A healthier lifestyle not only improves your present quality of life but your future quality of life. The new year is an excellent opportunity to hit the “restart” button, so Carman H. Whiting, MD, family medicine specialist with UT Physicians and assistant professor with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, offers three key tips for a healthier 2022.
Ready: Get an annual exam
For anyone who is not seeing a doctor at least once a year, it is time to start.
“Regardless of age and health status, it’s important to have a regular health maintenance exam annually to identify any health conditions you may not know you have. We can identify and catch things early on and reduce the risk for complications,” Whiting said. “Everyone should have annual well visits, including teenagers. Annual exams are preventive care visits with an emphasis on prevention.”
The start of the new year is an excellent time to schedule an appointment with a family medicine doctor or other primary care physician. It is also good to schedule other annual exams, such as gynecological checkups, colonoscopies, or mammograms.
Try to schedule these exams at the same time each year so they become routine.
Set: Set specific and measurable goals
To start a healthier new lifestyle, it is best to skip the resolutions and set goals.
“I prefer goals because we tend to give up on our New Year’s resolutions if we fail right away. Goals can be gradual, and they give us something to work towards,” Whiting said. “The key is to take steps in the right direction because our eating and exercise habits don’t usually change overnight.”
To set a measurable goal, first determine the starting point and desired ending point. Then plan specific actions to reach the bigger target. For example, a person who weighs 190 pounds and aims to be 150 pounds in six months can set and follow three specific actions: walk one mile three days a week, eat a green salad for lunch three days a week, and replace soda, juice or other sugary drinks with water.
Doctors can help patients set smart health goals and give them sound advice, Whiting added. Even if a goal is not met, good progress is what counts.
Go: Exercise regularly and eat wisely
It is always a good idea to start regular exercise, especially after the holiday season.
“If you’d like to start an activity or fitness program, do something you think you would enjoy so you stay with it,” Whiting said. “You can also add exercise to your normal errands in small, simple ways, so it doesn’t feel like too much.”
A half-hour of exercise at least three days a week is best, but it is all right to start with less time and/or days because people can build their workout intensity and frequency over time. A little inconvenience also increases exercise in everyday activities, such as parking further away from a store’s front door, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and washing the car yourself.
Because diet is also key to healthy living, it is equally wise to incorporate and fill up on more fresh fruits and vegetables in the new year — particularly green and leafy vegetables. Whiting also encourages eating leaner meats, such as chicken, and more plant proteins, such as tofu, beans, and chickpeas.
“Food is a lifestyle choice,” Whiting said. “Rather than telling my patients what they should or should not eat, I recommend they reduce the saturated fats in their diet and incorporate more nutrient-dense foods, which are not just healthier but lower in calories.”
To help with overeating, Whiting suggests waiting at least a few minutes before returning for second servings to be sure the mind has time to register if the stomach is full. Also, prepare more meals at home to better control fat, additives, and portion sizes.
A healthy lifestyle is a lifelong process so Whiting follows her own tips at the start of each new year.
“I have to remind myself to do many of these things,” the doctor said. “I don’t always succeed at all of my goals, but the idea is to make progress and always try to reach our healthier self. Even if only one or two healthy habits stick with you, you’re better off than where you started.”
To find and/or schedule an annual exam with a UT Physicians expert near you, visit UTPhysicians.com/Request-An-Appointment.