- - Thursday, December 29, 2016

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day.”– Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Without formalized instruction but through life experiences, we come to understand these well-turned words of author and poet Edith Lovejoy Pierce. The onset of a new year often takes us on a journey in reflection, anticipation – even excitement – that engages our hearts and minds as we consider the hopes for our 2017.

And my hope is that as you step into 2017 you will set resolutions and goals to make it your healthiest year, ever!! With some tweaks to your daily routine, here are some considerations that will make an impact!!

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: Healthiest Year, Ever

What You Consume Matters: “Food is Medicine” is a powerful statement, made by Hippocrates, (2,500 years ago). Consider these words in light of Webster’s definition of medicine: “The science and art dealing with the maintenance of health and the prevention, alleviation, or cure of disease.” Food (and what we drink) acts as medicine — to maintain, prevent and treat disease.

In short, what we consume gives our bodies the “information” and materials it needs to function. Quite simply, the wrong foods and drinks — or too much of it – gives our bodies the wrong information and instructions and can cause us to become overweight, undernourished and at risk for the development of diseases and conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes and heart disease, to mention a few.

While the following is not a comprehensive list, I encourage you to not skip breakfast; eat healthy balanced meals and snacks with lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein; stay hydrated (ak. drink more water); and keep a watch out for sugars and salt!! Make it a point to read labels and ask questions where you dine. Making wise choices about what we put in our mouths—every day, every meal, every time—is a great commitment to ourselves to keeping our bodies in healthy condition.

Physical Activity: Keep on Moving! Being physically active is a vital action we must take to improve our health. Maintaining an active lifestyle has a myriad of benefits—weight control, mood and energy booster, slayer of diseases from head-to-toe, enemy of insomnia, and key to living longer. And the more physically active we are, the better.

As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day and interject movement throughout the day. In addition to aerobic activities, ensure that you are incorporating muscle- and bone-strengthening activities as well. Mark your 2017 calendar now to do accountability checks—either monthly or quarterly—to make certain that a few months from now we are still “moving” and meeting our goals.

Managing Stress: Don’t wait until stress has a negative impact on your health, relationships or quality of life! Our body’s stress response is a primitive one that was designed to promote survival—to help us fight or flee from predators. Today, acute stress, when managed properly, can push us to peak performance during test taking, presentations, or playing a sport. However, when stress becomes chronic, it can be dangerous to our physical and mental health. Achieving optimal health and wellness requires that we manage stressors as well as our response to it. This often entails changing our lifestyle, thoughts, and emotions in order to regain control. The rewards are worthwhile.

Sleep: Maintain it as a Priority: I have said it before and it bears repeating — quality sleep is the crown jewel of our overall good health and happiness. In addition to boosting our memory and staving off dementia, it can decrease the risk for heart disease, weight gain, diabetes, and depression. Research shows that a lack of sleep is grossly underrated as a problem by most. I often hear patients and others say “I don’t need much sleep.” Wrong! To be healthier this year – make sleep a priority!! The National Sleep Foundation recommends that children aged 6-13 years of age get 9-11 hours of sleep a night; teenagers 8-10 hours; adults 7-9 hours, and older adults 7-8 hours. And the general notion that older adults need less sleep is simply not true.

Being Grateful: More research is finding that gratitude doesn’t just make you feel good – it’s actually beneficial for your health. One recent study from the University of California San Diego’s School of Medicine found that people who were more grateful actually had better heart health, specifically less inflammation and healthier heart rhythms. As well, clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, increase energy, lifespan and facilitate more efficient sleep. Researchers add too that the practice of gratitude generally decreases overall illness and depression — and grateful people are often more successful in their careers and relationships.

Findings show that when we think about what we appreciate, the parasympathetic or calming part of the nervous system is triggered and that can have protective benefits on the body, including decreasing cortisol levels and perhaps increasing oxytocin, the bonding hormone involved in relationships that make us feel so good.

Giving, Kindness and Generosity: These acts not only allow us to contribute to the lives of others and find meaning in our own lives, but science shows that these characteristics enhance our physical and mental health — even adding years to our lives.

And too, be kind to yourself. Carve out time for you. Take time to unplug and to do things you want to do. Along with appreciating other’s gifts and accomplishments – be sure you are aware of your own gifts, abilities and achievements.

Mindfulness: This concept or practice means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Practicing mindfulness helps us let go of negative thoughts — past wrongs or worry about the future — while connecting to life in the present. And in doing so, we can become more aware of ourselves and our actions. Living in the moment, is the present.

“Believe in Something Bigger than Yourself.” And, too, as it has been said before, “believe in something bigger than yourself.” We know that starting a new project, a new venture, setting new boundaries has challenges and it has hard times. Take steps towards the big picture knowing that the vision includes improving life and opportunities for yourself – which in turn impacts other people, everywhere.

Avoid Risky Behaviors: Quite simply, avoid risky behaviors such as smoking, unsafe sex, drinking alcohol to excess, drugs, regularly overeating, and, yes, distracted driving – to mention a few.

Periodic Health Assessments: If this is your time for a check-up or if you have any questions, make an appointment to meet with your physician.

“Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better person.” – Benjamin Franklin

The decisions we make with our health – what we consume, our sleep, managing stress, physical and mental activity, timely examinations along with other key factors — directly impact the quality of the healthy life we lead tomorrow. I look forward to the future days – it is my driving passion and great honor to be a wellness agent in providing balanced, healthy understandings … for you and your loved ones. Let’s make a toast – to tweak our daily routines and to make this our healthiest year, ever! Here’s to a very happy, healthy and prosperous new year … where more of your dreams come to life!! Happy New Year!!

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