The New You

How to feel well, look better and improve your life this year

Family Matters

January 04, 2004|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Staff

You bounded out of bed the first day of the new year determined to be a better person in 2004. Maybe you resolved to lose weight, stop smoking, get along with your kids, improve your mind or clean out your closets.

Join the club. Many Americans promised themselves at the end of the year that they would live healthier, with 31 percent planning to exercise more and almost 20 percent vowing to eat better, according to a survey conducted for Scripps Networks, owner of HGTV and other lifestyle channels. Another 30 percent planned to focus on family and friends.

But by now reality has set in, and most of those people are slumped in front of the TV eating Cheez Doodles and drinking Coke.

Not to despair. The New You is still perfectly within reach. You just need a little help. We asked experts in the various fields where New Year's resolutions most often crash and burn for their strategies. The specifics follow, but universally their advice was not to be too general in your resolutions ("I'm going to get in shape this year"), to keep them simple, and to plan ahead.

Staying healthy

Small and not unpleasant changes can result in a healthier you in 2004, says David Niven, author of The 100 Simple Secrets of Healthy People (HarperCollins, 2004). "Anyone can improve his health," he says. "It's a very pleasant, optimistic way of looking at it."

If you did just one of his suggestions, you'd feel just that much better this year. Here are 10 of his 100:

* Get eight hours of sleep a night. The National Sleep Foundation estimates a 10 to 35 percent drop in antibodies and immune cells when you're sleep-deprived.

* Eating to slow music can slow you down. You might eat less.

* Breathe right -- slowly and deeply from the abdomen.

* Don't put up with secondhand smoke.

* Use caution when combining medications. Many can become ineffective or counterproductive.

* Substitute spinach for lettuce on sandwiches and in salads. In one experiment, no one noticed the switch.

* Stop using anti-bacterial hand and dish soaps; they may be strengthening germs and weakening our immune systems.

* Don't "megadose" on vitamins.

* Weigh the benefits of alcohol against the risks.

* Limit your exposure to pesticides.

We might add, reduce the amount of stress in your life. If you ask Dr. Redondo Miller, assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, to name the one symptom that comes up over and over again in her practice these days, and she'll say "stress."

"Stress is related to so many physical problems," she says. "I've noticed stress levels have gone up significantly among my patients."

This year make a point of giving yourself 20 minutes a day to take a walk, listen to music, meditate or otherwise do something relaxing for yourself. Your body will thank you.

Miller also recommends getting a physical in the new year -- when you aren't sick. Have one every two years if you're in your 20s and 30s, annually after that.

"It's important," she says, "because then the doctor isn't putting out fires." He or she will have time to sit down and talk. (If your internist doesn't, find another one.)

People are calling Miller now for flu shots, "A little late." She suggests putting a reminder on your calendar now to get the vaccine early -- in October or November.

And speaking of vaccines, did you remember that you need a tetanus booster every 10 years? Maybe this should be the year.

Miller has her women patients taking 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium daily to help stave off osteoporosis, and men over 50, a baby aspirin a day to help prevent heart attacks. (Some doctors recommend this only if you have risk factors.)

And visit your dentist, she adds.

If weight is your health problem -- as it is for about two-thirds of Americans -- read on.

Losing weight

Health professionals have an ugly truth to share. There is no quick fix. Not low carb. Not high protein. Not in the long run. Cynthia Finley, a dietitian at the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, puts it succinctly: When you're talking about weight that comes off and stays off, "The bottom line is total calories."

If you have as your goal this year to make one small change a month in three areas -- dietary, exercise and behavioral -- by the end of 2004 you'll have 36 good new habits and fewer pounds. For instance, your dietary goal for January might be to have dessert every other night rather than every night. For exercise, you might park your car at the far end of the company parking lot. For behavioral, you could enroll in an art class or something else that gives you pleasure besides food.

"This is a commitment," says Finley. "Success is not going to be dependent on the next 30 days."

Kat James, author of The Truth About Beauty (Beyond Words Publish-ing, 2003), agrees, adding that this year we ought to make a resolution to change the way we think about weight loss.

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