New Year's resolutions for health

Published: January, 2009

The holidays are over and another new year is fresh on everyone's minds. It's the perfect time for a new start. Many of us will resolve to improve relationships, balance the budget, or tidy the attic. But none of this will mean much without good health.

Make the new year your year of good health. Here are 10 resolutions that can help:

1. Avoid tobacco.

If you're a smoker, quitting is your first priority. You can get information in print, online, and by phone. You can get help from counseling and groups. You can use nicotine-replacement therapy or prescription medications such as bupropion and varenicline. And even if you don't smoke, resolve to help a loved one who does — and to avoid secondhand smoke.

2. Eat right.

Cut down on saturated fat and cholesterol by limiting meat, whole-fat dairy products, and eggs. Avoid trans fats in stick margarine, fried foods, and many snack and "junk" foods. Favor olive and canola oils. Eat lots of fish. Load up on whole-grain products instead of refined grains and simple sugars. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Cut down on sodium (salt).

3. Exercise regularly.

Perhaps you found a health club membership in your Christmas stocking. That's great — if you use it. But you don't have to hit the gym to benefit from exercise. Build physical activity into your daily schedule. Take the stairs, do household chores, play active games with your kids. When spring comes, work in the garden — but until then, be very, very cautious about shoveling snow. Above all, walk whenever and wherever you can. Aim for at least 30 minutes of walking a day, either all at once or in smaller chunks.

4. Control your weight.

Measure your waist or use your height and weight to calculate your body mass index (BMI). If you do need to reduce, how can you win at the losing game? Only one way will work in the long run: eat fewer calories and burn up more in exercise. See resolutions 2 and 3.

5. Reduce stress.

Figure out what makes you tense, then try to change what you can. Talk over your problems and worries. Get enough sleep. Do things that are fun, especially with people you like. Learn to appreciate and enjoy life's many little pleasures. Exercise to burn off stress. Avoid caffeine if it makes you jittery. Don't try to medicate yourself with alcohol or drugs. Learn relaxation techniques such as meditation. Talk to your doctor if you need more help.

6. Control alcohol.

If you choose to drink, limit yourself to an average of one to two drinks a day (or one a day for women). Count 5 ounces of wine, 1½ ounces of liquor, or 12 ounces of beer as one drink. Never drink before you drive. And don't use street drugs — ever.

7. Protect yourself from infection.

Be sure your immunizations are up to date. Keep your distance from folks with the flu. If you're ill, protect others by avoiding crowds and coughing into a tissue. Wash your hands often, and use an alcohol-based hand rub. Protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases.

8. Prevent accidents and injuries.

Many result from careless behavior. Wear seatbelts and drive defensively. Check your house for clutter and cords that might trip you. Be sure your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors work. Hold the handrail when using the stairs. Avoid icy pavements.

9. Avoid environmental hazards.

These include air pollution, pesticides and toxins, contaminated food, and radiation. Remember that excessive sunlight is toxic to your skin.

10. Get good medical care.

See your doctor regularly. Know your numbers, including your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and weight. Take your medication as directed. Keep a record of your major illnesses and tests, your medications, and your allergies. Listen to your body and let your doctor know if you don't feel well.

Does it seem like a lot? It is. But there are 12 months in the year and only 10 resolutions. Pick the ones you need most, change slowly, and don't give up if you slip from time to time.

If you make this your health year, it will be a Happy New Year.

Making a change can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be. Get the Special Health Report, Simple Changes, Big Rewards: A practical, easy guide for healthy, happy living to learn how to incorporate simple changes into your life that can reap big rewards.

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