Even if you've been secretly avoiding it, you must admit it's been on your mind. It is that time of year after all...Quit Smoking. Lose weight. Get more exercise. These are all items that typically make it onto lists of New Year's resolutions. But there are many other simple and less obvious things you can do to improve your health and quality of your life--without a great deal of effort.
Have fun to help de-stress
Experts recommend regular exercise, meditation and breathing techniques to reduce stress, but even something as simple as listening to soothing music, reading a good book, soaking in a hot tub or playing with your pet can help you relax. "Spending just 30 minutes a day doing something you enjoy can go a long way toward beating the stressors of everyday life," says cardiologist Annabelle Volgman, MD, director of the Rush Heart Center for Women. That's advice you should take to heart because prolonged stress can cause or exacerbate a number of health problems--some serious--including heart disease, stroke, hypertension, depression, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines and obesity.
Practice good oral hygiene
Spend a minimum of two minutes to brush your teeth twice a day--and don't forget the dental floss. Daily flossing and brushing of teeth not only help prevent cavities but may keep other diseases at bay as well. Experts suspect that bacteria-producing dental plaque, which leads to gum inflammation, can result in or exacerbate heart disease.
Although the exact mechanism of why this occurs is not clear, a connection has also been found between poor periodontal health and stroke, diabetes, premature births and low birth weights. "It's also a good idea to take a three-hour break between eating foods that contain sugar," says Joel Augustin, MD, a family medicine physician at Rush.
Do a crossword puzzle
Researchers at Rush have found that mentally challenging activities, such as reading and playing chess, may have a protective effect on your brain. "Regularly engaging your mind may help lower your risk for the dementia associated with Alzheimer's disease," Augustin says.
A little red wine is fine
Recent studies have shown that the powerful antioxidants found in red wine protect against heart disease, colon cancer, anxiety and depression. So unless there is a medical reason why you shouldn't imbibe, go ahead and enjoy that glass of merlot with your nightly meal--you can even toast to your good health.
But don't drink excessively
Just as a small amount of red wine has health benefits, too much alcohol--even red wine--can cause a variety of health problems, including liver and kidney disease and cancer. Women, in particular, need to be careful about alcohol consumption. "Women are at higher overall risk of liver problems than men, so they are more likely to experience liver problems from smaller amounts of alcohol," says Carline Quander, MD, a gastroenterologist at Rush. "They simply shouldn't drink as much as men." For a healthy man, two drinks a day is not likely to do harm; women, on the other hand, should limit themselves to one daily drink.
Stop the snore cycle
When half of a couple snores, the other person loses sleep. The snorer is frequently tired too because people who snore loudly often have sleep apnea. In the most common form of this condition, the airway is blocked, causing the person to stop breathing and wake up repeatedly.
Physicians at the Sleep Disorders Service and Research Center at Rush found that treating the snorer with continuous positive airway pressure, which keeps the airway open, results in better sleep for both people.
Don't skip the seatbelt -- ever
Even if you're driving only a short distance or are in a parking lot, take a few seconds to fasten your safety belt, which prevents you from being tossed around the car or thrown from it in the event of a crash. Most cars these days are equipped with air bags, but these lifesaving features are designed to work with safety belts. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, air bags alone are only 42 percent effective in providing protection.
Check your ergonomics
If you work at a computer, look at the ergonomics of your workstation--how you fit and move in your environment. You can start by visiting the Division of Occupational Health and Safety's Web site. "An ergonomics review can help you avoid neck, back and eye strain," Augustin says.
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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.
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