Here are five baby steps to improve your health, family, and home in the New Year
By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature
Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD
Eat right. Get organized. Rein in the kids. Sounds good on paper, but too vague New Year's resolutions won't happen. Instead, listen to ageless wisdom: To make changes, take baby steps.
New Year's Resolution No. 1: Eat Healthier
When eating habits need an overhaul, baby steps work best. "Making minor changes in your lifestyle is doable for most people," says Cindy Moore, MS, RD, director of nutrition therapy at The Cleveland Clinic and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
If you want to get more calcium, vegetables, and fish in your diet, here's how to work it into your daily schedule:
- Drink one glass of low-fat milk at breakfast or lunch. "People are more successful at making changes if they start early in the day," Moore tells WebMD.
- Bring baby carrots or grape tomatoes to work for lunch every day.
- Eat one vegetable (something green) at your evening meal.
- Designate two "fish days" every week. Decide your meal in advance, whether it's a tuna sandwich or broiled salmon. Suggestion: Buy fresh fish on your shopping day, and enjoy it that night.
- On paper, track your progress every day. Note whether or not you've met your goals that day. Also, note your weight and/or body measurements.
"Tracking makes you more accountable for your actions," Moore says. "You're more likely to follow through."
New Year's Resolution No. 2: Bond With Kids
Take a good look at your kids: Would you recognize them in a lineup? If life's so chaotic you're rarely together, that needs to change. Nadine Kaslow, MD, a professor at Emory University School of Medicine and chief psychologist for Grady Health System in Atlanta, offers advice:
- Plan regular family fun, such as weekend outings or family vacations. "Parents can set the limits in terms of time and money," Kaslow tells WebMD. "But the family votes, and the majority rules. That means you don't always get what you want, but sometimes you do." It's a good life lesson.
- Schedule family meal time. Be realistic, but get everyone together several nights a week.
- Appreciate each other. Go to the kids' games and performances. Establish a family ritual for honoring achievements -- whether it's a parent's promotion, a kid's good grades, a first job, or the first band concert.
- Get the family involved in community volunteer work, such as a monthly Feed the Homeless program or helping with the city's annual Thanksgiving dinner.
- Plan family meetings to discuss issues of concern, like "chauffeuring" challenges.
Don't overwhelm the kids with all this at once. Baby steps, remember, for these New Year's resolutions. Get reacquainted with your kids gradually, one step at a time. But make sure fun is a top priority, Kaslow says.
New Year's Resolution No 3: Reduce Stress
Try not to obsess over things you have no control over, such as the economy, Iraq, or terrorism, advises David Baron, MD, chairman of psychiatry at Temple University Hospital and School of Medicine in Philadelphia. He also says:
- Listen to your body. When it says "enough," it probably is.
- Remember, "all things in moderation." Too much of anything is usually not healthy.
- Take time for yourself each day, even if it's only a brief time.
- Don't lose sight of the big picture. We often get overwhelmed by details that get blown out of proportion, even on a bad day.
- Find something to be thankful for. Do at least one fun (healthy) thing a day.
New Year's Resolution No. 4: Work on Health
Regular checkups, exercise, relaxation, healthy eating -- they all factor into good body maintenance. Checkups get especially important as you get older. Here are tips from Sharon Horesh, MD, an internist with the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta:
- When you hit your 50s, you need an annual exam with blood tests: blood count (to check for anemia or other blood cell problems), blood sugar levels, calcium, protein levels, and cholesterol, as well as thyroid, kidney, and liver function.
There's more: Women need a yearly mammogram and Pap smear/pelvic exam, and in some women, bone density testing to evaluate for osteoporosis and fracture risk may need to be done every two years. Most experts agree that men over the age of 50 need annual prostate cancer screening, including a digital prostate exam and prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test. Men and women both should start colon cancer screening at age 50.
- Exercise. Getting regular exercise in small increments provides significant heart benefits. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. "People generally envision a gym, but that's not realistic for the majority of people," she tells WebMD. "Get a pedometer, and aim for 2 or 3 miles a day. Exercise improves your mood, controls blood sugar, and is good for heart and bones."
- Get more sleep. If stress makes you toss and turn at night -- if you think four or five hours of sleep are enough -- you're fooling yourself. Fatigue on a daily basis takes a toll on your physical and mental health. To de-stress before bedtime: meditate, practice yoga, listen to music, or take a hot bath. This "transition time" allows your body to wind down before your head hits the pillow, says Horesh.
- Breathe deeply. Deep breathing from the rib cage area -- while sitting at your computer or sitting in traffic -- will reduce your stress level, so you feel better overall.
- Keep healthy snacks handy. With a stash of healthy snacks, you're less likely to raid vending machines, says Horesh. Stock up on favorites, such as power bars, yogurt, fruit, salt-free pretzels, or low-fat popcorn. Also, bottled water helps you feel full and avoids "dehydration headache." Water also helps kidneys do their filtering work to rid your body of toxins.
New Year's Resolution No. 5: De-clutter Your House
If your family's mail collects on the dining room table, you need help. That's where Cynthia Townley Ewer, editor of OrganizedHome.com, can get your New Year's resolution on track.
Ridding the house of junk mail is one of Ewer's specialties. "The greeting cards, the invitations -- that's the fun mail you read immediately," she tells WebMD. "It's the rest that seems to propagate in the middle of the night."
To get mail under control:
- Don't bring it into the house -- not until you've done a first toss, that is. That means sorting mail over a trash can, tossing junk immediately, saving other mail for review later. "It's like speed dating, there's no lifelong commitment," says Ewer. A trash can in the garage or by the back door is convenient for this.
- Do your tossing when you're not distracted, after groceries and kids are safely inside the house.
- Give remaining mail a "home." Put it in a designated place. A magazine file holder is good for this, especially one that is transparent, so you can see what you're looking for, Ewer suggests.
- Now the "R" word -- routine. You need a routine for dealing with bills, credit card statements, etc. Set a time every week for this. "This doesn't necessarily mean you have to pay all the bills at that time," Ewer tells WebMD. "But if you let it go any longer than one week, you won't see the bank overdraft or the erroneous charge on your credit card."
- Set up files. You might need a file for pending matters (such as a dispute with a merchant or rebate in progress), another for "bills to pay," another for statements, etc.
Keep in mind, though, that there's no such thing as clutter-free living, says Ewer. Nobody's absolutely perfect.
As with your mail, it helps to establish "clutter preserves" for your other stuff. These are like wildlife preserves -- limited areas where clutter can live freely, as long as it stays within boundaries, Ewer writes on her web site.
Here's another New Year's resolution: Set aside one chair in the bedroom for clutter. "Clothing may be thrown with abandon, so long as it's thrown on the chair."
Originally published Nov. 11, 2004.
Medically updated December 2005.
SOURCES: Cindy Moore, MS, RD, director of nutrition therapy, The Cleveland Clinic; spokeswoman, the American Dietetic Association. Nadine Kaslow, MD, professor, Emory University School of Medicine; chief psychologist, Grady Health System, Atlanta. David Baron, MD, chairman of psychiatry, Temple University Hospital and School of Medicine, Philadelphia. Sharon Horesh, MD, internist, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta. Cynthia Townley Ewer, editor, OrganizedHome.com.
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