As the new year begins, more and more people start exercising, dieting or making other lifestyle changes. Many times, though, these efforts only last a few weeks before people fall back into old habits. Fortunately, there are several proven ways to ensure these are lasting changes with long-term benefits to a person’s health.
“It’s about making small changes rather than taking on one too big a goal or trying to accomplish too many goals at once,” says Dr. Claire Farrell, a primary care physician at East Jefferson General Hospital. “I always recommend that people focus on three realistic goals. The most important thing is to be consistent and start small so you don’t get overwhelmed and give up after a few weeks.”
Dr Farrell said it was also an ideal time for people to take a holistic look at their health and lifestyle. Here, she shares advice to help people achieve optimal health in 2023 and beyond.
Schedule a time with your PCP.
Annual physicals are a good way to check vital signs and blood tests, says Dr. Farrell. Your doctor can also advise if any additional tests are needed. If you don’t have a PCP, seek advice from trusted family and friends.
“We can’t manage what we don’t measure. That’s why it’s important to check for these baseline markers so your doctor knows where you are,” Dr. Farrell said. “This is also a good time to work with your doctor on your health care plan to make any improvements or changes you think of.”
Take a comprehensive assessment of your health.
While many people focus on areas like losing weight or improving your physical health, reflecting on other aspects of your health can also be beneficial. Dr. Farrell recommends that people consider how they feel overall, their energy levels, sleep quality and duration, and stress levels. Discuss any concerns with your PCP.
Be realistic about your fitness goals.
“One of the best things people can do for themselves is to incorporate more exercise into their daily routine,” says Dr. Farrell. “If you’re starting a new exercise regimen, make it something fun rather than stressful. Find something you enjoy so it doesn’t feel like a chore.”
Even exercising for a few minutes a day can be beneficial, says Dr. Farrell. As people build strength and endurance, they can exercise longer and more frequently throughout the week.
“If you haven’t exercised in a long time, it’s best to start small and build up,” she says. “The ultimate goal is to exercise for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week, but that’s not where you need to start. You can build up over time.”
Take steps to address any mental health concerns.
Dr. Farrell said since the COVID-19 pandemic, she has seen a marked increase in patients facing issues such as anxiety and depression.
“I think it’s good that people are being more proactive about their mental health,” she said. “Mental health has not been talked about enough for a long time. Sometimes there is still a stigma around therapy or medication, but more and more patients and providers are embracing these approaches.”
Anxiety and depression can lead to physical effects such as lack of sleep, flare-ups of conditions like eczema and acne, stomach problems, and more, Dr. Farrell notes. Anyone experiencing this type of problem should discuss it with a doctor to determine the cause and best treatment options.
“Medications can treat some mental health issues, but there are also things people can do in terms of lifestyle that can make a big difference,” she said. “It’s all about coming up with an individual plan that works for that particular person.”
Diets don’t have to be all or nothing.
To avoid feeling overly restrictive with a new diet, Dr. Farrell advises people to think about the foods they can eat, not the foods they are avoiding. Additionally, self-imposed excessive dietary restrictions can often backfire. That’s why Dr. Farrell says she likes the 80-20 rule of nutrition: Eat healthy 80 percent of the time and treat yourself 20 percent of the time.
“Instead of keeping certain foods off the table altogether, eat them in moderation as a treat, not as part of your daily diet,” says Dr. Farrell. “If you eat well 80 percent of the time, give it It’s okay to have some grace yourself, as long as it doesn’t become a constant.”
LCMC Health is a New Orleans-based not-for-profit health system with six hospital locations, a network of urgent care centers across the greater New Orleans area, and licensed physicians. LCMC Health has more than 2,800 board-certified physicians in multiple specialties.For more information or to find a doctor near you, visit www.lcmchealth.org.