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10 Ways to Start 2011 Right

Written by

By  Marc Sedwitz, MD, Scripps Health

It’s the new year, so why not start it off right by incorporating a few new healthy habits into your life? There’s no need to revamp your entire diet and lifestyle to improve your health — even small actions can pay off in a big boost to your health. Check out the ideas below and try the ones that sound right for you.

1) Get your full eight hours
Just as a healthy diet and regular exercise are necessary and important for good health, so is sleep. Cutting back on snooze time can lead to an out-of-control appetite (some studies show that people who sleep less are more likely to be overweight), a greater risk for coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes. So try and get the recommended eight hours of sleep needed for good health, safety and optimum performance.
2) Rise and shine — and eat
Breakfast gets your body’s metabolism going again after a night of sleeping, and gives you the energy you need to get through the morning. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Microwave instant oatmeal and top it with skim milk or yogurt and berries; in minutes, you’ll enjoy filling fiber with a protein and vitamin boost. Hard-boiled eggs, whole-grain toast with almond butter or a fruit and yogurt smoothie are also quick, nutritious choices.
3) Wash your hands.
From banishing cold and flu germs to preventing food-borne illnesses, frequent hand washing is one of the smartest preventive habits you can adopt. Wash your hands with warm water and soap before handling food, eating, or touching your face and after using the bathroom or coming into contact with potentially contaminated objects such as doorknobs, toys and menus. Be sure to clean the entire surface of your palms and the tops of your hands as well as under your nails. A thorough hand-washing should take about 20 seconds.
4) Know your family health history
Your family’s medical history can give you important information about your own health. Many diseases, such as heart disease, breast cancer, diabetes and depression can have a genetic component. The more you know about the health of your relatives, the better informed you’ll be about your own risk factors and how to manage them.
5) Eat mindfully
One of the significant differences between people who successfully manage their weight and people who constantly struggle is mindful eating. Turn off the TV or computer, sit down at a table with your food on a plate, and focus on eating. Savor the smell and enjoy the taste. Put your fork down between bites and take time to really enjoy your meal. Chances are you will eat less and feel more satisfied.
6) Add variety to your diet
Wild salmon and sardines are just a couple of the fish that provide heart-healthy fats such as omega-3, which lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and help preserve your cognitive function. Aim for two servings a week; more than that may add too much mercury to your system. On occasion, indulge in a glass of red wine (or any alcoholic beverage) or a bite of dark chocolate that contains at least 75 percent cocoa — both contain antioxidants that can benefit your heart. In addition, both may relax blood vessels, which reduces clotting somewhat and makes it easier for blood to get to the heart. And finally, try to eat five to seven servings a day of fruits and vegetables and minimize your intake of carbohydrates.
7) Volunteer
In addition to helping others, volunteers themselves often benefit from “giving back” to the communities in which they live and work, and enjoy a rewarding sense of doing something good for someone else. As a volunteer, you gain valuable experience, learn new skills, make friends and meet others who share the same interests. At Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, volunteers also enjoy perks such as special events and wellness programs.
8) Maintain strong family and social networks
Research has shown that people who have family and friends they can turn to for support and companionship may be healthier and less likely to experience depression than those who spend most of their time alone. Looking for new friends? Join a club, take a class or volunteer.
9) Take a time out
At least once a day, close your eyes and focus on taking 10 deep, full breaths. Inhale through your nose, feel your diaphragm expand and exhale through your mouth. Deep, focused breathing slows your heart rate, calms the body and, as a result, calms your mind and reduces stress. Mix in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five days a week as well. Choose something you enjoy and will stick to. Recent studies found that brisk walking is just as good for your heart as jogging, or try biking or swimming. You needn’t do it all at once; two 15-minute workouts or three 10-minutes blocks work equally well.
10) Drink more water
Whether you drink bottled, filtered or tap, water helps keep your cells hydrated, flushes out toxins and prevents dehydration. Tea, juices and sports drinks count, too, but watch out for added sugar, artificial flavorings and caffeine, all of which can detract from the benefits.

Marc Sedwitz, MD, is the chief of staff at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla. For more information on staying healthy for a physician referral, call (800) SCRIPPS.

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