By CHRIS COPLEY
6:13 PM EST, December 28, 2012
Any day can be the day you decide to improve your health. But because today is New Year's Eve, consider making one or two changes today that will improve your health in 2013.
None of these will surprise you. You've probably heard them all before, maybe even tried a couple. Bear in mind that health is more than just a physical thing. Mental and emotional health are also important. Many of these suggestions have impacts in several areas of a person's overall health.
But take a new look with an open mind? Why? Your quality of life depends it.
1. Eat more fruits and vegetables.
No surprise here. But try to make it more fun and also support local growers by shopping for locally grown or produced foods. Shop at a local farmers markets; some local growers use greenhouses to grow crops year-round. Or consider purchasing a share of produce from a community-support agriculture business (called a CSA). In season, a CSA provides members a box of produce, flowers, cheese or meat. There are also local producers selling eggs, cheese, beef, pork, chicken and wine directly to the public. Call the University of Maryland Extension Service at 301-791-1404 for a list of local farmers markets, CSAs and producers who sell to the public.
2. Get more sleep. Experts have been telling us that getting shut-eye does more than keep you alert during the day. Poor sleep has been linked to such health problems as type 2 diabetes. And a recent study published this year in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed there might be a link between poor sleep and obesity.
3. Drink more water. Studies have shown that if you stop drinking sugary sodas, it can add up to weight loss. The best drink, experts say, is water. Keeping hydrated helps your body to function correctly every day. The Institute of Medicine suggests that men drink about 13 cups of fluids a day, while a woman should get about 9 cups.
4. Write it down. Sometimes it helps to get it all out on paper. The University of Rochester Medical Center said journaling is a helpful tool in managing your mental health. The center said writing your emotions down can help manage anxiety, reduce stress and cope with depression. Journaling can also help control symptoms and improve your mood by helping you identify triggers and track your moods.
5. Walk more. The simplest form of exercise is walking, experts tell us. Mayo Clinic reports that walking cannot only help manage weight but can lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or "bad" cholesterol; raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good' cholesterol; lower blood pressure; improve your mood and reduce risk or manage type 2 diabetes, among other things.
6. Sit less. Stand more.
Yes, sometimes you just want to rest, but research shows that people who sit more die younger, on average. The New York Times reported in 2011 that The British Journal of Sports Medicine and Diabetologia, a journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, both pointed out that after sitting for more than an hour, those enzymes that burn fat decline as much as 90 percent. Standing hardly seems to be very active, but the body is constantly adjusting muscles to maintain balance. This boosts metabolism.
7. Play more.
Yes, you should exercise more, but sometimes "exercise" seems equal to "sweaty drudgery." Instead, get together with friends or family and play. Go for a winter hike on the C&O Canal Towpath. If the snow is deep enough, go sledding. If there's no snow, play touch football or kickball. As warm weather approaches, contact the City of Hagerstown Parks and Recreation Division (301-739-8577, ext. 169) or the Continuing Education department of Hagerstown Community College (240-500-2236) for schedules of competitive adult sports leagues.
8. Find a local ethnic market.
Markets that specialize in Asian, German, Hispanic or other ethnic foods often offer produce, meats and cheeses not found at big grocery stores.
9. Stay in touch with people.
Research indicates that having strong personal relationships extends life and improves health. So set up times to get together with people you like for conversation and interaction. Avoid simply watching TV or a movie. Play board games. Cook together. Go for a walk. The key is to do something together that allows for conversation.
10. Cut back on the use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.
Moderation is key. Smoke fewer cigarettes daily. Drink fewer beers daily. Give up prescription drugs you don't need for health purposes. Your quality of life will improve.
11. Buy a few quality cooking tools.
Another way to trick yourself into cooking more: Buy a few nice kitchen tools. Cutting vegetables is so much easier with a good-quality knife. A heavy, cast-iron frying pan or Dutch oven allows even cooking and minimizes burnt food. A quality food processor speeds shredding, chopping and mixing.
12. Be creative.
Being creative stimulates mind and emotions. Sing or play an instrument. Bake a cake. Paint, draw or make other forms of visual art. Write stories or poetry. Dance. Plant a garden. Creating something real and physical using your imagination and your hands is good for your emotional health.
13. Read more.
Scientists report that more parts of the brain are active during reading than during passive forms of entertainment such as watching TV or movies. Reading stimulates the imagination and changes the structure of the brain. Treat your brain like you treat your muscles — use it, challenge it, stimulate it —so it doesn't wither.
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