Resolutions for Better Health

Here, 5 healthy resolutions for 2014

Try something new to reduce stress

Stress can affect our mental health, harm our immune systems and even make us sick. Chances are if you’re “feeling it” then you’re likely not doing enough to mitigate its effects. If you’re stuck in a rut, try:

Listening to classical music. Believe it or not, a half hour a day can reduce blood pressure. (Check out our sample playlist.)

Volunteering. While it may be adding another commitment to an already busy schedule, helping others is good for your state of mind. Start small, like committing to a couple of hours per month at your place of worship or favourite charity.

Saying no. We want to please others, but not knowing when to draw the line can lead to burnout and stress. (Not sure how to do it? See The art of no for strategies.)

Exercising regularly. Physical activity has been proven to improve mental health and it’s a healthy way to cope with stress. Experts recommend activities that focus on breathing, strength, flexibility, meditation and balance as part of your fitness regime. (See Boost your spirits with exercise for details.)

Taking a break. While shrinking travel budgets have many of us in “naycation” mode, skipping vacations can actually be hazardous to your health. It’s doesn’t have to be a long or expensive trip, but taking some time off from your usual work and routine will help prevent burnout and give your creativity a jolt. (See how Vacations reduce your stress.) Short on time? Even something as simple as working in a few minutes of deep breathing exercises and stretching into your daily routine can help soothe the nerves. (And don’t forget to give lots of hugs.)

Take a class, join a club or play a sport

How often are we told about the risks of not getting enough exercise and not watching our weight? Inactivity and excessive weight increase the risk of a whole myriad of diseases like cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. However, many of us broke with our usual diet and fitness routines during the holidays, so suddenly delving into a strict new regime can spell disaster. Our motivation lags when we don’t enjoy what we’re doing or we can’t meet unrealistic goals.

Instead, start with something enjoyable that requires a regular time commitment and provides support. For example, make this the year you finally try yoga, take an aqua aerobics class or find out why pickleball is taking off here in Canada. Join an activity like a mall walking group, hiking association or running club. A scheduled time means you’re committed to at least one workout a week, and the support of your classmates, group members and instructors will help keep you motivated.

And don’t just be a spectator when it comes to sports. A Statistics Canada report showed that participation in sports is waning. Only 28 per cent of the adult population participated in 2005 — down from 45 per cent in 1992. The study blamed the “aging population” for part of the decline, with obstacles such as family responsibilities, careers, heath conditions and a lack of interest preventing participation. However, there are more and more activities, sports and clubs available for adults of all ages and abilities — and finding them may be as simple as looking in your local recreation guide.

For more tips, see How to keep your fitness resolution.


Reduce your exposure to toxins

Reports have shown that we carry dozens of chemicals in our bodies — everything from pesticides to mercury to harmful phthalates. We’re constantly bombarded with debates about what’s hazardous and what isn’t, and it can take years for scientists and government officials to declare something unsafe.

It’s not surprising then that experts recommend taking action now to reduce our exposure to chemicals.

In general, chemicals can potentially enter our systems through our digestive system (what we eat and drink), our lungs (what we inhale) and what gets absorbed through our skin. We can’t always control our environment, but we can make changes big or small to our routine. For example:

Organic foods. These foods can be pricey, so focus on the ones that would typically have higher pesticide residues like peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines and strawberries. You can skip buying organic for products like onions, mangoes, pineapples and avocado which don’t require as much pesticide use. (See the complete list for more food options.)

Natural or non-toxic beauty and personal hygiene products. Read the labels carefully to see what ingredients are used. Look for products made from natural and organic ingredients and choose products that are less toxic. (See the Skin Deep cosmetic safety database for details on products.)

Greener cleaning products. Look for all-natural cleaning products like dish soap and enzyme air fresheners. Alternatively, you can make your own natural cleaners at home. At the very least, wear gloves to protect your skin.

Natural materials. Avoid home improvement products like glues and resins that off-gas.

Filters. Filtered water is the choice of many experts, and it’s cheaper than the bottled alternative. (Just be sure to drink it from a BPA-free bottle.) In addition, air filtration systems in the home can help eliminate indoor pollutants, and so can some houseplants like spider plants and palms.

Tackling too many of these changes at once may not be financially feasible so try a little at a time. For example, gradually replace your old products with non-toxic alternatives as you run out, and watch for sales and special promotions on eco-friendly options. The trend towards “green” will continue to be big.

For more information on reducing your exposure to toxins, check out Reduce your toxic body burden and Sweet-smelling toxins.

Start a family tree of medical history

Family and personal history affects your risks of developing diseases like certain types of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. However, when family members pass away or don’t communicate, it’s easy to lose critical pieces of the puzzle when it comes to determining your risk factors.

That’s why experts advocate starting a family tree or family portrait to capture medical history. The picture includes key information such as which family members developed what disease at what age, and what the cause of death was for deceased members. The information can reveal patterns that provide important clues to your future health (and the future health of your children and grandchildren).

How can you get started? A log or journal will do, or try the free online tool set up by the U.S. Surgeon General. You can easily enter and update information, and the tool automatically generates a visual record — in “tree” and chart form — to track your family’s history. The information can be printed off and shared with health care providers and other family members.

For more information on how to start and what questions to ask, see the A family tree for better health.

Get on track with your routine check-ups and screenings

It’s time to stop hiding from your doctor. Remember, skipping those routine blood pressure and cholesterol checks is risky behaviour as they could be warning signs of large issues yet to come. A yearly physical examination is essential, but so are regular screenings like pap smears, mammograms, prostate exams and colorectal cancer screening (however unpleasant they may be). Make it a point this year to check that your screenings and immunizations are all up to date. (See 10 tests that could save your life for details.)

And don’t forget to visit your dentist and optometrist. Infection and disease in the mouth can in turn affect the whole body. Something as minor as an out of date eyeglass prescription can cause headaches and vision problems. Furthermore, regular check-ups can detect the early signs of glaucoma and macular degeneration — and early detection usually means a better prognosis.

A final word of advice: Don’t feel you have to tackle it all at once. Avoid the problem of “biting off more than you can chew” by starting small and building on your successes. Set realistic goals throughout the year, like tackling the family tree during next year’s holiday get-togethers or setting a six month time frame for getting your screenings in. Take a class in the winter and play a sport in the summer. Think about the year as a whole rather than focusing on the next couple of months.

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