With so much of our focus previously being on staving off the pandemic, the flu and other respiratory ailments, have we lost sight of basic health and wellness?
As Memorial Hermann Medical Group Pearland family medicine physician Jennifer Ukwu, MD, says many people have fallen into bad habits. “There’s been too little sleep and exercise, too much fast food and alcohol,” she says. “And many people have put off very important health screenings.”
She offers these helpful—and healthful—tips, to help you make 2023 your healthiest year yet.
Get moving. “Regular aerobic exercise helps boost your immune system,” Dr. Ukwu says. “It also helps reduce your risk for everything from stroke to type 2 diabetes and many types of cancer. Plus, it boosts energy, elevates your mood and promotes better sleep.”
Squeezing in a 15-minute walk before your morning shower or after work adds up. And walking can be a great time to unplug and be with family or friends. Just be sure to discuss any new exercise program with your doctor before diving in.
Eat fresh (and easy). Dr. Ukwu says eating healthfully doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. “Look for whole, natural foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains,” she says. “Replace red meat (at least some of it) with fish and chicken. And avoid refined, processed foods and foods that contain artificial ingredients.”
Too tired to cook? Try one of the growing number of companies offering ready-to-eat or pre-prepped fresh meals.
Get screened and vaccinated. If you’re overdue for your mammogram, colonoscopy or other cancer screenings, get back on track. If you or a family member is due for your COVID-19 vaccination/booster or flu shot, don’t wait. “If you’re not sure which screenings or vaccinations you’re due for, just ask your family doctor,” Dr. Ukwu says. “That’s why we’re here.”
Prioritize sleep. Dr. Ukwu says many of her patients get too little sleep. “If you’re having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about your sleep schedule,” she says. “Relying on over-the-counter sleep aids might provide short-term relief but can lead to long-term weight gain. Your doctor can help you get the sleep you need, naturally.”
Rethink alcohol. Thinking about going for that second (or third) glass of wine? Emerging evidence suggests that even drinking within the recommended limits (one drink per day for women, two for men) may increase your risk of several types of cancer and some forms of heart disease.
“As part of a ‘sober-curious’ movement, some people are becoming more aware of their alcohol consumption, choosing to drink less for personal or wellness reasons,” she says. “At the same time, there has been a proliferation of nonalcoholic ‘cocktails’ on the market, which can help people ‘drink’ socially while reducing their consumption of alcohol.”
Unplug and reconnect. Spending even a few minutes a day in nature or in meditation (or both!) can improve your emotional well-being and overall health. “There is a direct correlation between screen time and depression,” she says. “I counsel my patients to turn off their screens for a little while every day.”
Make resolutions. While some may caution against making New Year’s resolutions, saying overly ambitious intentions can be a recipe for failure, Dr. Ukwu disagrees. “Go for it!” she says. “I think any opportunity to adopt new habits or make positive changes in your life is a welcome opportunity.” Memorial Hermann’s program, called Resolution, can help you get started.
Give yourself a break. Set realistic goals and be patient with yourself. “I tell my patients, start with good intentions, prioritize your goals and then take it one day at a time. There’s always room for improvement.”
Don’t go it alone. Making a commitment to lasting good health can be overwhelming but having a solid support system can help. “If you don’t know where to start, your family doctor can help,” she says. She also suggests enlisting a friend or family member to help you stay motivated and accountable.
Looking for a primary care physician to help you get started? Memorial Hermann can help.