Is prioritizing your health on your New Year’s resolution list? If not, it should be. Each January we resolve to make changes in our lives. But in many instances, we neglect to make changes to our health. Yet, sometimes we resolve to lead healthier lives, but find that our commitment to do so wanes as the year progresses. In an April 2009 interview with media-mogul Oprah Winfrey, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke about her personal commitment to health. She said: “After I had Malia, I began to prioritize exercise because I realized that my happiness is tied to how I feel about myself. I just started thinking, if I had to get up to go to work, I’d get up and go to work. If I had to get up to take care of my kids, I’d get up to do that. But when it comes to yourself, then it’s suddenly, “Oh, I can’t get up at 4:30 a.m.” So I had to change that. If I don’t exercise, I won’t feel good. I’ll get depressed.”
First Lady Obama knows that her health is a priority. We, too, should recognize that our health is a priority. Far too often, health is deprioritized within the African-American community. In many instances, the chronic illness we commonly see among African-Americans could have been prevented if personal commitments to maintain one’s “good health” were made. With the 2012 New Year fast approaching, it is an ideal time to resolve to make healthy lifestyle changes. However, before you make a resolution to get healthy, you must first search your motives for doing so. Ask yourself these questions: “Why do I want to become healthy?” “How will I accomplish this goal?” Second, you should understand that being healthy should be embraced as a long-term goal rather than a short-term goal. Are you looking for a quick-fix, or are you looking to make true changes in your life? Third, you must understand that becoming healthy will require you to make changes that may be uncomfortable. However, by identifying your health goals, and committing to following through with them, you will look and feel much better. Also, you will find that you have a renewed sense of purpose for your life.
Here are 13 simple resolutions to help you jump start your New Year in a healthy way:
1. Drink more water. Water helps to replenish the body of unhealthy toxins. Without water, our skin dries out, and we can become dehydrated. Resolve to drink 8 glasses of water per day. To help you consumer larger amounts of water in a shorter time frame, use large containers (i.e. Instead of drinking 8 individual bottles of water, use a one liter bottle several time in a day). By drinking more water, you will notice a drastic improvement in the way you look and feel.
2. Stop smoking. Nicotine is a very powerful substance that causes lasting damage to the brain and the body. If you smoke and chew tobacco products, resolve to stop in the New Year. If you smoke and/or chew tobacco products despite having been diagnosed with chronic illnesses such as hypertension, cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease, etc., you are playing Russian roulette with your life. Nicotine worsens chronic illnesses. There are many inexpensive smoking cessation products available to help you break the habit. Do not shy away from talking to your doctor about your desire to stop smoking and chewing tobacco products. Find a support group. Do all that you can to stop smoking and chewing tobacco products because nicotine will destroy your body, and shorten your life.
3. Get Active. It is easy to become sedentary and sometimes hard to get up and move around. Refuse to become a couch potato. Take baby steps to increase your daily activity level. For example, park farther away from stores. Use the remote control less. Mildly jog or walk to a specific destination. There are many ways to incorporate activity into your life while completing ordinary tasks such as ironing and cleaning. Resolve to make small adjustments to become more active each day. By doing so, you will become motivated to exercise on a consistent basis.
4. Exercise Regularly. We all know exercising is important to our health, but it is sometimes hard to do. In short, take the advice of First Lady Obama: prioritize your health. Whether you join the local gym or exercise independently, it is important that you create a regimen that works for your schedule, and stick with it. Exercising can be difficult at first, but with patience and consistency, you will find it enjoyable and rewarding. Make an effort to exercise 3 to 4 days a week, for 30 minutes or more. Consult with your regular physician prior to starting a new fitness regimen.
5. Listen to Your Doctor. Has your doctor recently told you to reduce your salt intake; exercise more; take your prescribed medicines; or check your blood sugar levels? Did you follow your doctor’s orders, or were you non-compliant? An adage goes: “An ounce of prevention is work a pound of cure.” Although you may not agree with “the doctor’s orders,” have you considered the validity of those orders? If your doctor has forewarned you, and strongly advised you to make changes in your lifestyle, do one simple thing: listen. Listening to your doctor does not mean that you will always agree with her or his recommendations. In fact, if you disagree with an aspect of treatment or have questions, you should always speak up and voice your concerns.
However, listening to your doctor’s orders does mean that you understand your doctor is supposed to operate in your best interest. You have to trust your doctor. Therefore, work to establish a strong relationship with your doctor. Also, resolve to become a more compliant patient in the New Year. When you resist your doctor’s orders, you only hurt yourself.
6. Visit the Dentist. When was the last time you visited the dentist? Our dental health is very important to our well-being. If insurance is a barrier, search for a low-cost clinic that offers dental services. Be sure to make your dental health a priority. Floss and brush regularly. Avoid sweets as they promote enamel and tooth decay.
7. Schedule a Mammogram. The American Cancer Society recommends that all women have a monthly breast self-exam (BSE) starting at age 20; a clinical breast exam (CBE) at least every 3 years starting in their 20s and 30s; and an annual mammogram every year starting at age 40. Although African-American women are less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer when compared to Caucasian women, they are twice as likely to die from the disease due to late-stage diagnosis. Therefore, it is important to adhere to the American Cancer Society’s recommended screening guidelines. Schedule your annual mammogram in the New Year.
8. Schedule a Prostate Exam. African-American men bear the burden of prostate cancer. Among African-American men, the disease is often detected at the latest stage, when it is less curable. All men between the ages of 40 and 75 should have a Digital Rectal Exam (DRE), and a Protein Specific Antigen (PSA) test. Men with a family history of prostate cancer (father, brother, grandfather, uncle, etc.) are at increased risk for the disease. Schedule a prostate exam in the New Year.
9. Reduce Stress. Stress and anxiety are silent killers. Resolve to reduce stress and anxiety in your life as much as possible. Life is too short. Learn to let go of anger, bitterness, hostility, and frustrations. Do not take on more responsibility than you can bear. Learn to say no to people. Our minds, our bodies, and our spirits are connected. Therefore, when you are mentally stressed, you are unable to maintain optimal physical and spiritual homeostasis.
10. Go Organic. Foods that are processed are often high in sodium and fat content. Reducing your intake of processed foods will benefit your heart and give you more physical energy. Organic foods are natural foods of the earth. Eating organically grown fruits, vegetables and foods are essential for optimal health.
11. Opt for Leaner Meats. The vegan and vegetarian lifestyles may not work for you, but you can choose to eat leaner pieces of meat. Reduce your red meat and pork consumption. Instead, opt to eat more fish. Important nutrients and Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish. Resolve to eat leaner meats.
12. Go Meatless. If you have wanted to give up meat, do it. Whether your reason is personal or moral, research studies indicate that vegans and vegetarians are often healthier and less likely to suffer from chronic illnesses. If you are willing forgo meat, there is a wonderful vegan and vegetarian community willing to embrace you. The health benefits of the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle are innumerable.
13. Get More Rest. Finally, rest is vital to maintaining your physical, mental, and emotional homeostasis. If you work incessantly without replenishing your body, you will eventually burn out and experience depression, anxiety, and anger. In the New Year, resolve to get more rest. To do so, simply take it easy, and cut back on your work load.
In essence, when it comes to our health, we are autonomous individuals. Although we cannot choose our genetics, we can choose our lifestyles. If health has never been paramount to you, it is time to make a change. As African-Americans, it is no longer acceptable for “poor health” to dictate our lives. Also, accepting “poor health” as a way of life simply because “that’s how it’s always been for Blacks in America” is no longer valid. It is a new day and a new age. As the adage goes: “When you know better, you do better.”
As African-Americans, we have the intrinsic power to create change in our lives and in this society. If we desire for our children to live healthy lives now, and in years to come, we must make changes today. This New Year’s, take a cue from our dynamic First Lady, Michelle Obama, and resolve to make your health a top priority. When you resolve to place your health needs first, all others aspects of your life will balance out accordingly.