As many holidays and gatherings have come to an end after ringing in the New Year, many of us find ourselves getting back into our regular work routines, getting a jump on the start of a new year ahead, and maybe even setting a new resolution or two. One of the most common resolutions, as you probably immediately guessed, is getting healthier. Whether it be hitting the gym, starting a new diet, setting goals to meet up more regularly with friends, or finding other ways for self-care, more and more of us are likely to have recently thought about ways to improve our health.
The exciting part is that many goals are achievable and even can be made fun, with new apps or online tools to help design your healthy habits. Below are seven tips that discuss important things to focus on when you are trying to stay healthy in the New Year.
#1: Forget the Crash Diets and Focus on the Long-Term Goal
Although it can be tempting to lose weight fast, “crash” diets can be very unhealthy for several reasons. In addition to causing strain on internal organs, such as your gallbladder, rapid weight loss from caloric restriction can cause things such as hypoglycemia, also known as low blood sugar, which can even lead to lightheadedness or losing consciousness. Furthermore, crash diets are not sustainable, and after a period of intentional crash dieting, most people put back on their original or even gain more weight.
Having a healthy, well-balanced diet that is a part of your regular lifestyle is key to sustaining and maintaining a healthy body. Nutrients provide essential vitamins and minerals your body needs to have a healthy system, including your immunity. A diet rich in natural foods and low in processed foods can be very beneficial to your health. Interestingly, patients that consumed more than two servings of fruits and vegetables per day for eight weeks were found to have significantly lower levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation (1).
#2: Exercise to Keep Ahead of the Winter Blues
Believe it or not, your mood has a strong correlation with your overall health and even immunity.
Patients that exercise 30 minutes per day, three times a week were found to have reduced levels of anxiety, depression, and mood disorders. This is partly because exercise leads to an increase in endorphins, which improves mood (2).
Exercise activates the sympathetic nervous system, leading to physiological changes in the heart, lungs, muscles, and hormones. The heart muscle grows in size and improves contractility, and blood vessels respond by creating more red blood cells to carry oxygen to help with oxidative stress and carry healthy nutrients through the body (3).
#3: Don’t Forget Those ZZZs
Sleep debt, sleep deprivation, and sleep insufficiency are common problems in our society today, which is unfortunate due to how important it is for your body to rest, regenerate, and repair with sleep. When sleep debt accumulates, your body’s psychological and physical health starts to deteriorate, which can cause decreased work performance and decision-making, increased risk for infections, and hormone dysregulation leading to overeating and obesity as well as having negative effects on your mood. During sleep, your body is busy repairing tissues and fighting off pathogens (disease-causing problems).
Ideally, the average adult would have about 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Methods you can implement to have healthy sleeping habits include, removing screens from the bedroom, exercising regularly during the day, and having a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine. These can all help your body’s natural internal clock, or circadian rhythm, have a consistent pattern, so your body naturally knows when to wind down and fall asleep. Restorative sleep is key and one of the MOST important ways you can help your body be at its healthiest.
#4: Sack the Stress
As we mentioned above, exercise can be an excellent way to help boost mood, and there are additional things you can do to increase wellness and reduce stress. Focusing on your mental health is a very important part of keeping your body healthy, as stress can lead to increased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) of up to 9 times the normal limit. This is very important because cortisol can lead to insulin resistance, immune system deficiencies, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and muscle pain (5).
Implementing regular routines to de-stress your body makes a huge difference, and the great news is that you can try so many wonderful options out there. Meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, massage therapy, and acupuncture are all excellent modalities to help with stress reduction. Additionally, regular counseling sessions often are beneficial for people to work on stress-reduction techniques directly, discuss how to mitigate tough situations, and strategize for ways to reduce their stress.
#5: Nix the Bad Habits
After ringing in the New Year, “Dry January” has become a more-recognized term, as many people start to make resolutions, including alcohol avoidance. While alcohol in moderation is not seen as damaging to your health, excessive drinking can negatively affect your internal organs, such as your liver, which is your body’s main filtering system. It can, thus, weaken your immune system and cause unwanted problems with more regular, higher levels of alcohol consumption.
According to a 2015 study on alcohol use, “higher values [of alcohol use] were associated with deterioration of health.” Consuming less than “14 g per day for women and [no more than] 28 g per day for men may be associated with reduced mortality risk, mainly due to reduced risks for cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes” (6).
Quitting smoking should always be the goal, whether it is cigarettes or vaping. Staggering new statistics are showing the dangerous effects of tobacco, and stopping this habit is extremely important in maximizing your health. In fact, “the number of diseases and conditions known to be caused by active smoking has now risen to over thirty. The risk of premature death is not, as previously thought, twice as high in non-smokers, but actually three times as high” (7). Quitting smoking isn’t easy, and there are lots of options to help with making the transition to smoking cessation easier. Try speaking with your doctor about the best options for you if you have any questions on the best way to quit.
#6: Be Mindful of Your Surroundings
We often see higher numbers of communicable illnesses in cold months when people tend to congregate inside more frequently and with more people. Many illnesses spread from respiratory droplets, which can be from coughing, sneezing, or even simply talking. The chances of being exposed to a contagious illness increase when we come into closer contact with an infected person, and large crowds can be common places where illnesses can easily spread.
You don’t have to miss out on the fun, though! Take precautions when you can, without canceling your plans. Stay away from anyone you know is ill, wash your hands often and thoroughly when you are in public spaces, and do not forget to wash before and after eating, as contact by touch (for example, shaking the hand of someone who is sick and may have recently coughed into their palm) can cause illness to be transmitted. Also, it can be hard to do—but try to avoid touching your mouth and nose as much as possible. This will also aid in reducing possible transmission.
#7: Fight Germs Before They Spread
With active, on-the-go lifestyles, avoiding contact with germs can sometimes be difficult. High-touch surfaces, such as door handles, cellphones, computers, or other shared devices, can often carry germs that may unfortunately get you sick. Crowds or even small gatherings can increase the chances of getting sick if someone present is contagious, but they may not even have symptoms, making knowing when to avoid contact can be difficult. This is where certain products, such as BioShell Germ Defense for Your Mouth, can be a very helpful preventative option to consider using for yourself. Playing active defense against germs can be an excellent way to protect yourself and optimize your overall health.
Remember, there are many ways to optimize your health, and talking with your doctor about any questions is always advised. The empowering part is knowing you have so much control over how you choose to practice your health and how you maximize your healthy lifestyle. It may be difficult initially, but by regularly setting and meeting your daily goals, you can develop a routine that becomes a regular, natural part of your lifestyle and help direct you to better health.
Co-contributors: Student Doctor Franciela Golden, MS4; Student Doctor James Walangitan, MS3
- Watzl, Bernard et al “A 4-wk intervention with high intake of carotenoid-rich vegetables and fruit reduces plasma C-reactive protein in healthy, non smoking men”
- Guszkowska M. Wpływ ćwiczeń fizycznych na poziom leku i depresji oraz stany nastroju [Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood]. Psychiatr Pol. 2004 Jul-Aug;38(4):611-20. Polish. PMID: 15518309.
- Nystoriak MA, Bhatnagar A. Cardiovascular Effects and Benefits of Exercise. Front Cardiovasc Med. 2018 Sep 28;5:135. doi: 10.3389/fcvm.2018.00135. PMID: 30324108; PMCID: PMC6172294.
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- Hendriks HFJ. Alcohol and Human Health: What Is the Evidence? Annu Rev Food Sci Technol. 2020 Mar 25;11:1-21. doi: 10.1146/annurev-food-032519-051827. PMID: 32209032.
- Mackenbach JP, Damhuis RA, Been JV. De gezondheidseffecten van roken [The effects of smoking on health: growth of knowledge reveals even grimmer picture]. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2017;160:D869. Dutch. PMID: 28098043.