Monday, January 3, 2011

Small Changes for a Healthy New Year

Start with small achievable goals
Another year has begun. It’s a good time to start a diet and exercise program, many of us think. We have to be ready to do more than think. Like getting married or starting a family, there is no perfect time to begin a health regimen. What’s most important is to have the resolve to make small changes in your lifestyle that will be far-reaching over the long run, and to stay the course. Change too many undesirable habits at once, and you could end up abandoning your efforts altogether.

The changes that you make must have significant value to you. It is not enough to just want to lose weight, exercise more or eat healthier. There needs to be some type of internal motivation that drives you to achieve these goals. Take the time and explore why it is important for you to make these changes, and then start making (and mastering) one small change at a time.  The following is a list of lifestyle changes that current research has shown will benefit your health, from promoting weight loss to decreasing the risk of cancer. Some you may already do; others you may need to work on. Take it one small step at a time.

Eat Breakfast. It’s the best way to control your weight. Start the morning with whole grain cereal. Breakfast is a great place to get fiber in your diet. Look for cereals where the first ingredient listed on the label is a whole grain, like oatmeal or whole wheat. Add berries or other fruit and a full cup of low fat milk.

Exercise. Give up the excuses; you have to do it to stay healthy. Sixty to ninety minutes of daily exercise is recommended to promote weight loss and maintenance. If you can’t meet these recommendations don’t be discouraged, any movement helps.

Eat Low Fat Dairy. The jury is still out on whether low fat dairy can promote weight loss, but dairy is important for other reasons. The calcium that it provides can stave off osteoporosis and has been linked to improving blood pressure. Recent studies have shown that men who consume low fat dairy regularly have a reduced risk for developing type 2 diabetes and gout. Women that get plenty of calcium and vitamin D may have a reduced likelihood of developing PMS. Get 2 to 3 servings daily of milk, yogurt or low fat cheese.

Add Vitamin D. It promotes the absorption of calcium and is very important for bone health. It may also improve muscle strength, reducing the risk of crippling falls in the elderly. Vitamin D has also been shown to reduce the risk of developing the most aggressive form of prostate cancer. It may be difficult to get enough vitamin D from your diet. If you live in the northern half of the country, your skin isn’t making any vitamin D from October through March. Vitamin D supplementation is recommended for most people, but the amount of supplementation is still being debated. Supplementing with 1,000 to 2,000 IUs of vitamin D daily is considered safe, however some people may require more. The rest of the year, expose some skin (arms and legs) without sunscreen to the sun for 20 to 30 minutes. People with darker skin may require up to six times more sun exposure.

Eat More Fruits and Vegetables. The evidence is mounting, if you don’t eat enough of it, you’re at a health disadvantage. From arthritis to weight loss, fruits and vegetables have been shown to improve health. No wonder the dietary guidelines increased the daily servings. Eat the rainbow. Five to thirteen daily servings are recommended.

Eat More Dark Leafy Greens. Some vegetables are better than others. This is where Popeye was right. Spinach and other colorful greens may help prevent cataracts, stroke, and the cognitive decline associated with aging (and possibly even Alzheimer’s disease). This is one of the biggest changes that most people need to make in their diets.

Choose Healthy Fats. Switch from saturated animal fats and trans fats to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated vegetable oils. All fats have about 120 calories per tablespoon, so don’t add vegetable oil, but replace unhealthy fats with it. Olive oil is good, but so is canola oil. Minimize fats from dairy and meats by choosing lower fat varieties.

Eat More Fish. It’s the easiest way to get those omega-3 fats that are so good for us. Plan a fish meal twice a week (yes, tuna fish sandwiches count, but fried fish is a no-no). Omega-3 fats are good for your heart, immune function, and your brain (those who eat fish twice a week show less mental impairment with age). They have also been shown to fight inflammation, which benefits your joints too.

Hydrate. The first thing you should do in the morning and the last thing you should do before bed are to drink 1-2 cups of water. Sip water all day long and eat foods with high water content such as cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, soup, apples, and oranges (you get the picture). Being well hydrated will also help you look your best.

Get An Extra Hour of Sleep Each Night. Sleep is when your body repairs the physiological damage done each day. Most of us burn the candle at both ends and then trudge through the day feeling like a zombie, going from one cup of coffee to the next. A good night’s rest will help us look and feel our best and can help our weight loss efforts too.

During the next few weeks, I will discuss each of these recommendations in more detail. I will provide more practical tips and recipes that can help you make 2011 an incredibly healthy year!

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