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Tuesday Jan 23, 2018

New Year, New Chance to Get Fit

It's that time of year again when our offices are packed with patients who, at least for now, are motivated to get their health back on track. And perhaps we have decided to make this new year the one when we finally reduce stress and strike a balance between our demanding careers and home life.  

[new year 2018 celebration sunrise]

Among the most common New Year's resolutions are to lose weight/get healthy, get out of debt and quit smoking. Although it is difficult to quantify, the vast majority of people who make resolutions lose their resolve by mid-February.(health.usnews.com)

However, this year could be different! Besides the basics of decision-making(www.huffingtonpost.com) that we all learned in our motivational interviewing(www.annfammed.org) modules in medical school, I have outlined seven simple healthy habits adopted from my own journey that could get anyone -- patient or physician -- on the right track to increased health and wellness.

During the past year, I lost more than 25 pounds by getting back to the basics of healthy living. Like many of us, I was working hard and overstretched for time. After making a cross-country move, starting a new job and trying to manage a household, I quickly began to feel burned out. One thing that had always helped me in the past was exercise, but as we often do, I had let it slip away amid my tiresome days.

When I compare last year to other tough transitions in life, a strange difference was that I didn't feel like I had the energy to commit to this necessary change. I desperately needed a safe place where I could focus and find a community that was uplifting away from the constant barrage of pressure I was feeling.

Fortunately, I found a gym with a boot camp that provided the structure, accountability and guidance to allow me to get out of my slump and truly begin to breathe again. Along the way, I realized that even though I knew what I needed to do to feel better and be healthier, this time I could not do it without help. Now, a year later, I am fit. More importantly, I have rediscovered my passion for healing and feel more centered.

I hope these seven simple habits that I am learning to embrace can serve as a quick guide for clinicians and patients alike.

Practice Mindfulness

Studies have shown that people who engage in daily silent reflection and gratitude may extend their life expectancies. Similarly, those who practice mindfulness routinely have overall lower levels of cortisol, better sleep, less anxiety, improved memory(www.medicaldaily.com) and less incidence of cardiac events.

We all know that quiet time is beneficial, but in our day and age, being still is not a practice that is revered. So, begin slowly by writing down five things that you are grateful for each morning. This can help reduce the frenzy of getting ready in the morning or before falling asleep at night. Allow yourself to just … be. Your body will thank you for it.

Increase Water Intake

Although we do not need a lot of water to run our bodily systems, there are definite benefits to drinking at least two liters (about eight cups) of water a day.(www.healthline.com) For those interested in weight loss, drinking water stimulates satiety and digestion for up to 30 minutes. It also helps lubricate the gut, reduce constipation and improve gut flora stability, which improves removal of toxins from the body and overall inflammation in the body.

As we begin to increase exercise for the new year, proper hydration both before and after working out will improve performance and reduce soreness by replacing necessary electrolytes and flushing lactic acid from our system. Some people just don't like the taste of water. I get it, but be leery of "vitamin" drinks or electrolyte drinks because some are packed with sugar, which will quickly add to your daily caloric load. If flavor is what you need, you can use a sugar-free drink mix or infuse your water with fruit to give it some dimension.

I recommend drinking about 10 swigs of water at a time, which for most is about half a cup, and you will be at your goal in no time. Try it out for 30 days. You will be amazed at how much more energy you have, how your skin gains youthfulness and how your elimination improves!

Get Your Zs

As physicians, we are trained to function and make decisions under suboptimal sleep conditions. Although our medical training programs have changed because of safety concerns, the average American still does not get the recommended amount of sleep necessary for proper function. Beyond performance, adequate sleep(healthysleep.med.harvard.edu) is associated with reduced stress, improved memory, better metabolism and weight loss.

Of course, too much of a good thing isn't beneficial. NPR recently reported on a review(www.npr.org) of how many hours, on average, some of history’s most successful people slept. The range was between four and eight hours per night. Too much sleep(www.prevention.com) can be an indicator of sedentary living and hence sequelae from that. The bottom line is that you want to be consistent and get in those hours at night so you can optimize your daytime hours.

Get Moving

We've all heard patients say things like, "But doc, I stay really active at work. I am always walking and moving."

Although it is great to stay on the move at work, most desk jobs do not allow for enough exertion to produce the positive benefits of exercise. As a rule of thumb, 30 minutes of exercise five times a week is recommended. The new year is a great time start with these healthy habits. So, do you have to go to the gym and start pumping that iron? No, but I do recommend breaking a sweat consistently for 30 minutes a day. The benefits of sweat go beyond the physiologic cooling system of the body. Sweating also removes toxins from the body, and exercise releases endorphins.

For most, doing body weight exercises at home is more than enough to help elevate the heart rate and work muscles. It is amazing how much you can sweat in a small space!(greatist.com) Other great options are yoga, Pilates, dancing or biking. Once you've started a habit, you will find that your body will crave those moments because regular exercise stimulates dopamine release in the brain.

Eat More Fiber

The average American consumes about 16 grams of fiber a day,(www.ars.usda.gov) which is far below recommended levels.(www.nationalacademies.org) The disparity increases based on race and household income.(www.cdc.gov)

There are definite benefits to adequate fiber intake.(jn.nutrition.org) It helps improve a sense of fullness and satisfaction with meals, stabilizes blood sugar, promotes proper bowel function and balances gut pH to promote an ideal environment for gut flora. Certainly, adding quality fiber through whole foods is always preferred over fiber supplements.

Reduce Screen Time

Although we know the recommendation for children to reduce total screen time,(familydoctor.org) the idea holds true for adults, as well. A Nielsen Co. report(www.cnn.com) released in 2016 showed that the average American spent more than 10 hours a day on electronics. With the use of multiple devices at our fingertips, it can easily seem that we do not have enough time to get our goals and tasks accomplished. One simple fix is to plug in all devices away from bedrooms after a set time. Another simple fix is to remove social media icons from your main smartphone screen. With the extra time freed up, you will have more time to spend on quality activities that stimulate you and improve your relationships.

Get Into Nature

Finally, a simple but effective tool to get healthier this year is to get outdoors as much as possible.(www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) Getting out into nature has a tremendous impact on our general wellness. Even during winter in the colder climates, it is especially crucial. Immersing yourself in nature stimulates the reparative and creative centers of our brain, which helps improve focus, reduce fatigue and brain fog, and enhance immunity.

With all these benefits, it is a good time to put on your shoes and step outside.(www.businessinsider.com)

As we strive to help our patients achieve their personal improvement goals, I hope that we can adopt some of these habits for ourselves, as well.

Marie-Elizabeth Ramas, M.D., practices family medicine, including maternity care, in Nashua, N.H. She enjoys spending time with her husband, Ray, and their three children.

Posted at 09:49AM Jan 23, 2018 by Marie-Elizabeth Ramas, M.D.

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