Losing weight and getting fit may top many lists of New Year’s resolutions, but good overall health is key to achieving those objectives — and many more. Dr. Richard Roetzheim, chairman of the department of family medicine at USF Health, shared his five top tips to follow for better general health.
- If you’re a smoker, quit.
Tobacco use affects so many organs and functions in the body that dumping cigarettes will provide a multitude of benefits. If quitting a decades-old habit seems too daunting, “at least make an attempt to quit,” he said. And since studies show that people who accept help are more successful quitters, reach out to support groups, websites, phone help lines or your family doctor.
- Cut back on alcohol.
You might think that nightcap relaxes you, but too much alcohol disturbs sleep, work productivity and relationships. It increases risk for several cancers and worsens high blood pressure, liver and pancreas disease. How much is too much? “More than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women,” Roetzheim said. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of the hard stuff. And, no, it’s not a good idea to save up and consume a week’s worth of alcohol in one night. That’s a binge.
- Get a checkup.
“Many diseases develop silently,” said Roetzheim, who advocates an annual checkup for those over 40. The doctor will check your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and body mass index, and will discuss whether you need cancer screenings such as a mammogram, a skin cancer check or colonoscopy. You may also need vaccines (tetanus, flu, pneumonia) or booster shots (whooping cough), especially if you’re going to be around newborns and infants who haven’t received their full schedule of vaccines. After 26 years in primary care medicine, Roetzheim says it’s true that many men, in particular, take better care of their car or lawn than their health. “You may feel great but the first warning sign of trouble could be a heart attack or cancer that was preventable,” he said. “Don’t let that happen to you or your family.”
- Improve your nutrition.
“People get hung up on losing weight and exercise, but don’t forget that eating healthier foods can make you overall healthier,” Roetzheim said. “Focus on eating more fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nonfat dairy and limiting sugars and sweets.” Here’s one simple goal: Don’t eat food you purchase through your car window.
- Get socially connected, personally, not just electronically: family members, old friends, neighbors, fellow worshipers or volunteers.
Even if it’s just for a few minutes on the phone, connect daily with people you like and care about. Try to meet at least one new person a month, through friends or groups you know and trust. “All of these connections improve our physical, mental and emotional health,” Roetzheim said. Many studies confirm that people who are socially connected enjoy better overall health, live longer and have less depression compared to people who are alone or isolated, he said.