To Your Health: Pick a do-over in the New Year
Editor’s note: This series will be written by practitioners at Summit Medical Group (SMG)
on health-related topics. This one is by Dr. Caecilia Hostetler, a family medicine physician at SMG in Montclair. She enjoys partnering with patients to help them make healthy lifestyle choices.
When my children were young they would often ask for a “do-over” when we played games. They wanted a second chance at a favorable outcome.
A New Year’s Resolution is an adult version of a “do-over.” We have all made decisions that we regret. While some consequences are minor, at other times, poor lifestyle decisions can have a detrimental impact on our health.
A great example is smoking. Some people start smoking as a teenager and, since nicotine is so addicting, many continue as adults. Tobacco smoke contains thousands of harmful chemicals. As a result, people who quit smoking can reduce their risk of serious health problems including cancer, heart attack, stroke, and early death.
The earlier you quit, the better, but you are never too old to stop smoking. Research shows that after only 20 minutes without a cigarette you can lower your blood pressure and heart rate. After one day, your chance of heart attack decreases. After two weeks to three months, your circulation and exercise tolerance improve. And after 10 years, your risk of dying from lung cancer is almost the same as that of a nonsmoker. Your body is giving you a “do-over.”
Another common resolution is to improve your diet, which will also improve your weight. More than two out of three adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Not only will you have more energy and feel better, studies also show that losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight reduces your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and maybe even cancer.
HOW TO START
If you want to quit smoking you may be wondering how to start. I tell my patients to write down a pros and cons list. Once the reasons to cut back are longer, they have a better chance of changing the bad habit.
When that happens, set a target quit date to mentally and emotionally prepare. While some smokers have success quitting cold turkey, another option is tapering. Put your daily ration in a zip-lock bag the night before, which serves as a visual aid. Every week, reduce the amount by one. Another incentive is to put aside the money you would normally spend on cigarettes.
A similar strategy can help improve your diet. Resist the urge to crash diet. Slow and steady weight loss of one to two pounds per week is the best way to keep them off for good. Decide how much weight you want to lose and work backward. You will need to cut 3,500 calories per week or 500 calories a day to lose one pound. Easy ways to trim calories are to split your typical dinner portion in half, ditch sugary drinks, and swap starchy side dishes for low-calorie fruits and veggies.
Another important way to stay healthy in the New Year is to schedule your annual checkup. Conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes generally do not cause symptoms in the early stages. So make sure you get those routine cholesterol and blood sugar screenings, and discuss if your immunizations are up to date. If you are struggling to quit smoking or lose weight, your doctor may recommend medications that can help.
The most important thing to remember is that most smokers and overeaters need several attempts to be successful. Sometimes, my children were granted multiple “do-overs” before a favorable outcome was reached. So even if you have tried before, do not give up. Multiple “do-overs” are allowed!