A new year. It’s a fresh start and a time when many of us vow to make changes for the better. Unfortunately, for most of us, those promises are forgotten a few weeks after they’re made. That’s often because they are a bit too lofty and perhaps too hard to maintain. UR Medicine Primary Care’s Dr. Louis Papa offers a few simple steps toward better health in the year ahead.
The secret to making resolutions that stick is to keep them simple. A few small changes can make a big difference in your health.
1. Shake off salt. Decrease the amount of salt you eat. Whole foods and plant-based foods are best. They are better for you and can help you decrease your blood pressure. Try to make more food at home, and stay away from prepared items and fast food. And if you can, avoid adding extra salt to your diet.
2. Lose a little. Lose weight by reducing calories and eating whole foods and plants. Even losing 10 pounds can make a big difference in your health and how you feel. And every weight-loss plan requires some exercise. It improves your chance of losing weight, your cardiovascular health, and your sense of well-being. Start by walking short distances and build on that every few days, just a little at a time.
3. Partner with your provider. Establish (or re-establish) a relationship with a primary care physician. They’re the ones who should know you best—about your health history, your life and its challenges, and what specific screening exams you need at the various milestones in your life. They can assist you with tools that can help you get healthier and reduce your risk for things like heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
4. Be smoke-free. It is one of the most important things you can do. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the world. Not being dependent on tobacco will make you healthier, and research has shown it can make you happier. Consider calling the New York State Smokers’ Quitline at 1-866-NY-QUITS or NYsmokefree.com. The program offers plenty of information and resources available to help you quit, including options such as nicotine replacement kits.
5. Ease up a bit. Make an effort to reduce your stress. It’s a part of life for everyone, but be sure you are taking measures to lessen its impact. Identify some problem areas and see what changes might help. Make time for yourself, even for a few minutes during a busy day. It could be as simple as stealing away for a quick cup of coffee. Perhaps consider meditation. There are mobile apps that can get you started.
6. Don’t skimp on sleep. Adequate shut-eye allows us to better learn as we move through our day. It improves our memory. And it assists with both stress-relief and weight gain (yes, there is a correlation between both of them and lack of sleep). For adults, this means getting between seven and nine hours each night. Kids and teens need even more. It a good idea to try and go to bed and get up at the same time each day, regardless of whether it’s a work day, weekend, or you’re on vacation. A regular sleep schedule is beneficial for the brain.
The key to sustaining change is starting small and building on simple successes as we move into 2019. Wishing you a heathy New Year!
Louis J. Papa, M.D., is an internist with UR Medicine Primary Care, a professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and a Fellow of the American College of Physicians.