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Health & Wellness

Writing your New Year’s Health Story

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Welcome to 2022! After a difficult 2021 that was preceded by an even more tumultuous 2020, we are eager to see what adventures this new calendar year will bring us.

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Over these last two years, we have seen chronic illness take center stage as it increased the risk of complications with the COVID-19 virus. Lifestyle choices account for the majority of chronic illness in our country, that’s why many people are seeking ways to lower their risk and change their health story.

A new year is a time to refocus our efforts, a time to repurpose our energies toward building the health story we want for ourselves.

Writing your health story can feel daunting, but it simply comes down to the small decisions we make on a daily basis. In this very uncertain world, change and habits are constants in our lives. When we set new goals for ourselves in the New Year we often resist or even ignore our relationship with these two things. In order to make a meaningful change, we must first understand our individual habits. Focusing on the small actions, the daily decisions, we make without thinking will be the easy button to bring you forward to the life and health you want.

Your HMG physician is here to help you write a new story for your health and wellness. Having a physician in your corner also provides you a cheerleader who will check in with you and help you adjust your focus as necessary.

So, where to begin? Writing a new story starts with an outline, but in this case we are starting with a pyramid, the pyramid of wellness. The base of this pyramid is sleep, which supports the next level of nutrition (what you eat), which supports the next level motion (how you move). This is the foundation of all good health stories.

Step One: Catch Your Zzzz’s

Quality sleep is essential in keeping your body healthy. Most people need at least seven hours of sleep each night, but the CDC reports that one in three adult Americans typically receive less than the recommended amount. Lack of sleep has been linked to diseases like Type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression, heart disease, and dementia.

The pyramid of wellnessThe pyramid of wellness

Whether your New Year focus is on your health or to get a new job, sleep is an important first step. To start your journey on a path to good sleep, you must first address the barriers that can cause sleep deprivation:

Screens The blue light emitted by screens on your computer, tablets and phones decreases the production of melatonin in the brain. Melatonin is nature’s signal for sleep. To avoid this, stop using screens, at least one hour before bedtime.

Schedules We naturally run on time cycles through the day. You can work with your natural clock, by going to bed at the same time each night. Your body will start to expect you to be in bed at this time. Any disruption will decrease your ability to get the sleep you need.

Late Night Eating When you have set your sleep schedule, you can set your eating schedule, too. Eating too close to bedtime will increase your risk of acid reflux and will increase your core body temperature which will delay onset of sleep and likely increase the risk of mid night waking. Try to avoid eating (especially carbohydrate rich foods) at least two hours before bed time.

Caffeine Did you know that it takes nearly six hours to metabolize caffeine? Limit your caffeine intake to mornings only to give your body time to process. Good sleep can also limit your need for caffeine, as better rest increases energy levels and decreases the need to rely on food and drinks to provide that energy.

avoid late night computer use, late night eating, caffiene, and sleep regularly at night
Improve sleep by avoiding device use an hour before bedtime, go to bed at the same time each night, avoid eating 2 hrs before bedtime and limit caffeine intake to mornings only.

Step Two: Know What You Eat

There are a lot of fad diets out there that can catch your attention. The problem with these trends is that they claim to be the only way to eat, when the truth is that diet might not be the best fit for your personal health. Not all eating plans are designed to meet the nutritional needs of every person.

Before you start a diet plan, consider consulting your HMG family physician who can assess nutritional options that are best for you.

When working to adapt new eating habits, there are important rules of thumb that you should consider.

Think about “what” you eat To keep you buying their product, food companies and fast food chains inject their food with sugar, salt and fat. They know this combination makes it hard for you to resist, but in the end you are paying them to steal your health. Non-processed whole foods naturally limit refined sugar, sodium and trans fat intake, offering not just avoidance of disease but restoration of your health.

Understand ‘when’ you eat Consider keeping a food journal for one week. If you know what you are eating, how much and at what time of day, you can start to recognize patterns. What are you feeling when you reach for food? How does that food makes you feel? When are you more likely to snack on unhealthy foods when you aren’t even hungry?

woman looking at label at grocery store
Try to limit your intake of processed foods that contain sugar, sodium and trans fat.

Talk with your doctor about intermittent fasting or ‘time-window eating.’ We are not biologically designed to consume calories throughout our entire waking hours. Choosing a time window during the day in which you eat will let your body’s hormone levels adjust minimizing the effect of insulin on the body which has health benefits. Working to get to a 10-hour window in which you’ll eat each day is a good start.

Keep a sleep journalNote how much sleep you’re getting on the days that you eat healthy foods vs. unhealthy foods and the days that you have tried time-window eating.

Step Three: Get a Move On

Let’s not use the ‘E’ word . Mobility and strength are the key to a long exciting health story. We are designed to move. When our bodies don’t move our physical and mental health suffer, which tends to lead us to move even less.

What do you want your health story to look like in 5, 10, 20 years? Would you be able to hike the rim of the Grand Canyon, or just look from a car window? Are you able to take the stairs if the elevator is out of service, or are you stuck on the first floor? Are you able to carry two bags of groceries up a flight of stairs or do you have to wait for someone to help you?

Maintaining a strong mobile physical body, is about keeping the opportunities of your life open to you.

If purposeful movement is new to you, talk with your physician about how best to build toward your goal. Our bodies need time to adapt to the tasks we ask them to complete in order to avoid injury.

Remember, movement is not limited to the gym. If this is where you want to get your movement in for the day and enjoy what it brings you, then that’s great! But there are opportunities to move throughout our day, that don’t require settings that can be intimidating and restricted by hours of operation.

A few points when thinking about your daily motion:

Choose an activity that you enjoy If you can find one that your friends or family are also interested in—like walking or biking—that’s an added bonus that can push you if you need extra motivation.

family walking outside
For extra motivation, choose an activity the whole family enjoys, like walking or biking.

Mix it up Consider multiple activities that incorporate interval training. High-intensity interval training includes short bursts of high intensity activities that can give you a high return for a low time investment.

Pace yourself When you’re trying something new, excitement about a new activity goal is wonderful but getting injured due to too much too soon can dampen the spirit.

Start with a good pair of shoes Not all shoes are created equal. Try to find a pair designed for the activity you would like to engage in. If you’re planning to run, visit a store that sells running shoes, which will be different from the basketball shoes you’ve held onto since high school.

Be the Author of Your Health Story

If these past two years have taught us anything, it is that there are only so many things in our lives we can control. Being the author of your personal health story is one of those things. Let 2022 be the start of a new chapter for you. Small decisions today focused on how you sleep, what you eat and how you move will shape the health you experience tomorrow.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to a HMG primary care physician for advice when setting your personal goals this year. We know you best and can help you create a plan that is individualized for you. To schedule an appointment, contact us or find a doctor nearest you at one of our HMG facilities.