To your health: Consider these common sense health tips in the new year

By Alfred Casale - To Your Health | December 26th, 2017 6:00 am

I hope you all had a good Christmas day. We sure did!

There’s nothing quite like seeing the holiday through the eyes of a child. Our granddaughter Rowan, must have said “Wow!” 100 times as she explored presents, the lights on homes in her neighborhood, and the decorations all around. I admit her 1-month-old baby sister Eve was harder to impress, but her time will come.

It may seem a touch early, but the next order of business is planning for New Year’s Day.

As you prepare resolutions for the new year, reviewing some tips I’ve offered in the past might help. These are modest goals but important in improving your wellness. Pick a few, or all, and recommit. Or, as Rowan says when her Lego tower inevitably falls, “It’s OK; try again.”

Get more sleep

Getting seven to nine hours each night can improve your overall mood, help you think clearly, improve memory, and lessen risk of injuries. Sleeping a sufficient amount can help thwart health problems in the future as well. Many studies have found a link between insufficient sleep and some serious health issues, including heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Drink more water

Your body is made up of 60 percent water and every system in your body depends upon hydration, including digestion, absorption, circulation, transportation of nutrients and body temperature. Even mild dehydration can drain your energy and make you tired. Drinking plenty of water can also improve the appearance of your skin, help control calorie intake, and improve the performance of your kidneys.

Reduce your intake of processed foods

Generally, food that comes in packaging is not the best option for you. Processed foods are high in sugar, high fructose corn syrup, refined carbohydrates, sodium and trans fats and low on nutrients and fiber. Cook some stuff yourself. Try out some recipes.

Get your shots

Along with an annual flu shot, make sure you’re up to date on your TDaP (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis aka whopping cough) booster shot. Even if you received this as a child, you need a booster as an adult. You also need a tetanus booster every 10 years. Older folks should consider shingles and pneumonia vaccines, and baby boomers should talk about hepatitis C testing.

Check yourself

Take the time each month to really look closely at your skin. Look for moles that have changed shape or grown. If you find anything that concerns you, schedule a visit with your primary care provider, a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon. Women should make sure they’re performing regular breast exams and men should perform testicular self-examinations and have any masses checked.

Eat breakfast

Breakfast does indeed seem to be the most important meal of the day. If you skip breakfast, you’ll be hungry long before lunchtime, leading to snacking on foods high in fat and sugar. Not to mention, eating breakfast is proven to help control weight.

Ditch soda

Soda, even if it’s the diet variety, plain and simple isn’t good for you. It’s been linked to numerous health issues, including weight gain, poor dental health, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Look at the labels. Substitute water, fruit or vegetable juices in moderation.

Get moving

Go for a walk in the afternoon; park farther away from the door; or take the stairs. Exercise options are endless: walking, dancing, gardening, biking or even household chores. Find an exercise that you genuinely enjoy doing. Exercise is associated with improved mood, a stronger immune system, better sleep, and a decreased stress level. And there’s no arguing that exercise can help you lose weight.

Know your numbers

Just like 911, other important phone numbers, and your wedding anniversary date, there are three other potentially life-saving numbers you should know: blood pressure, cholesterol and waist size. Keeping the characteristics they measure within a healthy range can keep your heart healthy. If too high, the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other serious health complications skyrockets.

Visit your doctors

Having regular exams helps your doctor get an idea of your overall health, so if something unusual pops up, your doctor can catch it early. Your doctor can help decide if screening tests like mammograms, Pap smears, prostate testing, colonoscopies, cardiac stress tests or CAT scans for lung cancer are appropriate for you.

And don’t forget using seatbelts, holding railings, not smoking, avoid running with scissors and all the common sense things we all know but too often neglect. Commit to being mindful, attentive and deliberate to help avoid accidents.

The best way to become healthy and stay healthy isn’t by making drastic changes overnight — that can be hard to maintain. Make small, lasting, significant, changes; stick to them, and watch how great you feel.

I hope you have a wonderful celebration of the year past and to come! Let’s get together next year.

By Alfred Casale

To Your Health

Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]