Take charge of your health: That is especially important when it comes to protecting your heart, according to Dr. Warren Levy, Chief Medical Officer at Virginia Heart. He says smokers need to stop, diabetics need to be aggressive about controlling their blood sugar levels, and we all need to keep tabs on our cholesterol and blood pressure numbers. “By reducing these risk factors you can make a significant impact on improving your health and reduce your risk of heart disease,” Levy says.
Baby your skin, especially in the winter: Wintertime is notorious for dry, itchy skin. Dr. Adam Friedman — a dermatologist and associate professor with the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Science — says there are things you can do to keep the problem under control. He recommends you use mild soap and apply moisturizers generously to damp skin before you towel off. He also suggests using a humidifier in the bedroom “to provide moisture into the air while you sleep.”
Take those meds: Doctors say too many people who need to take medications for chronic illnesses either skip doses or never fill their prescriptions.
“Only half of medications are taken as prescribed,” says Dr. Allen Taylor, chief of the MedStar Heart and Vascular Institute. He says patients should not be reluctant to discuss prescriptions with their physicians — especially if there are concerns about cost or side effects. Taylor says it is important to be informed about your meds, and know why you are taking them. And he says it is not a bad idea for anyone taking multiple medications to keep a list handy.
Get some Ds in the winter: Vitamin D is crucial for healthy bones, and it is the one vitamin you can’t get from food. Instead, the body manufactures D from exposure to the sun.
“This is the time of year that many of us are walking around sun deprived,” says Dr. Lee Firestone, a podiatrist with Foot and Ankle Specialists of the Mid-Atlantic. Firestone — who is also a marathon coach with the Montgomery County Road Runners — says that may be why so many avid runners develop shin-splints in the spring. He says in the winter, vitamin D supplements are a good idea for all of us.
Eat it, don’t drink it: Watch your intake of fruit juice — it can be a real diet buster! Dr. Domenica Rubino with the Washington Center for Weight Management and Research says the days when a typical serving was about four ounces are long gone, and that big tumbler of juice at breakfast is loaded with as much sugar as a soda, and the carbohydrate equivalent of four slices of bread.
“The whole fruit is really much better for you. It is much more slowly absorbed, it is much better utilized by your body, and you also get fiber at the same time,” says Rubino.
Stay safe on the treadmill: It can be a viable alternative when the weather is dicey for those who want to walk or run, but remember to be alert to distractions when you are on a treadmill. Dr. Evan Argintar — a surgeon with the MedStar Orthopaedic Instutute — says don’t reach for your smartphone while exercising, and if you use headphones, make sure to adjust them before you begin. He also urges treadmill novices to work on flexibility and strength and make sure they have a sound fitness level before starting a strenuous treadmill workout.
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Get the help you need to stop smoking: It’s one of the toughest addictions to overcome, according to Dr. Marsha Seidelman, an internist and pulmonologist in Silver Spring.
“A combination of counseling and nicotine therapy with medications has the greatest chance of working,” she says. There are a wide variety of nicotine replacement aids on the market – from patches to gum to prescription medications. Seidelman says they all improve the odds of quitting, and it’s OK to try several different contenders in order to find the method that works best for you.
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Make time for yourself: Psychologist Gregory Jones with the Capital Center for Psychotherapy and Wellness says, “the health benefits of taking some ‘you time’ can be immense.”
He says any kind of self-care activity is helpful, from yoga to gardening to just reading a book or listening to music.
“It helps lower stress and anxiety levels, elevate mood, improve your immune system and even improve your relationships,” says Jones.
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Get regular dental check-ups: “It’s about more than your teeth. It’s about your total health,” says Dr. Gary Hack with the University of Maryland School of Dentistry. He cites one big example: the link between gum disease and diabetes. The condition of your gums can provide valuable information about your blood sugar levels.
Dentists have also been known to detect indications of pending heart trouble based on buildups of plaque in the mouth. And it goes without saying that dentists have the ability to catch signs of oral cancer in its earliest stages, when survival rates are over 80 percent.
Get your shots: School requirements mean most of our kids are up to date on their shots, but many adults get a failing grade when it comes to their own immunization records.
“Check with your doctor, see what you need and armor up for a safe and healthy new year,” says Dr. Glenn Wortmann, director of Infectious Diseases at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. He notes that some parts of the country have seen recent outbreaks of “forgotten diseases” like measles, whooping cough and mumps, so keeping the entire family immunized is essential.
Don’t forget the sunscreen: “Wearing sunscreen is a win-win,” according to Dr. Howard Brooks, a dermatologist with Georgetown Skin. He says in addition to preventing skin cancer, “wearing sunscreen is one of the best anti-aging steps you can take.”
Sunscreen is key year round, not just in the summer, and it is important for all races.
“While nearly every type of cancer for men and women is on the decline, skin cancer rates continue to climb and that includes people of color, like myself,” says Brooks.
Don’t just sit there: Doctors learned more in 2015 about the perils of sitting.
“There are several studies that say sitting for a long time is as bad as being obese or very overweight,” says Dr. William Kimbrough, a primary care physician with One Medical Group. He urges patients to get up and move around at least once every 30 minutes.
“Ideally you get up and get outside too, because the natural sunlight helps release endorphins, sort of like a good workout can,” says Kimbrough.
Have a fire safety plan: The new year is a great time to test your smoke alarms, according to Dr. Jeffrey Shupp, director of the Burn Center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. He also recommends marking the start of 2016 by holding a family meeting on fire safety.
“Get everyone in the house together and discuss home evacuation plans and obstacles to getting out of the home, such as bars on the window,” says Shupp. Make sure to have a designated meeting place, and Shupp says it’s a good idea to stage a “fire drill” at least once a year.
Remember the sunglasses and goggles: Almost 40 percent of eye injuries occur during sports and recreation, and more injuries happen at home than at work. Dr. Holly Gross, an ophthalmologist in Frederick and Rockville, says every home should have a set of protective eyewear on hand and these eye coverings should be worn when dealing with things like chemicals and flying debris. She also recommends wearing sunglasses or goggles with UVA protection when snow or water skiing. And anglers don’t get a pass. Gross says statistics show that fishing is the number one cause of sports-related eye injuries.
Resolve to move more: Dr. Assil Saleh‘s favorite resolution for 2016 is simple: I will be more active.
“If you can’t hit the gym two to three times a week, or a structured exercise program is simply too much, introducing motion into your day-to-day life may be the next best thing,” says Saleh, a physician with Foxhall Internists.
She suggests taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking your car farther from your destination. Saleh says the benefits of exercise are well known and adds, “a body in motion is a happy body — so let’s all resolve to do our bodies good and stay active.”
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