At this time of year, my patients tell me that they want to prioritize their health. Often, they don’t know how to begin making these changes. Together, we will talk about their goals and the impact they can have on their overall health.
Of course, the hope is not only to improve their health in the short term, but also to increase their longevity (how long they live) and health (years lived without significant disease) and quality of life.
What often surprises my patients is how incorporating healthy habits can positively impact their wallets. Think about it: If you can avoid, or reduce, potentially preventable visits to the doctor, you can save money on co-pays, prescriptions, or prescriptions. At the same time, you won’t miss work or schedule childcare or call in sick. Remember, most common diseases can be prevented with healthy daily habits.
Living and leading a healthy lifestyle is a journey. When setting goals to improve healthy habits, I recommend advice from James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits.” He wrote that individuals should think about who they want to be and make a daily plan to get there. He recommends taking small steps every day to reach the big goal.
Here are some great ways to take care of yourself and prevent trips to the doctor
• Schedule a pelvic exam or physical exam with your primary care physician (PCP).
• Eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight
Keeping regular appointments with your PCP allows your doctor to regularly review your medical history and your family’s medical history to diagnose and treat possible risks.
During these appointments, your doctor can work with you to develop a health plan going forward. The plan should be managed by you with the advice and guidance of your PCP. At this appointment, your primary care physician may recommend any necessary health screenings and vaccinations.
Fitness is an area that many people want to improve, but often struggle due to lack of time with work and family obligations. While it’s good to get 30 minutes of aerobic activity in most days, it’s easy to sneak in some exercise with a little creativity.
If your schedule is full of children’s activities and sporting events, consider adding your exercise in while your kids are exercising. When my kids were little, I used to go to their practices and run track at their practice fields. I could see them exercising by being present on busy days.
Exercise can be fun! Find a friend with similar fitness interests and goals. Instead of getting together for dinner, plan a weekly exercise session.
I recommend incorporating strength training into your routine to build and maintain muscle mass. As we age, we naturally begin to lose muscle mass. Loss of muscle mass can lead to imbalance and falls, which can cause serious injuries, especially in the elderly.
Starting an exercise program can be overwhelming. If you’re looking for a place to start, I often recommend Walking, because it’s free and they have a great pair of supportive sneakers.
People who exercise also sleep better. If you’re looking to improve your sleep, try incorporating some of these popular habits: Go to bed at the same time every night, in a dark room with a temperature of 68 degrees or less. Limit screens two hours before going to bed. Other things that can help are a white noise machine and taking a warm shower before bed.
If you can’t fall asleep within 15 minutes, or if you can’t wake up and fall asleep within 15 minutes, get out of bed. Reading or listening to an audiobook is a good activity until you’re ready to try to fall asleep again.
When a patient asks for my advice on diet or incorporating healthy foods, I always recommend the Mediterranean diet. This lifestyle diet is proven to support better health by focusing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, legumes, healthy animal/fish protein, and healthy fats. This diet also limits alcohol and processed foods.
As you work to incorporate these healthy habits into your lifestyle, you should talk to your doctor about setting small goals that, together, will help you work towards the big goal you’re aiming to achieve. When you accomplish a small goal, take time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t so you can move forward. Reward yourself when you reach a milestone to encourage yourself to stay on this healthy journey.
Dr. Brian Kane is Chief of Family Practice at Tower Health.