When it comes to making New Year’s resolutions, I pride myself on originality. I’ve made some good efforts in the past: from flossing every day (still inconsistent on that) to taking more pictures (getting better) to taming my sweet tooth (the single bite taken from each type of an assortment of donuts last weekend is evidence that this one still needs work. But hey, at least I didn’t eat all 12!).
But what if I ditched the search for the perfect cocktail party conversation, and left my resolution up to my doctors? What do they wish I’d change?
To find out, I asked a handful of health professionals what resolutions they’d like to see their patients make. Some responses were expected: quit smoking, cut back on drinking, trim your waistline, and take your medications correctly, for example. Others were less so: “Stop buying self-help books,” said Lorenzo Norris, MD, a psychiatrist in Washington, D.C., who encourages his patients to write their own instead. “Stand up and advocate for your reproductive rights,” urged Rachna Vanjani, MD, and Ob/Gyn resident at Boston University. All are worth considering.
So if you need some inspiration, steal one, two, or all of their ideas and get ready to make your body (and your doctor) happy in 2012.
1. Get Moving
The results of my informal poll are unanimous: If you make only one resolution this year, make it exercise. “I wish my patients would take exercise more seriously,” said Vanjani. “It is the single best thing you can do for your health.” From acting as a natural anti-depressant to warding off heart attacks, adding just three 10-minute bouts of walking a day can be transformative for the mind, body, and soul. A resolution to get active may not win you creativity points, but it’s still one worth making. In the words of Michelle Obama, let’s move.
2. Make That Appointment
For many seemingly healthy young women with overbooked schedules, the concept of a check-up can seem almost frivolous. But whether or not you feel ill, a lot can be going on in your body that only doctors (and their screening tests) can usually detect. So make 2012 the year you get on track with all your appointments—go see (or get) a primary care doctor, a gynecologist, a dentist, and an eye doctor. (A therapist isn’t a bad idea, either.) Waiting until something’s wrong can mean waiting until it’s too late.
3. Eat Three Meals a Day
We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and yet, we also know that a lot of women still don’t eat it. There’s also been increasing buzz about women skipping lunch in favor of logging more hours at work or “saving up” their calories for dinner.
But consistent meals are critical for maintaining energy, concentration, weight, and digestive regularity. And, if your body doesn’t know the next time it’s eating, it will hold onto what it can, when it can (hello, bloating!). Trying to lose weight? “Three meals a day—and cutting the snacking, healthy or not—will definitely help,” said Hannah Brillowski, a nutritionist in Wisconsin. So if you’re a meal skipper, commit to three (balanced, appropriately portioned) meals a day. Enjoy the food—and the health benefits too.
4. Know Your Family History
Have you ever felt totally confident filling out that family history form in the lobby of a doctor’s office? If the answer is “no”—or even “kind of”—change it to “yes” in 2012. You’ll make better use of your time in the clinic and enable your doctor to better assess your risks.
To get the scoop, talk to your family and write down what you discover. If you don’t know where to begin, check out the Department of Health and Human Services’ easy-to-use (albeit corny) online tool that will help you create a family health portrait that can be updated over time.
5. Be Thankful
Being thankful isn’t just nice—it’s also healthy. “Those who practice gratitude see emotional, health, and interpersonal benefits,” says Erin Peterson, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C. She suggests writing regularly in a journal about things you appreciate (it can be as simple as “my fluffy bathrobe” or “the birthday card I sent my mom wasn’t belated—for the first time ever”). In as little as three weeks, you could notice a significant boost in happiness.
No matter what you resolution you choose, you should also resolve to keep resolving. January is not the only—or even the optimal—time to make resolutions. (If you’re like me, you’re more likely to wake up on New Year’s Day hitting the pillow than hitting the pavement with a sunny new outlook. Resolutions really begin on January 2, right?) And just because you drop the ball one day (or week or month), doesn’t mean you can’t get back on track. As Dr. Peterson tells her patients, “Give yourself a break. You don’t have to be perfect—good enough is just fine.”
Not being perfect? Now that’s a resolution I know I can keep.