Dr. Danny Joseph from Kelsey-Seybold suggests steps for better physical and mental health.

I know it’s not always easy to motivate yourself to make lifestyle modifications when you’re already set in your ways. We can lock in automated – but unhealthy – behaviors, including what we eat and drink, and settle into a sedentary lifestyle without even thinking about it. Intentionally or not, many of us spent the past year unaware we were living with unhealthy habits.

A new year offers fresh opportunities to develop positive life strategies. Small positive steps started now can support a happier and healthier 2024. And that’s what we want – yes?

Some of the biggest lifestyle improvements often come during January, the first month when you’ve made resolutions to start on a healthier path. By March, however, many resolutions had fallen away.

The goal is to stay with it; and be persistent about living with healthier lifestyle modifications. To assist you, start the year by setting realistic expectations. Many resolutions fail because people expect changes to occur overnight. Health improvements take time. But they’re worth it!

Don’t make things too complicated for yourself. Begin by focusing on achievable steps that can motivate you to stay with it and improve your health – hopefully, for the rest of your life.

Try to adopt as many of the following lifestyle modifications as you can and your body – and mind – will thank you. So, here are my suggestions, backed by professional research, to help deliver better physical and mental well-being:

  1. Make weekly exercise dates. You can easily talk yourself out of a workout, but it's more difficult to do when you have a standing commitment to work out with a friend or friends. Those who commit to an exercise regimen are 45% less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation.
  2. Eat a daily salad. Just one serving of leafy greens a day was associated with slower cognitive decline, according to a study by Rush University Medical Center.
  3. Eat berries. Dark-colored berries, like blueberries and blackberries, contain compounds that fight inflammation and help protect your brain. One cup of blueberries consumed daily for six months can also lower your risk of cardiovascular disease according to research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. And hey, berries taste great.
  4. Develop a green tea habit. Researchers have found that people who consumed sweetened beverages were more likely to develop Alzheimer's, while some studies suggest green tea might promote cognitive functions.
  5. Eat more vegetables. Find a low-calorie salad dressing you like, drizzle it over some veggies and you’re likely to be inclined to eat more of these healthy foods.
  6. Store fruit in front of the fridge. When you bring fruit home, immediately wash it and put it in a bowl at the front of the top shelf. The minute you open the fridge, you’ll be inclined to eat some because they’re the first thing you see.
  7. Go nuts. Adults who eat at least three portion-controlled servings of nuts per week are benefiting their gastrointestinal health.
  8. Eat more fiber. Getting enough dietary fiber is important to maintain your digestive wellness. On average, it takes about 11 granny smith apples, 14 large carrots, 14 bananas, or 15 cups of broccoli to reach the recommended amount of fiber Americans – from 18 to 50 years old – should consume each day.
  9. You can also drink your fiber. Throw some fruit into the blender right before it goes bad. Try blending a banana, an orange, and spinach; throw in some walnuts for even more fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.

Improve your sleep habits

  1. Make your bed each morning. According to a survey by the National Sleep Foundation, those who make their bed every day were more likely to report getting a good night’s sleep. Healthy adults usually need about seven hours a night.
  2. Change your bed sheets weekly. Allergens can disrupt sleep. Cut down on buildup by washing your sheets in hot water. Also, replace pillows every two years, and mattresses every 10, both for hygiene and for comfort.
  3. Face your alarm clock toward the wall and your cell phone facedown. Artificial light disrupts sleep.
  4. Turn the fan on when the lights go off. A source of “white noise,” like a fan, can help drown out annoying little noises.
  5. Enjoy some chamomile tea at bedtime. In a randomized, double-blind study from the University of Michigan, those taking a chamomile extract twice a day fell asleep 16 minutes faster on average.

Pump up your heart health

  1. Brush and floss regularly. Swollen or bleeding gums caused by bad oral health may lead to microorganisms traveling into the bloodstream, which could cause inflammation and heart damage.
  2. Try doing 10 minutes of resistance training every morning. That adds up to a healthier week of muscle strengthening. Low muscle strength is associated with an elevated risk of death in people 50 and older, regardless of general health levels.
  3. Don’t smoke or use any form of nicotine. Smoking puts you at a higher risk for heart disease and lung cancer. When a craving hits, try lacing up your athletic shoes and heading outside for a walk.
  4. Reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Please take the threat of diabetes seriously, as it can lead to higher risks of heart attacks, kidney disease requiring dialysis, limb amputations, and an overall shortened life expectancy. Eat portion-controlled meals that are low in sugar content and carbohydrates, maintain a healthy weight, and have regular medical checkups that may include checking your Hba1c.

Reduce stressors

  1. Take a daily “do not disturb” break. At your desk at work, close your eyes for just five minutes and mentally recall a place of sunshine and serenity.
  2. Have a go-to ritual that you look forward to when the anxiety is too much. Do something simple like calling a friend, having a cup of tea, listening to a song on the radio, or reading a few pages of a novel.
  3. At work, turn off your mobile phone for 15 minutes. You won’t miss anything.
  4. At home, establish a “no-phones rule” during dinner and in the bedroom at bedtime.
  5. Do some diaphragmatic breathing. Taking deep breaths often helps reduce stress and anxiety.
  6. Join a book club. Reading an enjoyable book can be very relaxing. Moreover, those who engage their mind most often through intellectual activities such as reading were 29% less likely to develop dementia later in life, according to a study of adults 65 and older published in JAMA Psychiatry.
  7. Make online shopping less impulse-driven. Delete your credit card information from websites you’ve been shopping on. Avoid impulse purchases that add needless debt and anxiety.

Get back in shape

  1. Get moving. Walk, bike ride, jog, or whatever you can do. Just walking 30 minutes a day can help improve your mental and physical health. (Refer to my very first suggestion at the top of this article about working out with a partner.)
  2. Stretch out. When your muscles are the most relaxed, before getting out of bed in the morning, take five minutes to elongate your body and get the blood flowing.
  3. Invest in affordable dumbbells or kettlebells. Use these at home watching TV. Visit YouTube for suggestions on using these hand-held devices for at-home strengthening.

Conquer feelings of isolation

  1. Make short, regular check-ins with loved ones. Even a 10-minute phone call to one of them each week can reduce loneliness. A parent, sibling, cousin, or an old friend from school would love to hear from you.

Take care of your skin

  1. Apply a mineral-based sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day, even on rainy winter days. Don't forget areas such as your ears, the tops of your feet, and the back of your neck. Once you begin a skin protection routine, it allows your skin to start repairing itself.
  2. Use a sun-blocking lip balm every day. Your lips need sun protection too!
  3. Be advised: The risk of skin damage is highest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Scheduling your outdoor time at 9 a.m. or 5 p.m., instead of noon to 4 p.m., can significantly lessen skin damage.
  4. Take time to do a closeup exam of your skin. Look for changes. People often notice skin cancer because of a spot that doesn't look quite right. Get a screening from a dermatologist if you notice suspicious changes in shape, texture, color, or size in a mole.

Improve your posture

  1. Do an hourly posture check. Sit or stand up tall with your feet flat on the floor. Look straight ahead, bring your shoulders back and down, and slightly tuck in your chin. Hold this position for a count of five. Repeat this several times throughout the day. Doing so will get you used to maintaining better posture. This is especially helpful in advancing age.
  2. Change how you carry stuff. The goal is to balance the weight evenly on both sides of your body. When carrying bags in your hands, it's best to have a similar amount of weight on both sides; this helps you maintain an upright posture. If you're using a backpack, put on both arm straps to spread the burden equally. You should avoid slinging a heavy bag over just one shoulder. If you are leaning over to the side or bent forward, you are carrying too much of a load.

In conclusion, start the new year by scheduling an exam with a primary care physician to check your overall health and to bring you current on recommended immunizations.

I wish each of you a happy, healthy new year.

  

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By Danny Joseph, MD
Kelsey-Seybold’s – Pearland Clinic

Dr. Joseph is a board-certified Family Medicine physician. Fluent in English, Malayalam, and Nepali, Dr. Joseph warmly welcomes new patients.

For appointments, call Kelsey-Seybold’s 24/7 Contact Center at 713-442-0000 or click on Danny Joseph, MD | Family Medicine | Kelsey-Seybold Clinic and view his scheduling availability.