8 Health Goals for 2017
There’s something about a new year that makes us want to make a fresh start. And one of the best changes we can make is to improve our overall health. But how to begin?
A good first step is to think about the reasons that are fueling your desire to make health changes. Rather than just saying “I need to lose weight,” think about why you want to do so – such as being sick and tired of your clothing feeling tight, or wanting to set a good example for your children by eating more healthily. Knowing the ‘whys” can serve to motivate you. Then, said Ruth Brocato, MD, family practitioner working at Mercy Personal Physicians in Lutherville, MD, aim for lifestyle changes, beginning with small steps. For example, she explained, “Saying ‘I will never eat sugar again’ is not likely to meet with success, but setting small goals is.”
Ready to start? Here are eight health goals to consider working on in 2017 along with some key starting points that are more attainable:
1. I’ll eat a healthier diet. Most of us are aware of what a healthy diet is – eating mostly antioxidant- and fiber-rich foods derived from plants, such as veggies, fruits, whole grains, and legumes (peas, beans, lentils), and a smaller amount of healthy fats like avocados and nuts, plus lean meats (if desired). It’s also important to limit and control portions of highly processed foods, such as white bread and pasta, and snack foods, most of which have little nutrient value and lots of calories, and are harmful to gut health.
Where to start: Dr. Brocato suggests an “80/20” plan as a great way to think of healthy eating. “If we eat ‘perfectly’ 80 percent of the time, and allow 20 percent to be less healthy choices, we are more likely to stick with changes, and also this prevents giving up on goals,” she said. “Often we won’t even meet that 20 percent and in fact will eat healthily more than 80 percent of the time, as long as we allow for binges.”
2. I’ll get more exercise. Physical activity should consist of aerobic exercise, weight training, flexibility, and balance exercises, said Steven McDaniels, director of fitness and athletics at Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla. and owner of Fit & Focused, LLC. “Aerobic activity includes jogging, bike riding, playing sports like tennis, or anything that gets the heart rate up,” he explained. “Weight training consists of exercises that involve body-weight exercises, or even weight lifting items around the house, such as cans or jugs of water. Flexibility exercises can be performed anywhere, anytime, such as right out of bed. You can wake up in the morning with a huge stretch or do other stretches throughout the day at home or at work. Balance exercises can also be done anywhere, especially at home.”
Where to start: McDaniels recommends that the “average Joe” should strive for a bare minimum of 30 minutes a day five days a week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise. In addition, there should be two days of weightlifting that engages every major muscle group, as well as flexibility and balance exercises. If you’re not sure how to achieve a well-rounded fitness program, you can ask a professional at the gym, hire a personal trainer, or explore a reputable website like that of American Council on Exercise (AceFitness.org).
3. I’ll recover post workout. It’s important, particularly if you engage in intense physical activity, to give your body sufficient time and fuel to combat the breakdown of muscle fibers that occurs with exercise, said McDaniels. After stimulating our muscles with exercise, proper rest and fuel allows our muscles to get stronger and bigger. Rest can also sustain motivation for physical activity by preventing psychological burnout.
Where to start: While each person’s recovery time varies, many experts advise at least a day or two of rest each week from moderate to high intensity exercise. This doesn’t mean you can’t take your pooch for a short walk, but you don’t need to power walk or jog, or head for the gym. In general, said McDaniels, the more intense your workouts are, the more rest you need. “If engaging in intense weightlifting, you should have a 48-72 hour rest period before lifting weights again.”
As for refueling, “You want to consume a carbohydrate and protein combo,” he explained. Somewhere between 15 and 25 grams of quality protein is sufficient for a moderately intense workout, and 30 to 75 grams of carbohydrates. Rice and lean chicken is a good option, or chocolate milk to rebuild and refuel the muscles. A protein bar may also be sufficient.”
4. I’ll hydrate more. Can’t figure out what’s causing your headaches and constant fatigue? According to most health experts, you may need to increase your fluid intake. Water is important for the function of cells, tissues and organs. It helps us to maintain our body temperature, remove waste products from the body, and lubricate joints. Many people fail to get adequate hydration, especially prior to, during, and after workouts. As for how much water you need each day, this varies between people. In general though, six eight-ounce cups of fluid daily can help keep you hydrated, said McDaniels. In addition, he added, “You should consume one to three cups of water before your workout, and additional water during and afterwards. The more you weigh, the more water you need before and throughout your workout.”
Where to start: Sometimes it’s hard to increase your fluid intake, especially if you’re not thirsty or if you don’t particularly like the taste of plain water. But there are some tricks to increasing your intake, such as drinking on a schedule, for example at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bedtime. Or a small glass of water at the beginning of each hour. If water is not palatable to you, try adding lime or lemon slices or concentrate to your drink. Remember, too, that most fruits and veggies contain lots of water, adding to your total daily intake.
5. I’ll ditch bad habits, once and for all. Two bad habits that wreak the most havoc on our general health are smoking and excess alcohol consumption. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, the sooner you quit smoking, the more you reduce your chances of getting cancer, heart disease, or other tobacco-related maladies. As for alcohol, this organization says, even moderate consumption is linked with certain cancers too. Those at highest risk – heavy drinkers who also smoke.
Where to start: Breaking a tobacco habit is hard, said Nicholas Yphantides, MD, MPH, Medical Editor for TOPS Club, Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), the nonprofit weight-loss support organization – especially for weight-conscious individuals. “First, when most people stop smoking, they often struggle to replace the oral stimulation of cigarettes with something else – most commonly, that something else turns out to be food,” he explained. If you’re finding that you’re reaching for sugary, salty, or fatty foods to replace the pleasurable feelings you once had with nicotine, Dr. Yphantides suggests choosing low calorie substitutes like peppers, jicama, or carrot sticks, brushing your teeth frequently throughout the day, drinking plenty of water, and staying busy, active, and connected. All of these tips can help lessen both food and tobacco cravings.
As for alcohol, instead of totally eliminating it, try to have no more than one drink for women and two for men each day. Better yet, increase your number of alcohol-free nights. You may find that the resulting clearer head and increased energy you feel the next morning may inspire you to limit your alcohol intake even further.
6. I’ll get more sleep. Adequate sleep is crucial to our health, said Robert Rosenberg, DO, FCCP, author of The Doctor’s Guide to Sleep Solutions for Stress and Anxiety, yet many of us get too little of it. Sleep, said Dr. Rosenberg, supports a strong immune system, good memory, and better focus, as well as promoting emotional well-being. Healthy sleep can also regulate your appetite efficiently and help with stress and anxiety. The magic number? “Seven to nine hours of consolidated sleep is your prized ally,” he claimed.
Where to start: The best way to begin getting better sleep is with the basics, said Dr. Rosenberg, namely good sleep hygiene. “Sleep hygiene refers to and includes the habits you create for better sleep,” he explained. This includes preparing your environment by creating a cool, dark, and quiet bedroom, and placing your alarm clock where you can’t see it (lessening anxiety about how much sleep time you have left).
It also includes reducing or avoiding stimulants like alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco, and preparing for sleep by turning off electronics at least an hour before bed time, maintaining a consistent sleep cycle, and working on relaxation techniques such as a hot bath or cup of tea, yoga or meditation, prior to sleep. Certain drinks and supplements can also enhance sleep, added Dr. Rosenberg, including green, barley or Siberian ginseng tea, tart cherry juice, and vitamin D. If despite practicing good sleep hygiene you still find yourself struggling to get adequate sleep, it’s a good idea to consult a sleep specialist.
7. I’ll decrease my stress. Stress is something that we all experience, whether from job, relationships, finances, or a variety of other stressors. But “while stress is the body’s response to perceived danger, prolonged stress is destructive and hard on your body and heart,” said Tasneem Bhatia, MD (Dr. Taz), who specializes in integrative health medicine. Stress can also cause you to be less productive and have decreased energy, she added.
Where to start: The most important thing you can do to reduce overall stress, said Dr. Taz, is to identify your stress triggers and decide what you will do to grab a stress break when needed. “There are a number of things you can try like exercise, yoga, deep breathing, and meditation,” she explained. “But sometimes we need a little extra help.” Some home stress reducing remedies that are effective, she added, are taking an Epsom salt bath, which increases magnesium levels and lowers stress symptoms; drinking warm milk, which increases tryptophan to relax and calm the nervous system; and applying frankincense oil, which some say reduces heart rate and blood pressure. “The best way to use frankincense,” said Dr. Taz, “is either by inhaling or absorbing it through the skin. I like to mix several drops with a carrier oil, like jojoba oil, and then apply the mixture to the back of my neck or on my wrists.”
8. I’ll get regular health care. Many people neglect seeing a doctor until they have symptoms – which may be too late in the course of a chronic disease for effective treatment. Some of the culprits that go undetected without regular medical care – hypertension or high blood pressure, which left untreated can cause heart and kidney problems; high glucose, which may indicate early diabetes; and high cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease. “I call these the silent killers,” said Dr. Brocato. “Conditions that cause no symptoms early on and are very often totally reversible with lifestyle changes.”
Where to start: If it’s been awhile since your last physical, it’s time to schedule one. Your doctor can explain which tests and procedures are recommended for your age and gender. As for how often to visit the office, said Dr. Brocato, “I like to see my patients once a year for a ‘wellness exam,’ whether perfectly healthy or not.” MS&F