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AHA News: Get Started on the Path to Better Health in the New Year


HealthDay News
Updated: Dec 31st 2019

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TUESDAY, Dec. 31, 2019 (American Heart Association News) -- Looking to reboot your health in 2020? What you need to do is clear.

"We should sit less, move more, sleep more and be mindful about what we eat," said Mercedes Carnethon, an epidemiologist and vice chair of the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. "Setting goals that balance these priorities but are achievable is going to be very important to set the right tone."

How you do that can take effort. But it's far from impossible. Here are some ways to start.

Eat and drink healthier

Begin with small changes and measurable goals when it comes to eating better and reducing calories, said nutritionist and author Claudia Gonzalez of Miami.

Pick a couple of healthy new behaviors each month. Keep dessert under control at home by having only an occasional scoop of ice cream or a small piece of chocolate.

If your goal is to eat more servings of fruits and vegetables, try to include them in foods you already like, Gonzalez suggested. Add spinach or green peppers to your pizza, or dip raw broccoli or carrots in a little salad dressing.

"Your mind thinks, 'Wow, it's not too bad.' At the end, you become a friend of vegetables," she said.

Portion size at meals is key to healthy eating. Experiment by eating half or three-fourths of what you might normally eat at a meal.

Sugary drinks are not the right choice for hydration, and their calories add up fast, Gonzalez said. So, make water your beverage of choice. Need flavor? Add strawberries or cucumber slices.

Get better sleep

Regular, restorative sleep – about seven to nine hours a night for most healthy adults – is necessary for a healthy metabolism, optimal brain function and quality of life, Carnethon said.

Without enough sleep, she said, long-term problems can include weight gain and chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

Commit to moving more

Physical activity burns calories, helps you lose weight and contributes to your overall health.

Carnethon said it's important to take things slowly. Set measurable weekly and monthly goals that are realistic. If you're a couch potato, don't say you'll run a marathon in two months; focus on smaller steps, such as walking 30 minutes a day for two weeks. Then, set a bigger goal that involves more intensive walking. Then running.

"The mistake some people make when it comes to setting goals is to be either too ambitious or not ambitious enough," Carnethon said. She suggests setting an initial goal that is a "reach" but a "feasible reach."

Cardiovascular disease risk increases with too much sedentary time, so adults should strive for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity. Try to work in some muscle-strengthening activities, too. Aim to boost physical activity through an exercise class, brisk walks, vigorous yard work or even dancing.

The activity doesn't have to be continuous. Exercise sessions or other types of physical activity can be broken into small segments throughout the week.

Schedule a checkup

To maintain physical and mental health, it's crucial to meet regularly with your health care provider. The visits should address all factors that can affect your health, including changing lifestyle behaviors and barriers to taking medications, Carnethon said.

Those conversations also should include family history, a strong link to heart disease risk. So, if you don't know your family health history, start asking relatives. Begin with your immediate family and then branch out.