With a new year comes new goals – the most popular of which is losing weight. But after a few weeks of eating salad and skipping dessert, many hang up their dreams of skinny jeans come February.
“The reason New Year’s resolutions don’t work is because people aren’t picking the right ones,” says David Winters, MD, a family medicine physician with Adventist Bolingbrook and Adventist Hinsdale Hospitals. “Instead of focusing on getting skinny, make general health a priority.”
Make a once-a-year commitment
An annual physical with your primary care doctor is one of the best things you can do for your health. “People don’t wait for their cars to break down before they think about maintenance,” Dr. Winters says. “The same concept applies to our bodies: Don’t wait until you get sick to see your doctor.”
During an annual exam, physicians will review your medical history, lifestyle and screen for certain diseases, including the leading cause of death in America – heart disease. “We want to make sure you are healthy, as well as identify problems at an earlier stage,” Dr. Winters says. Three of the numbers doctors care about most include:
Weight – Strive to keep your BMI (body mass index) between 18.5 and 24.9.
Blood Pressure – A blood pressure of 120/80 or lower is normal for adults.
Cholesterol – A total blood cholesterol level below 200 mg/dL is ideal. HDL (good) cholesterol should be 50 mg/dL and LDL (bad) cholesterol should be less than 100 mg/dL.
To help keep these numbers in check, Dr. Winters recommends the following:
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. Exercise decreases weight, high blood pressure and cholesterol, which in turn lowers your risk of developing chronic diseases – like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. To get these benefits, you don’t need to become a gym rat or join a powerlifting club – a half hour of cardiovascular activity each day is all it takes. “Just walking gets your heart rate up and improves your quality of life,” Dr. Winters says. To keep yourself out of the cold, try walking through the mall or setting up a treadmill in front of a television at home.
- Eat five- to nine-servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Focusing on a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean meats does as many wonderful things for your body as exercise does. It helps you maintain a healthy weight, increases your energy, helps you sleep better and lowers your risk of certain cancers. Just think about the way your body feels after a fast-food lunch versus a turkey sandwich with fruit. “We immediately feel better when we eat better,” explains Dr. Winters.
- If you smoke, quit. Stopping smoking has many immediate benefits, from more money in your wallet to an increased ability to taste your favorite foods. However, the advantages that matter most are the ones you can’t see. According to the American Heart Association, a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke is cut in half after being smoke-free for a year – no matter how much or long you’ve smoked. To learn about smoking cessation classes at Adventist Midwest Health, click here.
When it comes to living a healthier life, many people think they can’t afford the time it takes. “You can’t be there for your family if you don’t take care of yourself,” Dr. Winters says. “When you think about it that way, how can you afford not to?”