In 2017, ditch the drama: Get healthier with common sense and moderation
As surely as the calendar page turns over to a new year, many people start to flip out about their health. They fret about how they and their loved ones ate and drank too much during the hectic holidays. They regret how much they partied, or vegetated on the couch. This will all change, they swear! In a snap, once another year launches. And as soon as they make huge health resolutions, the guilt begins to hang over them.
Here’s a prescription for this chronic, wellness lapse-itis. Toss the grand expectations. Instead, pledge that you and yours will embark on a common-sense approach to better health. Yes, you can see many doctors, gulp down myriad pills, spend tons of money, and hope for sweeping changes. But why not try moderation? Don’t diet like contestants on a reality TV show. Don’t throw yourselves into exercise as if you hope to join the Redskins or Wizards. You may need willpower if you’re smoking (give it up) or imbibing to excess. But an evidence-based health improvement plan can be simpler. And that will make it easier to make it work for you.
Resolved: In the new year, eat more healthful foods in reasonable amounts. Better manage your weight, especially if you are too heavy. Make a concerted effort to get up and move. Cut down on (or out) the booze and smoking. See the world in a sunnier light, avoid crazy stress, enjoy friends and family more, and get more sleep.
You can accomplish these goals if you enlist powerful allies to help you, including your loved ones and your bank account. With big changes in the finances of American health care looming on the horizon, you may need to safeguard your health more than ever in 2017. Let’s get started.
The paper helpfully detailed some published, peer-reviewed research with key points pertinent for new year’s resolutions, including:
When it comes to weight loss, diet often matters more than exercise. Few of us can endure the strenuous routines that allow us to burn far more calories than we take in, which makes weight loss from workouts unrealistic.
Eat more healthful foods, those with less processing and lower amounts of fats, sugar, and salt. Be sure your meals include plentiful amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. Put more fish on the menu, particularly the sustainable kinds. Cut down carbohydrates and proteins, especially red meat and highly processed meats like hot dogs and sausages.
Cook and eat at home, where you control ingredients and portion sizes. You also can better develop and enjoy the taste of food, as well as lower costs and serve up more affordable fun times, in the company of friends and loved ones. Grab a cool cookbook or two—I’ve recommended J. Kenji López-Alt’s geek-pleasing The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science—to give you novel food ideas so you avoid falling into a culinary rut.
Some of you will start this new year by joining fancy health clubs, or running through the neighborhood wearing new high-tech health-related gadgets that were holiday gifts. That, in general, is great. But will you stick with your resolution to exercise more?
That’s a problem, and it may stem in part from the considerable change that so many people demand of themselves when they plan to get fitter. Ambitious exercise goals also fail to deal with a serious challenge to many of us: Even if we do bouts of strenuous aerobic exercise, that may be insufficient to erase the harms of our long sedentary spans, when we sit nearly motionless for hours at an office desk or crash on a too-comfy sofa at home glued to a screen of some kind.
The harms of just sitting around
Yes, it’s important to play tennis, basketball, squash, and touch football, to jog, skate, dance, or take whatever hot new aerobic exercise class may crop up. I’ve written about this. But it also is important during the day to get up regularly and move. Take frequent breaks. Stand up and walk around. Pace while thinking. Take the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator. Park a little farther away or get off the bus or train a stop sooner. Don’t only email or phone; walk over to a colleague in the office for a face-to-face chat.
As I’ve written, be judicious in relying on technology to boost your exercise and fitness. “Wearable” tech and new software and apps can help monitor and record your efforts. They haven’t reached the point where they’re great for testing body functions, analyzing such results, suggesting regimens, or processing diagnostics. Be wary if makers over-promise what relatively low-cost devices can do. Be careful, too, with that new holiday gift and any registrations or sign-ups you do with their makers. You don’t want to compromise the privacy of your personal health information—and, though it may seem innocuous enough to share step counts or heart rates during various levels of exercise, that data is becoming increasingly valuable and telling. There’s already a health care firm that works with physicians and hospitals to collect and analyze analogous and seemingly basic data on seniors (how often they’ve been hospitalized, how often they report shortness of breath or bouts of pain), saying it can be useful in predicting which patients will die in a year and might benefit from palliative care.
Here’s hoping none of us get into such dire shape this year. Instead, may we all make a dash, with common sense and moderation, to a healthy, happy, peaceful, and prosperous 2017!
If you’re going to smoke dope, reconsider if children are nearby. The research isn’t deep, and it’s clear why it won’t be easy to get more data. But a new study with a small sample raises the concern that marijuana use may pose second-hand smoke dangers, as some of the drug’s key components have been detected in youngsters with toker parents. More states are deciding to leave it to grownups whether marijuana use is acceptable or not. But it’s uncool to harm your kids’ health, and, as with alcohol, don’t drive while under the influence.
Don’t engage in risky behaviors, especially with sex. This applies to the young—and, these days, to older Americans, too. Sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) remain a significant health challenge, particularly for youths, gay men, and older adults who are remaining more sexually active than ever before. Medical advances have changed HIV-AIDS for many from a certain killer to a treatable, chronic disease. It still is a costly condition that requires patients to devote considerable time and resource to its care. Practice safe sex, and know that, although technology has made them more widespread and somewhat more accepted, online dating and “hook-up” sites have their dodgy elements.
Give a boost to your well-being in these ways
Let’s be positive: The list of ways to improve your health and well-being can and should run long. Here are a few thoughts about what might work for you.
Enlist friends, family, and a rewards system to help you make changes. Improving your eating, motivating yourself to move more and to exercise, quitting smoking, sleeping better—these are habits that can be hard to change. But author Charles Duhigg says a growing body of research suggests better ways to do so. He focuses on cues, rewards, and routines. To bolster your New Year’s resolutions, share them with friends and loved ones, asking them to help you accomplish them (peer pressure). You may want to break your goals into segments, promising yourself praise or rewards when each gets done. Incorporate small motivators into your exercise plans, say, reading a favorite magazine while on the stationary bike or donating a sum to charity for every gym visit missed.
Stay engaged with friends and family. Studies find that humans are social animals, and your health can suffer if you become isolated. You’ll note that throughout this missive, I’ve emphasized not only ways that you can improve your health but also the benefits of doing so with friends and loved ones: It’s not only eating more healthfully, it’s doing so with them. It’s not just taking brisk walks, it’s doing so with a companion. It’s not just jogging or swimming for miles, it’s doing it with others, including competitors. I’ve written how key it can be to share quality time with people, and, you can read a lot here and here about the major negative effects of social isolation.
Vaccinations matter. It’s disappointing how evil can live long: We’re almost two decades away from the publication of afalse so-called study on inoculations. But the anti-vax sentiment remains virulent still. I won’t dwell on all the shots and their virtues and shortcomings. See your physician to learn the science and to determine whether you and yours need vaccinations against a range of harms. Even as medical science advances with ways to combat deadly and debilitating scourges like Ebola and Zika, including by developing shots against them, it’s maddening to see new outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses with serious harms —like measles, mumps, pertussis, and meningitis. Vaccines carry risks, and some shots aren’t as effective as some advocates hype them. But the risk that we lose “herd immunity” because of unfounded fears that fly in the face of proven science, well, that’s unacceptable.