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7 easy ways to improve your health in 2014

Published: Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 9:53 a.m.CDT

Doctors for USA WEEKEND

If you haven't yet dropped the first of 20 pounds you promised yourself, or only hit the gym once since New Year's, when you swore you'd go every day, don't stress too much. Losing weight and exercising more are certainly good goals, but those kinds of overly ambitious resolutions often require unrealistic leaps. Instead, focus on making small lifestyle changes you can stick to. That's where The Doctors can help. Here, they share the little things you can start doing today that will improve your health throughout the year.

"KNOW YOUR RESTING HEART RATE"

A heart that beats fewer times per minute is usually a more efficient heart. To get your resting rate, sit in a comfortable position and use your index and middle fingers to feel for your radial artery, just below your opposite wrist, at the base of your thumb. Count how many beats you feel in 60 seconds. Anything between 60 and 100 beats is considered normal, but lower in the range is usually desirable. The great news? Simply adding 30 minutes of brisk walking to your daily routine could lower your resting rate — and add years to your life! — Dr. TRAVIS STORK, emergency medicine physician

"USE 'PURE' MOISTURIZERS"

Almost all moisturizing products contain chemical compounds — some of which are included on the FDA's list of suspected carcinogens. Others, called parabens, are known endocrine disruptors because they can mimic the actions of estrogen in the body and may be associated with increased risk of certain types of hormonally-responsive cancers. The skin is your largest organ and chemicals are absorbed through it, so I don't use anything on mine that is not pure enough to eat. For more than 10 years, I've moisturized with pure cooking oils — sunflower, safflower or coconut oil for my face, body and even hair. I pick them up at the grocery store and pour them into pretty bottles for use in the bathroom. They are inexpensive, effective and safe for you and your whole family. — Dr. JENNIFER ASHTON, obstetrician and gynecologist

"EAT SMALL, FREQUENT MEALS"

Distribute your day's calories over the course of four meals and at least two snacks — this strategy prevents those dreaded insulin hormone spikes that can cause weight gain as well as help keep you from overeating. It's not always about what you eat, but when that can make a difference in maintaining or losing weight. — Dr. IAN K. SMITH, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist

"GET GOOD SLEEP"

And by that I mean quality sleep. You know you need about seven or eight hours a night to improve your learning and memory and boost your mood and health, but it's also important to make sure that time is spent resting well. To help you sleep soundly, leave stress outside the bedroom door, don't exercise too close to bedtime, and skip the nightcap — alcohol may help you get to sleep quicker, but it'll disrupt your slumber as your body starts to metabolize it. — Dr. ANDREW ORDON, plastic and reconstructive surgeon

"READ FOOD LABEL INGREDIENTS"

Starting with packages in your pantry, if the list includes one of these three ingredients: hydrogenated (oils); high fructose corn syrup; or yellow #5, blue #2 or another other color and number combo — toss it. It's a simplified list of unhealthy ingredients, but it's a good, effective place to start. (Be sure whatever you get at the grocery store can pass the same test; you can even have your kids look for the "bad words" if they are bugging you to buy a not-so-healthy snack.) And when you're done cleaning out your pantry, stock your fridge with fruits and vegetables. I know it sounds clich, but getting at least five servings every day is your most powerful weapon against chronic illness, cancer and auto-immune diseases. — Dr. JIM SEARS, pediatrician

"SIT ACTIVELY"

Whether you work at a desk all day or plant yourself in front of your home computer for hours, take time to do a few sets of seated leg lifts — they'll help you burn calories and tone while you type. Women should add Kegel exercises to their desk regimen — they strengthen pelvic floor muscles, which may help with bladder control as well as improve your sex life by making orgasms more powerful! Where are those muscles? Next time you have to urinate, stop midstream — the muscles you used are the ones you're targeting. Here's how to do Kegels: Making sure your bladder is empty, tighten your pelvic floor muscles and hold the contraction for five seconds, then relax for five. Try it four or five times in a row. Work your way up to 10-second contractions, with 10 seconds rest. Aim for at least three sets of 10 repetitions a day. — Dr. RACHAEL ROSS, family medicine physician and sexologist

"MEDITATE FOR 10 MINUTES EVERY MORNING AND NIGHT"

Reaching this deep relaxation can help heal your body and prevent disease; in fact, studies have shown that our DNA can actually be modified by the regular practice of meditation. When you quiet your mind, you can also find answers to difficult questions, solutions to challenges, minimize stress, as well as enhance creativity and inspiration. But you have to learn to do it for real — the same calm cannot be achieved by lounging at the pool or simply resting on the couch, for example; it also can't be forced. To learn how to meditate, I encourage my patients to listen to guided CDs or tapes until they are able to develop their own practice. My favorite mentors are Deepak Chopra, Abraham-Hicks, and Wayne Dyer — their guided meditations are all easily accessible online. I even introduced the practice of meditation to my children; it's something we frequently do together. It gives them a healthy way to release stress and anxiety. Try to make meditation part of your happy and peaceful new year. — Dr. JENNIFER BERMAN, urologist

The Doctors is an Emmy-winning daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork, plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon, health and wellness expert Jillian Michaels and psychologist Wendy Walsh. Check www.thedoctorstv.com for local listings.

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