Realistic resolutions for a healthier 2020
Do you make New Year's resolutions? Forty-five percent of us do, and more often than not, they're health related. However, research tells us that only 8% of us will actually achieve our goals.
The good news is: you can make resolutions that will truly benefit your health and are still highly achievable. Here are my top contenders for 2020.
Incorporate more activity into each day
If you're a couch potato, resolving to run a marathon may be unrealistic. However, it's quite doable to increase your everyday activity. Choose the stairs instead of the elevator. Park at the further end of the store lot. Consider getting a fitness tracker and start counting steps. (According to Johns Hopkins' research, this simple move can increase your steps by an extra mile per day and measurably improve heart health.)
Add fresh, whole foods to your diet
Losing weight is America's No. 1 resolution (I'll come back to this later). However, if you want to eat healthier without making major changes, focus less on what not to eat and more on what to eat. Adding more fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains to your plate is a painless way to improve your diet.
Learn to unplug
Studies indicate that when we power down our devices, our quality of life improves. Social media pressures increase our risk of depression and anxiety; checking work emails after hours can precipitate burnout. Furthermore, the blue light generated by screens is proven to interfere with sleep. Giving yourself regular technology breaks helps you live in the moment.
Make good sleep a priority
If you're not getting 7½ hours of sleep every night, you're hurting your health. Sleep deprivation increases our risk of stroke, diabetes, heart disease -- even Alzheimer's and cancer. While we're sleeping, our bodies are performing essential maintenance activities that promote mental and physical health. No other activity delivers so many health benefits for so little effort. Don't shortchange yourself.
Some studies suggest that the lack of social ties can be as damaging to the human body as alcohol abuse or smoking. It can weaken your immune system, cause high blood pressure and accelerate cognitive decline. Everyone's busy, but make time to see friends and loved ones and participate in social activities that interest you. If you suffer from loneliness, make changes and ask for help. Your life may depend on it.
Did you know that performing acts of kindness causes changes in the brain that quiet anxiety, lift depression and create a sense of well-being? It may even alter the behavior of your genes to calm inflammation -- the precursor of heart disease and other serious illnesses. Whether you formally volunteer or make it your mission to look after your elderly neighbor, doing good is truly good for the soul.
Tackle big resolutions strategically
Some of us do have serious health care improvements to make -- such as losing weight for health reasons or quitting smoking. The key to achieving them is to create a realistic, detailed plan and marshal your resources in advance. Consult with your doctor, adopt a program with proven results and line up your personal cheering squad. Don't go it alone, and don't expect things to happen magically -- and you'll set yourself up for a year of success.
Here's to a happy, healthy 2020!
• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, she recently founded Seniors Alone Guardianship & Advocacy Services (SeniorsAlone.org), a not-for-profit organization that serves the area's senior orphans. She also is the founder of NShore Patient Advocates, www.northshorern.com.