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From OncoLog, January 2009, Vol. 55, No. 1

House Call: Three Targets for New Year’s Resolutions

Maybe this is the year you’ve resolved to get your lifestyle back on a healthy track. Or maybe you’ve simply never thought much about your well being, but you’d like to. Either way, the new year offers a fresh start for healthy-living resolutions.

Consider this a challenge to improve your lifestyle in three main areas known to affect health: exercise, diet, and stress management. With a clear set of goals and a bit of dedication, you can make positive changes that will reduce your risk of diseases, help you develop better relationships, and help you be happier. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Exercise

The benefits of getting the blood pumping are too numerous to list in this article, so we’ll stick with the basics. Exercising regularly can:

  • Improve your physical capacity
  • Maintain your muscle, bone, and joint health
  • Lower your risk of obesity
  • Decrease your risk of life-threatening illnesses like cardiovascular disease and diabetes
  • Lower your blood pressure     
  • Improve your mental outlook

The amount, intensity, and type of exercise you should do depend on your current health and other considerations. Therefore, you should talk to your doctor to determine what is best for you. However, most people in moderate to good health—and even some people with serious illnesses, like cancer—can enjoy benefits from exercise.

Remember, too, that exercise does not have to involve strenuous activities such as jogging or weightlifting. You could walk to the store rather than drive, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or work in the garden instead of watching TV. Look for little ways to increase the physical effort it takes to perform daily tasks.

Diet

It’s no secret that the United States and many other developed countries are facing an obesity epidemic and that health problems related to being overweight are on the rise. To avoid being a part of this epidemic, pay attention to what you eat.

Counting calories is important to maintain a healthy weight. According to the American Heart Association, the moderately active man age 31–50 years needs 2,400–2,600 calories per day (women in the same group need only 2,000 calories per day).

In addition, the association recommends a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and low in saturated and trans fats, sodium, and cholesterol. Use balance in choosing foods—for example, for your main course, give priority to things like lean meats, fish, and poultry over fast-food burgers and pizza.

It should be mentioned here, too, that diet can include anything you choose to put in your body. Limiting your alcohol intake and quitting tobacco can greatly reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, and other serious illnesses.

Stress management

Managing stress can be very difficult, given the demands that most of us face day to day. As a first step, experts suggest we become aware of our own stress symptoms. For example, does rush-hour traffic cause you to become overly tired or agitated? By identifying stress triggers, you may be able to make improvements in your routine.

Stress management also relies heavily on changing how we view stressful situations. Instead of seeing a difficult situation as a threat, try to view it as a challenge.

Also, pay attention to your internal thoughts about stressful situations, especially those that are perfectionist, negative, or rigid. Ask, for example, “Why must I do this perfectly?” and try to think more positively about your reactions.

Stress can be lessened by getting plenty of sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and making time for relaxing activities. By targeting stress, you might find that you become not only happier but physically healthier, too.

For more information on this topic or for questions about MD Anderson’s treatments, programs, or services, call askMDAnderson at (877) MDA-6789.

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