Resolve to be a healthier and happier you in 2022

Major New Year's resolutions are hard to maintain. You may have every intention of going to the gym three days a week, losing 20 pounds or quitting tobacco, but - let's face it - those goals are tough and many people find they can't do them on their own.

So I'm thinking small - small but important steps you can take to improve your health and well-being in the new year.

1. Get vaccinated. All adults over 18 are now eligible for COVID-19 booster shots and children ages 5 and up can be vaccinated, too. We don't yet know what the omicron variant will do, so now is not the time to let down your guard when it comes to COVID, particularly if you are over 65. More than 80% of deaths from COVID have been among older Americans, and cases continue to surge in the Chicago area. Carry your vaccination card with you.

2. Expand your idea of what needs to be cleaned or sanitized. How many people handle the TV remote? How many times a day do you touch light switches and doorknobs? Where have your wallet, phone or keys been? It doesn't hurt to take a sanitizing wipe to these and other high-touch items.

3. Change out the kitchen sponges frequently, or sanitize them. If you're using sponges to wipe down counters and wash dishes, get a new one at least every couple of weeks. You can also sanitize your sponges by soaking them in a solution of bleach and water or microwaving a wet sponge for one to two minutes. (Careful when you take it out. It'll be hot!)

4. Establish a regular bedtime and avoid TV, phone and tablet at night. As I wrote earlier this year, inadequate sleep can lead to a variety of health problems. Your smartphone probably has a "bedtime" app that will let you set your sleep time and awake time. Make sure to get at least seven hours a night, and no more than nine or 10.

5. If you're a nail-biter, stop. Biting your nails is not just a bad habit, it's a potential source of infection from things like E. coli and salmonella. If you find you can't help nibbling on your nails, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. And while you're at it, stop rubbing your eyes.

6. Moderate your alcohol consumption. During the pandemic lockdowns, a lot of people (particularly women) turned to alcohol to cope. But even one binge causes an elevation in liver enzymes. Remember that alcohol is not a cure for depression; in fact, it can worsen emotional disorders. If you're in doubt about your ability to control your alcohol intake, join the Dry January Challenge and see if you can abstain for 31 days. If you can't, you may need help, so talk to your doctor.

7. Wash or sanitize your hands after pumping gas. Again, how many people have touched that gas pump? Yikes.

8. And how many people have sat in that airplane seat? If you're traveling this holiday season, take a minute to use a sanitizing wipe on the seat, tray table, armrests and seat belt.

9. Make a wallet-size list of your medications. It not only will come in handy in emergency situations, but every time you visit a new doctor. Make sure to list dosages and the frequency you take these medications.

10. Complete a health care power of attorney, also known as an advanced directive. With this form, you name someone to make decisions about your medical care if you can't make them yourself. Typically, the forms also allow you to express your wishes regarding life-sustaining treatments, organ donation and more. You can find downloadable forms (each state has its own) on the website. Once the form is executed, keep it somewhere safe, tell loved ones where to find it, and provide a copy to your doctor.

11. ICE your emergency contacts. Most smartphones include an "In Case of Emergency," or ICE, feature that first responders will look for in the event of a health crisis. Find yours and set it up! You can list medical conditions, blood type, emergency contacts, allergies and prescriptions - all vital information when every minute counts.

12. Floss. Nobody actually likes flossing, but we should still do it, if not every day then at least every few days. You will be helping yourself avoid cavities, gum disease and tooth loss. There are many kinds of floss available, so find one that's comfortable. And then use it!

Happy new year, all!

• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for 30+ years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates ( She is offering a free, 30-minute phone consultation by calling (312) 788-2640 to make an appointment.

To improve your health and well-being in the new year, vow to keep a bedtime routine. Inadequate sleep can lead to a variety of health problems. Stock Photo
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