Many people set out to make lifestyle changes at the start of the New Year. “It may be a resolution they are trying to make and keep or something they want to do like get in shape for a winter or spring trip or wedding that is coming up,” said Dr. Lynne Braun, nurse practitioner at the Rush Heart Center for Women, professor at Rush University’s College of Nursing and president-elect of the American Heart Association’s Midwest Affiliate Board of Directors. When you work with your healthcare provider and determine goals that ar e realistic, the journey becomes easier. “Someone cannot have such an ambitious goal that is unachievable,” said Braun.
One of the most common resolutions people make in the New Year is weight loss. “A 10 pound weight loss in the next 2 to 3 months is very doable,” said Braun. You have to put your goals into perspective and look at the things you need to do to make it happen. In the case of weight loss, it is a combination of healthy nutrition and increased physical activity. “A new physical activity guideline by the USDA was just presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Session and it essentially said to move more,” said Braun. You want to get up at least once every hour. “Even if you have a sedentary occupation you do not have to make it sedentary all the time; you can be moving around the office for 5 minutes every hour or move around while you talk on the phone,” said Braun. You can start slowly with a short walk and increase it gradually. “We talk about what someone currently does and how they can increase it whether it is fitting in more exercise or increasing the duration or intensity of their exercise,” said Braun.
As far as diet, balance is the key. “Because of my background in preventive cardiology I direct people to move towards a plant-based diet which I believe is healthy and we talk about protein sources that are plant-based and set goals such as starting with one meat-free day a week,” said Braun. You have to be cautious and talk it over with your physician before making any dietary changes. “They need to eat more complex carbohydrates and not simple ones or empty calories,” said Braun. For weight loss, there need to be substitutions and an overall reduction in calories and energy expenditure in the form of physical activity. “Many people know what they need to do to get healthy but have a hard time bringing themselves to do that because life gets in the way and they are busy,” said Braun.
Fitness goals should be individualized. “We talk about what someone likes to do and their past experience with physical activity such as what they did and did not like and if they would be more motivated if it was something they did by themselves or if it would be useful to have a buddy,” said Braun. Sometimes having a friend or family member join you in your activity can keep you motivated and accountable.
Make it a priority to have an annual physical. “It is important for healthcare providers to ask about goals for the year and lifestyle habits,” said Braun. It is a good time for them to offer useful advice and encouragement. Sometimes a referral can be made such as to a nutritionist or dietician. “So many patients are under a great deal of stress both personally and professionals so we talk about ways to mitigate that stress because it affects their overall health, risk factors and everything about how they feel,” said Braun. Physical activity is just one outlet to manage stress. Some people turn to meditation. “There are various apps people can use to guide them through meditation and guided imagery is another form of stress reduction where there are free apps,” said Braun. Others find comfort in prayer or reading the bible. If you do not think there are enough hours in the day for that, make the time. “I encourage people to set aside time, wake up a little bit earlier or go in a bit later, whatever you can do to start your day off right in a way so you can better manage your stress,” said Braun.
When you take good care of yourself, you will find you may even be sleeping better. “Sleep in certain people really needs to be evaluated because they may have sleep-disordered breathing or sleep apnea,” said Braun. It is best to get between 6 and 8 hours. Having a routine before bed can be beneficial. “Do things that promote sleep like warm milk or chamomile tea, read or listen to music or white noise that can have a calming effect,” said Braun. Technology has the opposite effect so you want to put it away at least half an hour before trying to fall asleep. By limiting your hours engrossed in technology, you can have more face-to-face contact with the important people in your life.
You may set out to improve some relationships in your life in the New Year. “Make sure you see the other person’s point of view and force yourself to listen and not to speak,” said Braun. Often one party is unable to share their perspective which is why listening helps. You can also talk to friends and family about your health goals and encourage them to make some of their own that are quite easy. “Get your flu vaccination and if you are in the age group, get a pneumonia vaccination because prevention is key,” said Braun. Washing your hands is another top defense for staying healthy in the New Year. “We must have hand sanitizer in accessible places because many bacteria and viruses are spread via skin contact,” said Braun.
Do not forget about the importance of heart health. “A heart healthy lifestyle is about eating healthfully, monitoring caloric intake, moving more, engaging in physical activity, not smoking or stopping if you do,” said Braun. There are so many factors within your control as well as knowing your health history. “Be aware if you have any risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes and engage in the appropriate treatment so that those rick factors are under good control,” said Braun. When you write your goals down on paper and have a plan of action, your resolutions will be maintainable all year through.