January is a month when many of us resolve to make important changes in our lives. A fresh new year is a good starting point for making those positive changes. However, you can implement healthy lifestyle choices anytime of the year! Below are two links to WebMD articles. Each one discusses healthy New Year resolutions that men and women can make. Of course there are many others that may be equally important to us. Eating healthier and exercising regularly are the most common resolutions. Quitting smoking is also high on the list.
I always encourage my patients to only make changes they feel are sustainable and that they can maintain long-term; not just ones they can do for a short while. Sometimes tackling each problem individually and gradually making small incremental changes will be more successful than trying to make several major changes all at once. I will summarize the main points from the two articles below and add a couple that I think are important.
1. FOOD. Eat healthier and consume smaller portions. Focus on lean protein, plenty of fruits and vegetables (try to get at least 5 different colors a day), complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats (nuts, avocados, etc.). Limit refined carbohydrates, highly processed foods, sugar, and salt. Avoid/minimize regular and diet soda pop. Portion control: use a smaller plate for your food, take smaller servings, and eat slowly which will help you feel full sooner.
2. EXERCISE. Think outside the box when it comes to exercise. Some people really like going to the gym. It helps get them in the right mindset for a workout. However, many people don’t have the time or desire to go to the gym. Be creative in ways to integrate exercise into your daily life. Going up and down stairs at work, parking further away in the parking lot or walking around the parking lot a couple of times before/after going inside, working outside in the yard, exercising using an app on your smart phone are all great ways to get moving. Recreational activities such as playing different types of sports, hiking, and doing the martial arts are great way to exercise. Find something you enjoy doing and stick with it. Both aerobic exercise and strength training are important. Aerobic exercise helps with cardiovascular health, weight loss, and stress reduction. Strength training helps maintain vital muscle mass. Be sure you are healthy enough for exercise.
3. WEIGHT. Maintaining a healthy weight is very important but can be quite challenging, especially as we get older. By eating healthier and exercising more, people can reach their weight goals. Be realistic in how much weight you can lose and how quickly you should lose it. Generally 1-2 pounds a week is considered a healthy weight loss.
4. TOBACCO USE. As we all know, quitting smoking will help us live longer and healthier. It will also leave more money in our wallets! If you cannot quit on your own, talk with your primary care physician about nicotine replacement products or medications that may help you kick the habit. Consider alternative methods such as acupuncture or hypnosis. I have had patients successfully quit smoking long-term using both of these methods. Support through in person groups, online groups, and friends is very important. There are many resources available once you have made the decision to quit smoking; find the one that works best for you. If you don’t succeed the first time, don’t worry you can always try again until you are able to quit.
5. BONE HEALTH. Osteoporosis (low bone density) is a major health problem for men and women as they get older, with women being affected more often. Calcium: aim for 1000-1500 mg a day mostly from natural sources such as dairy products and non-dairy products that contain calcium. To make up for the rest, you can take small amounts of calcium citrate with magnesium. Vitamin D: depending on where you live, you typically need between 1000-5000 international units of vitamin D a day; take with food to improve absorption. Your doctor can check a blood test and recommend the appropriate amount of vitamin D for you. Exercise: daily weight-bearing exercise helps keep bones strong. Smoking, some medications, certain foods, some medical conditions, and possibly soda pop can thin out the bones.
6. MEDICAL. See your doctor regularly for routine preventive exams/screening tests that are recommended for your age. Stay on top of your chronic medical conditions so they are well controlled.
7. STRESS. Long-term elevated stress levels can have many negative health effects: weight gain, insomnia, immune system suppression (increased risk of illnesses and possibly some cancers), cardiovascular disease, depression, and anxiety. Stress reduction can be accomplished through exercise, meditation, sitting quietly doing an activity you enjoy, yoga, biofeedback therapy (deep breathing and relaxation techniques), and any other activity that allows you to disconnect and de-stress. Some people find it useful to see a therapist or psychologist.
8. SLEEP. It is important to get the right amount of shut eye each night. This varies widely from person to person. Get the amount of sleep you need to wake up feeling refreshed and energized throughout the day.
9. RELATIONSHIPS. Strong relationships with our significant other, family, friends, and coworkers are essential. Our social networks provide us with valuable support, encouragement, and strength. They can help us live longer and better. Nurture them.