It's never too late to set goals to live a healthier life; remembering a few guidelines will help you stick to those goals.
In the area of exercise, for example, it's
important to be realistic, stressed Audrey F. Manley, who served as
acting surgeon general.
"The best exercise is one that you are actually
going to do," said Manley. "Many well-intentioned people set overly
ambitious exercise goals at the start of a new year. Once they get sore
or injured, they quit exercising, but a more moderate approach would
keep them on the road to improving their health."
Moderate physical activity, as defined by the
recent Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health, is any
activity that uses 150 calories of energy per day, or 1,000 calories
per week. Examples include walking briskly for 30 minutes, washing and
waxing a car for 45 to 60 minutes, gardening for 30 to 45 minutes,
pushing a stroller 1.5 miles in 30 minutes, and swimming laps for 20
Setting realistic goals is key to keeping most
resolutions, according to Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, chief medical research
officer for Prudential HealthCare.
"Many of us vow to live healthier by giving up bad
habits or making changes to our lifestyle," said Koplan. "To be
successful, people should try to focus on one or two resolutions and
set realistic goals with an action plan for accomplishing them."
However, a telephone survey conducted for
Prudential discovered that less than half of American adults who make
resolutions have a plan in place for achieving them.
Nearly 60 percent of the resolutions are
specifically related to health, the survey found. The most common ones
include losing weight, exercising and quitting smoking. Health-related
resolutions mentioned less frequently include stopping drinking,
improving health, having an annual physical exam, seeing a doctor and
seeing a dentist, Prudential said.
When asked about examples of action steps they
would take to achieve their resolutions, respondents mentioned
preventive steps — like the following — less frequently:
getting a physical exam (55 percent); getting an evaluation for health
risks (46 percent); quitting smoking (31 percent); beginning a stress
management program (29 percent); and, for women, having a mammogram (41
"The survey suggests that a majority of people who
make health-related resolutions aimed at better health, don't have a
specific action plan that includes these important preventive steps.
This is surprising, since prevention is the foundation for good health
and well-being," said Koplan. "People need to take preventive steps to
keep their health in check throughout the year."
The following checklist by Prudential HealthCare can help keep you on track:
Set realistic goals. Pick only one or two that are the most important to you.
Develop an action plan of specific steps to accomplish your goal.
Make a list of some simple next steps to get your resolution off the
ground. For example, if you want to quit smoking, talk with your doctor
and look into smoking cessation programs, which can provide the support
and reinforcement needed during the difficult withdrawal period. Check
with your employer or health plan to find out whether these programs or
other items in the checklist are covered; many wellness programs will
contain one or more of these components.
Find out if you're due for a physical exam and health risk assessment.
This step might include a review of your personal and family medical
history, any necessary preventive screenings such as blood pressure and
cholesterol tests, and counseling on health habits and such practices
as diet and exercise, injury prevention and substance use. This type of
assessment can help identify specific health risks and make
recommendations for improving your health.
Watch your diet and exercise.
Lack of routine physical activity and overeating can lead to obesity
and high blood cholesterol — major risk factors for heart
disease. To help reduce risk, limit intake of foods containing
saturated fat, such as meat and dairy products. Regular exercise can
also help strengthen and condition the heart. Experts recommend you
start off slowly with your exercise regimen and gradually increase your
Schedule a mammography and breast exam.
Visit your dentist regularly.
During the check-up, ask your dentist for an update on the best
techniques to floss and brush your teeth. You also may want to find out
about highly successful preventive treatments like the use of sealants
and fluoride for you or your children, and other recommendations for
healthy teeth and gums.
Manage your stress.
Stress can have a negative impact on your health. Stress-related
disorders, such as alcoholism, heart disease, ulcers, hypertension and
emotional distress, have become common among Americans. However, stress
management programs teach a variety of strategies and behaviors to help
achieve and maintain happier, healthier and more productive lives.
Addresses: Surgeon General, Public Health
Service, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, 200 Independence
Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20201; (202) 619-0257. Prudential HealthCare,
1260 Springfield Avenue, New Providence, NJ 07974; (800) 333-7232.