By Dr. Graham A. Colditz
Siteman Cancer Center
This is not your typical New Year’s resolution health-and-fitness column. Those often focus on big, sweeping changes, such as losing 40 pounds or training for a marathon. Here, instead, we’re heading in the opposite direction by focusing on smaller, easier-to-accomplish changes. Let’s call them, New Year’s touch-ups.
While big New Year’s resolutions can be fantastic and really beneficial, smaller goals can be easier to start and include in your daily routine. And although they might not feel as bold as bigger resolutions, they can still have an important impact on your health, helping to lower the risk of cancer and other important diseases.
Best of all, they’re simple. You might be doing some of them already. If so, keep them up, and try to work in new ones. If these are mostly new, pick one or two to work on. And once you have them down, pick up others. There’s no need to rush.
Most of us spend too much time sitting, and it’s increasing our risk of weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and maybe even some cancers. If you have to sit for work or school, try to stand up once or twice an hour for a few minutes. Standing desks are even better. At home, try standing when watching TV or spending time on your computer or phone.
Go meatless one day a week
You might have heard of “Meatless Mondays,” but you can pick any day of the week to give it a try. A plant-based diet has major health benefits, so pick one day a week to really focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. If you’re not ready to go completely meatless, try baked or grilled fish one night instead of red meat.
Step on your bathroom scale
“Easy but not fun” may best describe this one. But stepping on your scale regularly (once a day or once a week) is a great way to keep weight in check. If you notice your weight creeping up, you can make small changes to how much you eat and how active you are.
Sneak in some vegetables
Adding more vegetables to your diet is always a good idea. And one easy, and somewhat sneaky, way to do it is to grate vegetables into some of your usual dishes. Carrots, squash and cauliflower practically disappear when grated into soups, casseroles and pasta sauce, but they provide a good nutrition boost.
Pick low- or zero-sodium canned foods
Most people eat too much sodium, which can increase the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, even stomach cancer. Canned foods can be a major source of sodium, so choosing zero- or low-sodium options can be an easy way to cut back.
Cut back on sugary drinks
Sugary drinks – such as sodas, energy drinks, juice drinks and many coffee drinks – are a major source of extra calories and have been found to increase the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Drinking fewer sugary drinks is an easy way to shave calories from your day. And getting down to zero is best. Try no-calorie fizzy water and unsweetened coffee and tea instead.
We tend to rush through our days, and this often includes our meals and snacks. Try to slow down the next few times you eat. Take a minute to sit quietly before you start, then eat much more slowly than you normally would. You may find you’re satisfied with less food than you would be usually.
Keep sunscreen within arm’s reach
Broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher sunscreen provides good protection against the sun’s damaging rays. But it can’t do its job if you forgot it at home. So, keep some backup sunscreen in your car, backpack, desk, purse or other easy-access spots. This way, when you’re ready to go outside, you’ll have it ready to put on.
New Year’s is filled with promise and energy, which makes it a wonderful time to set new health goals for ourselves. Trying these touch-ups can be a great way to harness that potential and improve your health in 2019 and beyond.
It’s your health. Take control. Happy New Year.
Dr. Graham A. Colditz, associate director of prevention and control at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is an internationally recognized leader in cancer prevention. As an epidemiologist and public health expert, he has a long-standing interest in the preventable causes of chronic disease. Colditz has a medical degree from The University of Queensland and a master’s and doctoral degrees in public health from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.