At this time of year, my patients often tell me they want to prioritize their health. Often, they don’t know how to initiate these changes. Together, we talk about their goals and the impact they’re having on their overall health.
Of course, the hope is not only to improve their health for the short term but also to increase their longevity (how long they will live) and their health span (years lived without significant illness) and quality of life.
My patients are often surprised at how incorporating healthy habits can have a positive effect on their wallet, too. Think about it: If you can eliminate or reduce preventable visits to the doctor, you can save money on co-pays, prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Plus, you won’t have the system to arrange for childcare to miss work or appointments, or to call in sick. Remember, most common diseases can be prevented with healthy daily habits.
Living and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a journey. When setting goals to improve healthy habits, I recommend consulting James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits.” He writes that individuals should think about who they want to be and develop a daily plan to get there. He recommends taking small steps each day to help you reach the big goal.
Here are some great ways to take care of yourself and avoid preventable trips to the doctor:
• Schedule a well exam or physical exam with your primary care physician (PCP)
• Eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight
Maintaining regular appointments with your PCP allows your doctor to regularly evaluate your medical history and your family’s medical history to identify and test for potential risks, and treat if necessary.
During these appointments, your doctor may also work with you to develop a health plan going forward. The plan should be administered by you with the advice and guidance of your PCP. At this appointment, your primary care physician can recommend any necessary health screenings and vaccinations.
Exercise is an area that many people want to improve but time constraints combined with work and family obligations often make it difficult. While getting 30 minutes of aerobic activity most days is ideal, with a little creativity it’s easy to get exercise.
If your schedule is packed with kids’ activities and sporting events, consider adding your workout in during your kids’ practice. When my kids were little, I used to go to their practices and run around the track at their practice field. I was still able to be present and watch them practice while they had busy days.
Exercise can be fun! Find a friend who has similar workout hobbies and goals. Instead of meeting for dinner, schedule weekly workout sessions.
I also recommend incorporating strength training into your routine to build and maintain muscle. As we age, we naturally start to lose muscle mass. Loss of muscle can lead to imbalance and falls, which can lead to devastating injuries, especially for elderly individuals.
Starting an exercise program can seem overwhelming. If you’re looking for a place to start, I usually recommend running, as it’s free and most people already have a good pair of supportive sneakers.
People who exercise also get better sleep. If you want to improve your sleep, try incorporating some of these well-known practices: Go to bed at the same time every night, in a dark room, at a temperature of 68 degrees or lower. Limit screens two hours before going to bed. Other things that may help are a white noise machine and taking a warm shower before bed.
Get out of bed if you can’t fall asleep or wake up within 15 minutes and can’t fall back asleep within 15 minutes. Reading or listening to an audiobook is a good activity to do until you’re ready to try to fall asleep again.
When a patient asks for my advice on diet or healthy foods to incorporate, I always recommend the Mediterranean diet. This lifestyle diet has been proven to support better health with a focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, legumes, healthy animal/fish proteins and healthy fats. This diet also limits alcohol and processed foods.
As you work to incorporate any of these healthy habits into your lifestyle, you should talk with your doctor about setting smaller goals to help you work toward the larger overall goal together. Can After you’ve accomplished a smaller goal, take the time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t, so you can make adjustments as you go forward. Reward yourself when you reach a milestone to encourage yourself to stay on this healthy journey.
Dr. Brian Kane is Chief of Family Practice at Tower Health.