New year, new you: 5 steps to kick-starting a healthier life
A new year symbolizes a fresh start: 365 days of nothing but promise ahead of you. It also means you’ll likely make a resolution you won’t be able to keep past March. But all that can change for 2017. (InfoWire.dk / Flickr)
A new year symbolizes a fresh start: 365 days of nothing but promise ahead of you. It also means you’ll likely make a resolution you won’t be able to keep past March. But all that can change for 2017.
When people make a resolution about their health, they tend to focus on a single improvement, such as losing weight. But according to Dr. Esther Konigsberg, MD and Medical Director of Integrative Medicine Consultants Inc., you should strive towards a healthy lifestyle overall rather than zeroing in on any one aspect.
“You want your foundation to be strong and the only way to create a strong one is to be as healthy as possible,” she says. “There is a huge amount of scientific evidence proving that if you exercise and eat well, all the risk factors for diseases dramatically drop.”
She adds that the key to sticking with your resolution is to slowly incorporate the new activities into your life so that it’s easier to turn them habits. “It doesn’t have to be overwhelming,” she says. “Just set the intention and balance out how to factor the healthier habits into your already-busy life without causing more stress.” She has pinpointed five specific changes you can incorporate into your routine to develop a healthier lifestyle for the new year and beyond.
1. Make exercise a routine activity
After all the indulgences of the holidays, being active is more important than ever. You need a minimum of 150 minutes of cardio per week to improve your health. The good news is that the payoff is huge – and it’s more than just a trim waistline and toned legs.
According to Dr. Konigsberg, studies show that with regular exercise, there is up to a 50 per cent reduction for many diseases, such as colon cancer, breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
Don’t fret if you don’t have hours to spend at the gym; it’s all about fitting the workouts into your schedule. If you’re a commuter, get off before your stop and go by foot the rest of the way. Taking a lunch break? Spend 30 minutes of it on a walk.
If your kids are at hockey practice, jog laps around the rink while they work on their slap shots. If 30 minutes is still too tricky, consider breaking up your workouts into 20-minute sprints throughout the week. Always workout to your maximum effort – you should have difficulty speaking as you’re exercising.
2. Make the most of your sleep
When you sleep, your body repairs itself. Aim to be in bed no later than 10:30 p.m., as the body restores itself the most during the hours before midnight. To prep yourself for a better rest, refrain from watching television and keep your mobile devices far from your bedroom.
“Even with your eyes closed, the lights from the devices penetrate through your lids and stimulate your pineal glands, which secrete melatonin, and disrupt them,” says Dr. Konigsberg. “Proper melatonin levels are important to the quality of your sleep.” She adds that getting enough rest can also affect your metabolism. “Those who go to sleep later slow their metabolism and are more prone to gaining weight,” she says.
3. Round out your diet with vitamins and supplements
Even if you follow a healthy diet, vitamins and supplements can further support your well-being. “I usually suggest a good quality multivitamin as an insurance policy again any gaps in diets, as well as the depletion of micronutrients in the soil due to industrial farming,” says Dr. Konigsberg.
Two others that top her list are vitamin D, as most Canadians are deficient in it; and omega-3 fish oils because of their many benefits -- they’re anti-inflammatory and heart healthy, they lower triglyceride levels, and they help protect your nervous system.
She notes that turmeric supplements have gained popularity due to the spice’s anti-inflammatory properties; studies show it can help with arthritis, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, gastrointestinal problems, and depression, and can reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer’s.
4. Follow a whole food diet
Eating well is vital to a healthy lifestyle. Avoid processed foods and eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, plant-based protein (such as fish), and white sources of meat (chicken breasts are ideal). Aim to eat organic foods as often as possible.
Slowly cut back your intake of red meat to where you’re eating it no more than three times a week. Dr. Konigsberg is a strong proponent of cold-water fish, such as mackerel and trout; incorporating it into your diet up to three times a week may help drastically reduce the risk of heart disease.
5. Learn to manage stress
Some stressors, such as dealing with the financial fallout of the holiday season, are external and you may not have total control over them. But as Dr. Konigsberg explains, “Stress is also our own internal reaction to external events and, ultimately, that we have control over.”
To combat stressful moments, she swears by the 4-7-8 Exercise, a breathing method developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. Begin by inhaling through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven and then exhale it completely through your mouth (as though you’re breathing through a straw) for eight seconds. This can help lower cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones) and increase serotonin and dopamine (relaxation hormones).
She also emphasizes the importance of meditation because of its many mental and health benefits. There are several types of meditation, so try them until you find the one that works best for you.
These five changes will easily develop into new habits if you slowly incorporate them into your current routine. Not sure where to start? The breathing exercise is a simple step toward larger changes. Take these small steps in 2017 and you’ll make strides towards a healthier you for years to come.
Dr. Konigsberg does not represent, and is not affiliated with, Nature’s Bounty.
As a reminder, discuss the supplements and medicines you take with your health care provider. These products may pose risks and may not be suitable for everyone. Always read label directions and warnings prior to use.