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7 steps to becoming a healthier you

January 26, 2023 | Valerie Elwell
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"Regular physical activity can reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and even some cancers," says Dr. Brian Y. Kim, a UCI Health family medicine practitioner and sports medicine specialist. "It can also boost energy levels and improve your mood and sense of well-being."

The new year sparks new hopes, goals and yes, resolutions. The top New Year’s resolutions for 2023 — and for each of the previous three years — are focused on getting healthier, by exercising more, losing weight and eating better, surveys show.

If improving your health is among your resolutions, here are seven steps you can take to achieve your goals, no matter your age and fitness level.

Move your body

Exercise is a vital component for any health improvement plan. Get started by making plans to get out in nature with loved ones. Consider joining a group of friends or neighbors on walks or other activities.

"Regular physical activity can reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and even some cancers," says Dr. Brian Y. Kim, a UCI Health family medicine practitioner and sports medicine specialist.

It can also boost energy levels and improve your mood and sense of well-being, adds Kim, who offers tips for getting started and sticking with it.

If you haven’t exercised in a while, it’s important to start out slowly to avoid injury and build your stamina. Older adults benefit greatly from gentle exercise like walking, stretching, yoga and tai chi, all of which can help prevent falls, improve agility and lift your mood.

Annual health screenings

To improve your health it's important to know where you stand. Regular health checks can help you identify and fix problems early or prevent them entirely. Yearly screening for people of all ages should include:

  • A physical exam
  • Blood and other lab tests
  • Blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index (BMI) screenings
  • A skin check
  • Eye and dental exams

Additional health screenings will also vary depending on your family medical history, risk factors for certain diseases and gender.

“Getting the right screening and preventive care on schedule can help you stay healthier longer,” says UCI Health primary care physician Dr. Lauri Seymour, who noticed a significant drop in women’s health checks during the pandemic.

As we age, our healthcare needs change and so should our health exams, adds Dr. Bobby Sasson, a UCI Health internal medicine specialist. Putting off these screening tests can be risky:

It's also essential to stay up-to-date with vaccinations, especially with this year’s surge in influenza cases. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends getting the most recent bivalent booster shot to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the risk of severe illness or hospitalization.

Losing weight

Year after year, weight loss tops many people’s resolution lists, mostly for cosmetic reasons. But obesity is a major health concern.

About 30% of U.S. adults are overweight, defined as having rel="noopener noreferrer" a BMI of 25 to 29.9, according to the National Institutes of Health. Another 42% of Americans who have a BMI of 30 or higher rel="noopener noreferrer" are considered obese. Studies show that obesity increases the risk for developing many health conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, joint problems, heart and liver disease, stroke and some types of cancer.

Many of us are also coping with weight gained during the pandemic, when we stopped going to gyms, worked from home and couldn’t partake in many of the physical activities we enjoy.

Katie Rankell, a registered dietitian and program director of the UCI Health Weight Management Program, offers these tips on setting yourself up for weight-loss success:

  • Create a routine of regular meal and snack times.
  • Recognize your feelings and their connection to overeating.
  • Are you thirsty? Thirst can make people think they’re hungry.
  • Make good shopping choices and avoid grocery stores when you’re hungry.
  • Eat mindfully and track how much you are eating.
  • Schedule time for daily exercise.

For people unable to lose weight with diet and lifestyle changes alone, UCI Health gastrointestinal surgeon Dr. Brian R. Smith says bariatric surgery may be of value if their BMI is 40+, or 35+ in combination with other health problems, such as diabetes and hypertension.

One of Smith's bariatric surgery patients recently shared his surgical experience along with the diet and lifestyle changes he adopted.

Learn more about UCI Health resources for managing your weight ›

Eat nourishing food

One of the best things you can do to achieve optimal health is to pack your daily diet with nutritious foods.

Keep it interesting by adding a variety of healthy vegetables, fruits and new grains. You may even want to consider mixing in occasional vegetarian meals.

While only 3% of Americans follow a vegetarian diet, more and more people are adding meatless meals to their repertoire, says UCI Health cardiologist Dr. Shaista Malik, executive director of the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute, part of UCI Health.

“There is a lot of evidence that a plant-based diet has major health benefits for all chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even cancer prevention," says Malik. “Part of why it’s healthy is that the good bacteria living in our gut thrive on soluble fiber, which plants provide in addition to high levels of nutrients.”

Here are some recipes created by Jessica VanRoo, the institute's executive chef, to give you fresh ideas:

Get better sleep

Sleep deprivation is a major problem in the United States. Busy jobs, various responsibilities and stress all work together to erode our sleep quality, putting us at risk for many health problems, including diabetes, depression, lowered immunity, obesity and heart attack.

Here are tips to improve your sleep:

  • Maintain a consistent wake-up time (even on weekends).
  • Expose yourself to bright light in the mornings.
  • Reduce caffeine and alcohol use before sleeping.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy diet.
  • Limit naps.
  • Avoid bright lights, especially blue light screens, at least an hour before bedtime.

“If you do all that and are still struggling, you may have insomnia or another issue and a sleep study may be necessary,” says Dr. Rami Khayat, medical director of UCI Health Sleep Medicine Services and a nationally recognized leader in the treatment of sleep disorders.

Boost your immune system

"Keeping your immune system working at full capacity helps prevent illness throughout the year," says UCI Health Dr. Alex J. Kipp, a primary care physician who offers seven simple ways to boost your immunity and help prevent illness.

Vitamin D is a key component of immune health. The so-called "sunshine vitamin" is crucial for the absorption of calcium, magnesium and phosphate and to support brain and bone health. Despite the seemingly never-ending sunshine in California, many people have low levels of vitamin D.

Try some of our high-vitamin D recipes to help you level up.

Prioritize mental health

Our mental health is just as important as our physical health. Protect your mental wellness with a self-check for anxiety or depression, and if you're struggling, here are a number of things you can do:

  • Talk to someone you trust.
  • Exercise to improve and regulate neurotransmitter levels, which ultimately leads to better mental health.
  • Consider the time and type of media you're consuming.
  • Try meditation to help increase your peace of mind.
  • Make an appointment with a mental health professional rel="noopener noreferrer" or your primary care physician.
  • If it is an emergency, call 988 to get immediate crisis support.