To start the new year out right, Scott Carstens, MD, medical director of the Scripps Center for Executive Health, has compiled a list of 25 tips to help you live longer, feel better and enjoy life to the fullest. They’re simple to follow, and they can make significant changes in your long-term wellness.
For some of us, our only contact with a doctor is when we’re sick or injured. A head-to-toe physical examination is key to establishing your health “baseline” and screen for diseases. It’s also an important first step if you are planning to lose weight, embark on an exercise program or make other health-related lifestyle changes.
Your family’s medical history can give you a wealth of important information about your own health. Many diseases, such as heart disease, breast cancer and depression, can have a genetic component. The more you know about the health of your relatives, the better informed you’ll be about your own risk factors and how to manage them.
Obesity is epidemic in America, as are obesity-related diseases such as Type 2 diabetes. If you’re overweight, you may also have an increased risk of developing heart disease and several types of cancer, and recent findings suggest that being overweight may even be associated with changes in the brain that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Talk to your doctor about where your weight should be and how to get there.
There is no such thing as a sun-induced “healthy tan.” To tan is to damage your skin and skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. Protect your skin every day — even on cloudy days. Have a total body skin evaluation yearly to detect precancers and learn to self-identify early warning signs on your skin.
There’s no way around it — fruits and vegetables are necessary for good health. Dark, leafy greens, berries and tomatoes are just a few of the foods rich in antioxidants, the compounds that fight free radicals that can lead to cancer.
Garlic and onions can help lower inflammation in the body. That’s good to know, because researchers now believe that inflammation may be a basic cause of disease. Remember, the more color in starches, fruits, and vegetables, the more healthy they are for you.
“Good” fats, like those found in avocados, salmon and extra virgin olive oil, actually lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Trans-fats and saturated fats raise your risk, so read your food labels and know which fats are your friends.
When your day is packed full, it’s easy to skip breakfast — but it isn’t healthy. It’s a fact that people who skip breakfast often end up eating more throughout the day than those who do have that morning meal. Plus, because you tend to run out of energy sooner in the day, you may try to compensate with quick fixes like sugar and caffeine that can ultimately leave you more tired (and add empty calories). Make it a point to get some protein and fiber into your body at breakfast time. Good choices on the run include an energy bar, yogurt cup or fruit smoothie with protein.
Brushing is only part of the story. Flossing helps remove plaque from between teeth and also helps prevent infectious periodontal disease, which can lead to tooth loss. Think you don’t have time to floss every day? Here’s a good rule of thumb: Only floss the teeth that you want to keep.
Exercise benefits your brain, too, by increasing blood flow and stimulating the production of molecules that help brain tissue thrive and possibly ward off diseases such as Alzheimer’s. One study found that people who exercised often showed less mental decline that those who didn’t work out. It’s also a good idea to keep your brain sharp with puzzles, brain teasers and other mental challenges.
Busy schedules often leave minimal time for sleep. And when those lost hours of sleep start to add up, the result can be fatigue, irritability and concentration problems. In fact, driving while sleepy may be nearly as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. Make it a point to try to get as much sleep as you need to feel your best. If you have problems falling or staying asleep, talk to your doctor.
Is laughter the best medicine? Sometimes, especially if you’re trying to reduce stress levels and release “feel good” endorphins into your bloodstream. Take time to listen to a co-worker’s funny story or read that amusing email everyone is talking about.
And if you can learn to laugh when little things go wrong — or at least not explode in anger — even better. There’s a strong correlation between anger and high blood pressure and premature expression of heart disease. Remember, anger kills. Try to be aware of situations that spark your temper, and find calmer, healthier ways to react.
The eight-glasses-a-day rule still holds true. Water helps keep your cells hydrated, flushes out toxins, and prevents dehydration. Even slight dehydration can lead to fatigue and headaches, so be sure to drink up. Tea, juices and sports drinks count, too, as long as they’re not caffeinated. Caffeine can help promote dehydration.
Cold and flu viruses can be passed along by touching a doorknob, telephone or other object that was recently handled by an infected person, then touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Get in the habit of washing your hands often and well.
Time away from the issues and routines of everyday life can work wonders to reduce stress, strengthen family relationships, put you back in touch with nature and let you concentrate on enjoying time without rules and deadlines. Try to take at least a week; you may need the first few days just to get out of “work mode.”
Soda, fruit juice, flavored water, coffee drinks and alcoholic beverages can contain hundreds of calories. If you have a glass of orange juice, a café mocha and a glass of wine during the course of a day, you may easily be drinking 500 liquid calories. Be sure to count them in your daily totals.
Loving relationships can help you live a longer, healthier life. Make it a point to establish and nurture close, supportive relationships with loved ones.
Eat plenty of non-processed grains, fruits, nuts, leafy greens and avoid complex sugars, creamy sauces, and over-indulging in red meat.
Weight control, a healthier heart and lungs, stronger bones, increased energy, a sense of well-being, a lower risk of many diseases — all from 30 minutes of exercise a day. Find an activity you enjoy or recruit a workout partner to keep you on track. You don’t have to do it all at once, either. Three ten-minute sessions a day will still enable you to reap the benefits.
A 2002 study found that optimists have a 50 percent lower risk of early death than their pessimistic peers. Optimists are also more likely to be less stressed and have lower blood pressure. If you tend to see the negative side of things first, try to change your perspective and look for the good as well.
Not all childhood vaccinations last forever; for example, the vaccine against whooping cough is good for only about 10 years. Newer vaccines, such as those that help ward off chickenpox and the flu, also can help you stay healthy. Talk to your doctor about which ones you should have.
It can be hard to fit a mammogram, colonoscopy, Pap smear or prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test into a busy schedule, but these screenings are critical to early diagnosis of diseases — and the sooner they can be diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin. Ask your doctor which screenings you should have, and get them.
Talk about empty calories — processed sugars, such as white sugar, brown sugar and molasses, have no nutritive value and plenty of calories. They can also cause insulin levels to rise, and create an artificial “sugar high” that can result in a “crash” an hour or so later.
Constant stress can raise cortisol and deplete seotonin levels, and that can harm your cognitive thinking and your immune system. Each of us has different stress factors and we handle them in different ways. Invest a few hours in identifying stressors in your life and developing your own personal Stress Mastery Plan, and the payoff could be more stress-free years to enjoy.
Whether you’re a busy CEO or a busy stay-at-home mom, you need a healthy balance between work, family, and self. Be a better juggler. Schedule an hour (or as much time as you can) to yourself each day to relax, take a walk or call a friend. There’s no sense in living longer if you don’t enjoy your life. Take time to savor the good things that come your way and don’t live a life of regret.