make a major impact. The Centers for Disease Control found that participating in moderate physical activity, such as walking for 30 minutes at least five times a week, substantially lowered the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, colon cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

• Introducing healthy habits early can have a lifetime benefit. Children who develop healthy exercise and eating habits while they are young are more likely to continue to lead healthy lifestyles through adulthood.

While current health statistics clearly illustrate why it is so important for kids and adults alike to lead healthier lifestyles, at the YMCA, we believe strong families play a critical role in how to make it happen.

Let’s look at the facts:

• Participating in family rituals that foster togetherness and communication is strongly linked to adolescent mental health.

• Teens who eat meals with their families most days have better grades and less depression and substance abuse than kids who frequently eat on their own.

• University studies show that young kids and teens whom eat regularly with their families eat more fruits, vegetables, fiber and whole grains and consume less soda and snack food.

• A 2004 YMCA of the USA study found that parents who received support from community organizations such as YMCAs reported positive experiences for their children, saying the programs enabled their children to engage with other kids, provided positive influence and offered role models.

Because the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard is associated with such a well-respected national organization, we have the benefit of all of their programming resources. Making a commitment to a healthier lifestyle is important now more than ever. Making this commitment as an individual, together as a family or with a supportive group greatly improves success.

Through our current programming and our future plans, the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard is dedicated to providing some of the necessary solutions to the long-term health and well-being issues we face. If you would like more information about healthy lifestyle practices, our national Web site at provides a wealth of resources.

Finally, as president of the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard Board of Directors and a member of the capital campaign, I am happy to share with you our new year’s resolution. The YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard will break ground and begin to build our new facility in 2008. We’ll keep you informed of our progress and you can keep track of our promise to make the future better.

Chuck Hughes is president of the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard.