You know the drill. You spend the entire holiday season overindulging — on food, drinks, gifts. Then New Year's Eve arrives and you consider your options for a resolution. Chances are the resolution you choose will be one of the following:
1. Lose weight
3. Pay off debt
The word resolution itself is a noun describing something you intend to do, a commitment. Research shows that 40 to 45 percent of Americans make New Year's resolutions. Seventy-five percent stick to their guns for the first week, while only about 45 percent are still on track by June and only 10 percent by December 31 in that same year.
For 2011, call it a commitment — commit yourself to improving your health. Try one of these less popular but highly rewarding and easily attainable goals. So that you don't fall victim to the resolution rut, set realistic, measurable goals and come up with a plan or a timeline for attaining those goals.
Studies of mental health prove that people who do good deeds have higher brain levels of serotonin, the hormone that makes you feel happy. Find creative ways to beat the winter blues by getting your whole family involved in a volunteer activity. Convince a local restaurant to donate leftovers to the homeless. Do some spring cleaning and donate all your unused clothes to a charity. Offer up your unique skills at a local library as part of community outreach. Become a mentor at your local youth organization to help motivate our teenagers. Teach your children how to do good and watch a legacy of generosity develop right before your eyes. The website DoSomething is a great resource for ideas for volunteering your time, money or talents.
Get outside and get your Vitamin D:
You may find that your annual physical this year may include a Vitamin D level. As physicians learn more about the importance of Vitamin D in preventing major illnesses like cancers, diabetes, arthritis, allergies and heart disease, the more we realize how deficient most Americans are in Vitamin D. Our sedentary, indoor lifestyle limits our direct sunlight exposure, especially during the winter months.
According to studies, the average caucasian requires twenty minutes of unprotected (meaning no sunscreen) sun exposure per day in order for the body to convert your daily requirement of Vitamin D. Individuals with darker skin probably need about an hour's worth. Even if you are drinking your milk, which is fortified with Vitamin D, it is possible that you are deficient. Ask your doctor to check your levels and make other recommendations about how you can achieve your daily recommended D levels.
And while you're outside, you may as well get a little cardio in. Short intervals of intense workouts are shown to be more effective at burning calories and converting fatty tissue to lean muscle mass. This resolution is a two-for-one! The National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements website provides extensive information about Vitamin D metabolism, how much you require, and how you can get it safely.
Regulate your sleep cycle:
Many Americans suffer from a sleep disorder. Insomnia is just one form. Other conditions like bruxism (grinding teeth), restless legs, sleep apnea, night terrors, sleepwalking, and sleep paralysis can severely affect quality of life. Those who have been treated for sleep disorders, especially severe conditions like sleep apnea enjoy revolutionary lifestyle improvements. Many will lose weight, come off their medications for high blood pressure and enjoy better control of their blood sugars.
In addition, once a sleep disorder is under control, patients' mood and energy improve while levels of anxiety and fatigue decrease dramatically. If you suffer from impaired sleep, consult with your primary care doctor who can recommend a sleep specialist, usually a pulmonologist.
Get up to date on your healthcare maintenance:
This one should be a part of everyone's routine every year. But all too often people don't get to the doctors for their routine physical for several reasons: no time, fear of bad news, they feel well and don't see a need to visit a physician. But, risk reduction and early detection are two key elements in keeping you from acquiring life threatening diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes and many types of cancer.
If you are an adult over 40, chances are you are in need of a mammogram, prostate or pelvic exam. If you're over 50, you're in for a colonoscopy. By 60 you should prepare yourself for bone density studies and an abdominal sonogram to screen for aortic aneurysm. Depending on your individual risks, you may need screening chest x-rays (especially if you're a smoker), blood tests, STD screening tests, and vaccines such as influenza, pneumonia, and the shingles booster. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force provides comprehensive guidelines for screening and early detection of diseases.
If you're really motivated and ready to tackle your biggest health concerns, then go for the big ones: Get to the gym, actually quit smoking, pay down some of that debt. But if you're looking for something new, make 2011 your healthiest year yet by committing yourself to a new New Year's resolution you can attain. Good luck and have a happy and healthy New Year!
Dr. Alexis Hugelmeyer is a board-certified family physician based on the North Fork who currently serves as the Assistant Director of the Osteopathic Internship and as a Hospitalist at . For more information on her education, training, philosophy and practice, you can visit her website at www.dralexis.blogspot.com.