Making your New Year’s resolutions? While many people tend to kick off January with hard-to-maintain health goals, the key is to start small, experts say.
The American Medical Association has recommendations for making health improvements in 2023 and beyond, ones the association says are realistic and within reach.
“(We’ve listed goals) we think are really practical that people actually can accomplish and that can make a real difference in the health of the nation,” American Medical Association president Jack Resneck told USA TODAY.
Here’s what the AMA recommends for starting the new year in a healthy way:
Boost exercise and manage stress
A good diet, 7.5 hours of sleep and activities such as yoga and meditation are the keys to maintaining and improving mental health – but don’t hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional when needed, the AMA recommended.
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If you’re looking to get in better shape next year, the AMA recommends adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week.
For those who prefer more vigorous workouts, experts suggest participating in 75 minutes of exercise each week.
Limit processed foods, sugary drinks
Experts suggest cutting back on processed foods and sugar-sweetened drinks, especially those with added sodium and sugar. The AMA also recommends these dietary changes:
- Eating less red and processed meats
- Consuming more plant-based foods such as olive oil, nuts and seeds
- Opting for water instead of sugary beverages
Sugary drinks, even 100% fruit juices, are linked with a higher all-cause mortality risk, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.
The American Medical Association advises being current on vaccines such as the annual flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine for everyone six months or older. Hospitals across the country are dealing with a “tripledemic” of increased COVID, flu and RSV cases, according to Resneck.
“It’s a challenging time for hospitals and we want as many patients as possible to avoid hospitalization,” Resneck said.
Schedule health screenings
Since April 2020, statistics have shown millions of screenings for breast, colorectal and prostate cancer diagnoses may have been missed because of pandemic-related disruptions in care.
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“These cancers are harder to treat and are more deadly when caught later, that’s why these screenings are important,” Resneck said.
American Cancer Society findings from 2022 show the number of U.S. women who reported having a recent breast cancer or cervical cancer screening dropped by 6% and 11% respectively in 2020 compared to 2018.
Know your blood pressure numbers
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, impacts 47% of adults in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Understanding the numbers and taking steps to lower blood pressure minimize stroke and heart attack risks. The AMA recommends visiting the American Heart Association’s ManageYourBP.org to learn more about managing high blood pressure.
Learn your type 2 diabetes risk
It takes two minutes to self-screen for type 2 diabetes, according to the AMA, which recommends taking a do-it-yourself test at DoIHavePrediabetes.org. The CDC reports more than eight in 10 adults are unaware they’re living with prediabetes.
Medical experts say type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for severe COVID-19 outcomes, including hospitalization or death.
Drink alcohol in moderation, consider quitting smoking
To lower the risk of alcohol-related health issues, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting alcohol intake by up to one drink per day for women and two drinks daily for men in adults legally allowed to drink.
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AMA experts also advise speaking with a doctor about help with quitting tobacco and e-cigarette or vaping products.
Follow doctor’s orders for prescribed pills
For anyone taking prescription opioids, antibiotics or other medications, the AMA recommends:
- following your physician’s instructions for taking them
- storing the pills safety to prevent diversion or misuse
- properly getting rid of leftover medication
“In the case of overdoses, we’ve been encouraging safe storage and disposal of unused opioids so that we don’t see diversion to people who the medications weren’t prescribed for,” Resneck said.
Experts also note that antibiotic resistance is considered a serious public health problem, adding that they won’t work against viruses such as the cold or flu.
“(Patients should) make sure they’ve finished a course of antibiotics that’s prescribed so we don’t drive further antibiotic resistance,” Resneck said.