6 Ways to Improve Your Health Today

By , SparkPeople Blogger
We are well into 2012 and I hope you have been successful with establishing your healthy lifestyle habits so far.  If you have fallen off the wagon, today is the perfect day to recommit to your new habits.  If you’ve been consistent with your new habits and are seeing the results, keep it up!  Finally, if you have reached your goal, then congratulations!  But to each and every one of you, remember that your habits must continue in order to maintain a healthy weight and to be your healthiest self.

Some of you might like the sound of living a healthy lifestyle, but might not know where to start. Getting healthy sounds simple enough, but there are so many areas to focus on that it can become overwhelming. If you're still having trouble identifying how to get healthier, the basics are a good place to start. As a physician, wife, mother of 5, weight loss success story, and a regular person just like you, here is a list of what I believe are some essentials for improving your health. 
  1.  Stop smoking.  According to the CDC, ''tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States.''  That’s a pretty powerful statement.  The CDC says that there are about 46.6 million smokers in the United States.  Many people, including my patients, are under the false impression that smoking causes only lung cancer.  Smoking causes more than just lung cancer.  Stroke, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (the disease that causes you to lug around a portable oxygen tank) are all associated with smoking.  If you don’t stop smoking for your health, then do it for vanity reasons.  If you didn’t know it already, smoking ages you.   If you smoke long enough, your skin alone will advertise that you light up.   Get help.   Make an appointment with your physician to discuss your options if you need additional help with nicotine withdrawal. 
  2. Lose weight.  According to the CDC, the amount of obese adults in the US grew by 2.4 million between 2007 and 2009.   Obesity is considered an epidemic, and is very costly to the United States.  In 2008, about 147 billion dollars were spent in medical costs in the U.S. due to obesity-related complications. Obesity increases the risk of many diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.  Losing just 10 percent of your body weight is beneficial for your health, according to studies. 
  3. Exercise.  Getting consistent exercise is probably one of the most difficult parts of achieving a healthy lifestyle.  We all know that exercise burns calories, which in turn can speed up weight loss.  But, did you know that exercise is far more important than just increasing your calorie deficit?  Even without changing your diet, exercise is beneficial for your health.  Exercise has been shown to lower the risk of early death, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, colon and breast cancer, adverse blood lipid profile, and metabolic syndrome.  Other benefits include prevention of weight gain, weight loss when combined with diet, improved cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, prevention of falls, reduced depression, and better cognitive function in older adults.  I could give an entire lecture on the different types of exercise, but in the end, the best exercise for you is whatever keeps you coming back. 

    Consistency is more important than doing any fancy exercise routine.When I was 300 pounds, the thought of exercising was pretty repulsive.I had visions of sweating excessively on a treadmill with some skinny trainer telling me to suck it up.I started working out at home on my elliptical about 5 or 10 minutes a day at a comfortable heart rate (about 120) and slowly worked my way up to where I am now.   Consistent small changes are what lead to long term change. 
  4. Reduce stress.  Americans are stressed and are becoming sicker because they don’t have the tools to deal with it.   Lifestyle changes are difficult to make when stress levels are out of control.  Stress management should be a priority in everyone’s life!  If you don’t have time for your obligations, consider restructuring your priorities and delegating some them if you can.   Look at your life as a whole and find ways to simplify it.  Your success depends on it. 
  5. Sleep more.  I believe that most people have to ability to find the time to commit to more sleep.  You probably have heard by now that lack of sleep is unhealthy and has been directly linked to weight gain by many studies.  Children who are poor sleepers tend to be overweight or obese as well.  Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep per night.  Consider minimizing or discontinuing television use.  Many Americans spend countless hours per week watching TV.  These hours could be spent exercising or sleeping.  I used to watch hours of television per week prior to my lifestyle change, so I know that it’s a hard habit to break.  Practicing good sleep hygiene is a must, and giving up the TV may be the key to getting better sleep.  Turning off all media a couple of hours before bed (cell phones, iPads, laptops, etc.) will help as well. There are medical conditions that can interfere with sleep, so a visit to your primary care physician may be in order if you feel like you are getting enough sleep and are still chronically tired.   
  6. Get an annual physical.  I’m placing this on the list because there are medical conditions that can silently harm your body and do serious damage even when you are feeling healthy. I’m talking mostly about high blood pressure, but diabetes can hide out for many years as well.  You also may require screenings for various medical conditions as well.  If you don’t get your annual physical, you could be unknowingly causing organ damage that will take years off your life and, even worse, cause severe disability.

These are just a few basic tips for improving your health.  Identify any items that you can improve on and tackle them one at a time.  Strive for health in all areas of your life, keep your eyes on your goals, and never stop sparking!