By James Beckerman, M.D., Providence St. Vincent Heart Clinic Forget crash diets, miracle supplements and infomercial exercise gizmos. If you are tired of feeling tired, sick of getting sick and over being overweight, here are 12 tips that will help you make real, lasting improvements in your health.
1. Find out where your starting line is.
You can't run a race if you don't know where the starting line is. Before you start making resolutions, make an appointment with your doctor to take stock of your current health status. Find out what your numbers are for blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, weight and body mass index, and get up-to-date on your screenings and immunizations.
2. Live tobacco-free.
If you smoke, quit. It's the single most important thing you can do to improve your health and to protect your family from secondhand smoke. A new study estimates that secondhand smoke kills more than 600,000 people worldwide every year, including 165,000 children. If you've tried to quit before, try again - most people try a few times before they succeed.
3. Get up and March.
Walk, jump rope, dance, swim, ride a bike, kick box, play volleyball or engage in some other fun form of physical activity for a total of 30 minutes a day. Physical activity helps you maintain a healthy weight, lift your mood, reduce joint pain, sleep better, lower your risk of illness and diseases and feel great.
4. Sleep at least seven hours every night.
A good night's sleep is crucial to heart health, energy, mental clarity and overall well-being. If you're not getting enough sleep, or if you wake up every morning feeling exhausted, talk to your doctor about how to improve your sleep habits.
5. Eat breakfast every morning.
People who eat a healthy, well-balanced breakfast every morning tend to eat less throughout the day, and weigh less as a result. Start every day with some high-fiber grains, a little protein and a piece of fresh fruit.
6. Replace refined foods with whole foods.
Most of us don't get nearly enough fiber in our diets. Increase your vitamin, mineral and fiber intake by doing an inventory of your pantry. Replace most of the white foods (bread and bagels, pasta, rice, flour and sugary cereals) with healthier, high-fiber brown foods (whole-grain breads and bagels, whole-wheat or quinoa pasta, brown rice, whole-wheat pastry flour, oatmeal and high-fiber/low-sugar cereals).
7. Eat a salad every day.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, fruits and vegetables should make up about half of what we eat, every time we eat. One easy way to increase the fruits and veggies in your diet is to make a vow to eat a salad every day. Don't like salads? You haven't tried hard enough. There are dozens of fruits and vegetables out there that can be combined in thousands of delicious ways. Go online and search for recipes that incorporate your favorite fresh ingredients.
8. Make water your main beverage.
Sodas, coffee drinks, milkshakes, juices, energy drinks and cocktails account for about 21 percent of the average American's total calories consumed each day. That's too much, especially if you're not cutting back on food to compensate for the added liquid calories. To keep your weight in check, cut back liquid calories to no more than 10 percent of your total daily calories, and stick with water (not diet drinks, which can increase sugar cravings) as your main drink.
9. Walk, lift and stretch.
A balanced exercise program should include three types of activity: aerobic exercise (for heart health), weight training (for strong bones and muscles) and stretching (for flexibility and balance). If you're doing well in only one of these areas, start working on adding the others to your weekly routine.
10. Pick better proteins.
Choose lean proteins - such as fish, chicken, turkey and beans - most of the time. Make fattier proteins - such as steaks and pork chops - a "once in a while" choice. And minimize processed meats, such as packaged deli meats, hot dogs, salamis and sausages. Look at the size of the protein portion on your plate, too - it shouldn't take up more than a third of your meal. The rest should be vegetables, grains and other plant foods.
11. Use a smaller plate.
If your plates measure larger than nine inches across, and you're filling them up at meals, you're probably eating more than your body needs. Using a smaller plate is a great way to keep portions in check. There are lots of other things you can do to remind yourself to make better choices - I'll share more ideas in future issues.
12. Manage your stress.
Stress is not only unpleasant in general - it can affect your health in all kinds of negative ways, from disrupting sleep to making you more susceptible to illness. If stress is affecting your health and happiness, make a concerted effort to relieve stress by exercising, spending time with people you love, spending relaxing time alone and adding more laughter to your life.