Brighter Days Ahead: Celebrate the New Year with a Healthy Start
By Vickie Turnbough, MD, Internal Medicine Physician, Medical Associates of Athens
A new year is always an opportunity for a fresh start. A new beginning. That’s one of the big reasons so many of us set New Year’s resolutions. Turning the page on the calendar gives us a chance to turn the page on unhealthy habits, resolve to be better, healthier versions of ourselves and look to the future with hope for what’s to come.
As we look ahead, there is certainly much to be hopeful for in the light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As more effective treatments have been instituted and with exceptionally effective vaccines on the way, we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even so, it is still essential to our health and the health of others that we continue to do all we physically can to stop the spread of this disease – by continuing to wear our masks, maintaining social distancing and practicing good hand hygiene – until the pandemic is safely at an end.
In addition to these essential precautions, there are a few key things that can help you get and stay healthy for 2021 and beyond. So, if you’re looking to make a couple resolutions to take better care of yourself, these are a great place to start. After all, there’s no better time to focus on your health than right now.
There’s a reason why healthy eating is always mentioned as a big contributor to your health. Because it’s true. Healthy eating can reduce your risk of illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. It can help boost your energy, sharpen your mind and improve your mental health. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. Simple changes can help make a big difference. Incorporate more vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and healthy grains into your diet. Plan your meals for the week to help ensure healthier eating and less temptation at the grocery store. Drink more water in lieu of soft drinks and other sugary beverages. Read the labels before you buy food to ensure that you’re buying things high in good nutrients and low in saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugar. Most importantly, be realistic. Changing your eating habits overnight is tough. Make your healthy eating an easier and longer-lasting shift by making one or two healthy changes a week. They’ll add up over time and help you maintain your new healthy eating habits.
Physical activity is one of the best tools to improve or maintain good physical and mental health. Regular exercise can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, help reduce your risk for heart disease, strengthen your bones and muscles and help you reduce stress and anxiety. As little as 30 minutes a day can be effective. If you’re not used to regular exercise or feel like you don’t have time in your schedule for it, try simple activities like a lunchtime walk, playing in the backyard with your kids or pets, or a home workout using an aerobics or yoga video. The important thing is to get moving. Whatever you choose, be sure and consult your primary care provider before beginning a new fitness or sports program.
Staying on Top of Your Health
Taking charge of your own health is essential to your overall well-being. Establishing a good, trusting relationship with a primary care provider and scheduling annual physical exams can play a big role in helping you to do this. Annual exams can help prevent unwanted health surprises and setbacks, aid in early diagnosis of any conditions to help achieve the best outcomes and allow you to discuss any health concerns you have comfortably and confidentially. Your primary care provider can also ensure that you’re on top of key health numbers like your blood pressure and cholesterol, keep you up to date on any needed immunizations and help you manage any chronic conditions you may have.
We’ve all experienced some level of stress at one time or another. It’s a natural reaction when things aren’t going as smoothly as we’d like. However, managing stress is important to maintaining physical and mental health. Too much stress can cause depression and increase blood pressure and weight gain, among other dangers to your health. Try to identify your “stressors” and learn how to manage your stress. Eating healthy and exercising are great helps, so if you’re following the first two tips, you’re well on your way. Remembering to breathe, being prepared and flexible when events and situations don’t go as planned and treating yourself to a favorite activity are other great ways to help manage stress. Please know that it is okay to ask for help. Talk to a trusted friend or loved one, or seek out a mental health professional to discuss what you are going through.
Whether you’re hitting the reset button on your health or looking to make improvements in a specific area, it’s important to remember that your health journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Making a lot of changes overnight is an overwhelming task. Be realistic about where you’re at and what you can maintain. For example, this week consider starting one or two new healthy eating habits, get moving with some physical activity a few days and make an appointment with your primary care provider for your annual check-up. Then, as you progress, you can incorporate more healthy habits into your daily schedule. Just like with healthy eating, small changes can really add up and help ensure that your health is a long-term success for 2021 and beyond.
And don’t forget to wear your mask!