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Wellness wise

New Year, New You: 16 Top Health Tips

Resolve to make 2010 your healthiest year ever with these tips from our nation’s top doctors for head-to-toe wellness.

The holidays are over, every last crumb of pie is long gone, and it’s time to focus on your health. For 2010, WebMD asked leading U.S. physicians and medical experts for their top health to-dos. Read on for the resolutions they recommend we have on our lists all year long.

1. Stepped-Up Breast Health

What’s the best way to reduce your risk of breast cancer? “Buy a pair of sneakers,” says Susan Love, MD, president of the Susan Love Research Foundation. “Cardio exercise, even more so than diet, has been shown in multiple studies to reduce the risk of breast cancer by 20%, on average, in both pre- and postmenopausal women.”

Brisk walking, biking, swimming, or jogging -- all will raise your heart rate for your long-term breast health. And for women over 40, a yearly mammogram is also a must.

2. Family Fit Fun

Between 16% and 33% of children and adolescents in the United States are overweight or obese -- all the more reason you need to raise kids to be physically fit in the new year.

“Make it a family affair,” says WebMD’s pediatric expert Steven J. Parker, MD, co-author of the 7th edition of Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care guide. “Set a good example for your kids by eating healthy and exercising yourself, and they’ll follow your lead.”

Where should you start? Walk to the park or store instead of hopping in your car, and enforce a no-TV rule in your house after school and before homework to make sure your kids are outside playing instead of sitting on the couch, suggests Parker. And if you’re the head chef in the house, plan nutritious, low-fat, low-junk-food meals served up in moderate portion sizes for the kids -- and you.

3. Adult Time-Outs

When the going gets tough in your relationship with your significant other in 2010, take a break to temper your anger or anxiety.

“Time-outs aren’t just for kids,” says Jenn Berman, PhD, author of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids. “Adults in romantic relationships can get into intense discussions, and as they progress, we tend to say things we regret.”

Rather than letting a discussion spiral out of control into a full-blown fight, suggests Berman, step away for a breather when your emotions start to turn a darker shade of negative, and then pick up where you left off when you’ve both cooled down.

4. Oral Report

“More than 40% of Americans avoid the dentist at all costs,” says Michael Kahn, DDS, chair of the department of oral and maxillofacial pathology at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in Boston.

The cost could be your teeth. You should have a professional cleaning, have your dentist check for and treat tooth decay and gum disease, and be screened by a dentist for oral cancer -- especially if you’re a guy; men face twice the risk of oral cancer as women -- at least once a year.

"If you refuse to go the dentist, then at the very least screen yourself for oral cancer,” says Kahn. “Check your mouth once a month for bright white or red patches. If the spots won’t rub off and they are still there after about a week, see your doctor right away.”

5. Order in the House

Are you hoping to make 2010 as stress-free as possible? Then you need to channel your inner planner.

“Try to order your life so you can limit stress,” says Patricia Farrell, PhD, author of How to Be Your Own Therapist and WebMD's mental health expert. “Use Sunday nights to plan your week with your partner so you can see what’s coming.”

During your Sunday night strategy session, schedule dedicated time throughout the week to relax, exercise, and straighten up your bills, suggests Farrell.

Better yet, don’t forget to work in some well-deserved time off.

6. Smoke Out

OK. This is the year. "Smoking is the biggest health threat out there,” says Nancy Davidson, MD, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. “So if you do smoke, stop; if you don’t smoke, don’t start; and avoid all types of tobacco, including secondhand smoke.”

When people think cigarettes, they think lung cancer; health experts estimate 87% of lung cancers result from smoking or breathing secondhand smoke. But smoking also increases your risk of developing head and neck cancer and pancreatic cancer.

It’s time to quit, so choose your weapon: support groups, nicotine replacement therapy or other medications to help smoking cessation, or one-on-one counseling. Davidson recommends talking to your doctor to find the right solution for you.

7. Best Shot

Young women, pay attention: Getting vaccinated against the HPV virus is a new way to guard your health. Not only does it protect against genital warts, but it also can help prevent infection with some of the common types of HPV viruses. These types are spread through sexual contact and can cause cervical cancer.

“If everyone were vaccinated, it would have a huge impact on cervical cancer rates,” says Robert Barbieri, MD, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. “But parents and young women need to understand, the vaccine will not work if you’ve already been infected.”

So getting the vaccine early is key: The recommendation, explains Barbieri, is for all girls or women between the ages of 9 and 26 to be vaccinated against HPV. His strategy for parents? Take your daughters out to lunch and talk to them about safe sex and the health benefits of the HPV vaccine.

8. Pap Power

In the era of the HPV vaccine, women still need to appreciate the value of a Pap smear for the detection of cervical cancer.

“Even if you have been vaccinated against HPV, you are still at risk for some types of cervical cancer,” says Denise Jamieson, MD, MPH, gynecological practice committee chair for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “If you haven’t been vaccinated because of your age, then an annual Pap smear is a must.”

All women ages 21 and older should schedule a yearly Pap smear or within three years of becoming sexually active. Since all females are in this one together, pick a few gal pals and make your appointment with your gynecologist for the same day -- then dedicate the rest of the day to yourselves.

9. Cancer Control

“This is a disease that is preventable, treatable, and beatable,” says David A. Johnson, MD, president of the American College of Gastroenterology. “So don’t sit on your colorectal cancer. Get screened.”

Getting screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 50 should be at the top of your to-do list, whether it’s a fecal occult blood test or a digital rectal exam; a sigmoidoscopy, which examines the lower part of your colon; or a colonoscopy, during which polyps or suspicious lesions can be removed. Ask your doctor which is right for you.

If you have a sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy on the calendar for 2010, fasting 24 hours before the test is required. So when it's over, “Have your spouse or a friend pick you up for a nice lunch or your favorite flavor of ice cream and treat yourself,” says Johnson. “You’ve earned it.”

10. Lovely Bones

Moms and daughters, unite! Make a pact to remind each other of your daily calcium needs for your long-term bone health.

“You build bone mass during growth years, and then you spend the rest of your life losing it,” says James Beaty, MD, president of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

By eating foods rich in calcium -- such as milk, yogurt, and broccoli -- or with supplements, women should be getting at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day, along with vitamin D, depending on their age. And if you’re a woman older than 65, schedule a bone mineral density test, which will help your doctor measure the strength of your bones.

11. Balanced Diet

More than 70% of Americans tried to diet in 2006, according to an American Consumer Opinion survey. If you’re among the masses in 2009, the creator of the South Beach diet offers a simple tip to do it right.

“Don’t starve yourself, “says Arthur Agatston, MD. “This leads to weight gain as soon as you relax your intake and then to yo-yo dieting. Attaining and sustaining an optimal weight is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Set a six-month plan with a friend who wants to lose weight, eat well, and exercise, then treat yourself to a spa day together when you meet -- or exceed -- your goals.

12. Eye Spy

Almost 30% of 1,000 people surveyed by the American Optometric Association indicated they don’t get their eyes checked by an eye doctor or an eye care specialist at least every two years. That might explain why 3 million Americans today are living with undiagnosed glaucoma.

Don’t wait until the world has gone blurry. By then it might be too late to prevent or treat vision loss from diseases such as glaucoma, which can be symptom-free in its early stages, says H. Dunbar Hoskins Jr., MD, executive vice president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Get screened by an optometrist if you are between ages 40 and 50 to make sure your eyes are healthy and your vision crystal clear.

13. Men’s Health

Almost 80% of 2,282 men surveyed  by the American Academy of Family Physicians described their state of health as “good” or “excellent.” But, guys, just because you’re not sick doesn’t mean you’re living well.

“Even if your blood pressure and cholesterol are normal, you still need to create a lifestyle that is going to improve your state of health over time,” says Steven Lamm, MD, clinical assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine. “Otherwise you are just waiting to get ill.”

What’s a man to do? Pursue wellness aggressively, says Lamm. Understand which tests you need annually, such as a testicular exam starting after puberty or a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test starting at age 50. Keep track of your cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and create a healthy diet plan. Exercise regularly and, if you’re married, give your wife permission to offer friendly reminders when your best attempts get off track.

14. Tan Ban

While baking your body to a golden bronze might look good, you’re not helping your health: More than 90% of skin cancers are caused by sun exposure.

“The best way to protect your skin from premature wrinkling and skin cancer is to apply sunscreen every day -- no matter what the weather,” says Diane R. Baker, MD, president of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Protection is important, but so is early detection. Keep an eye on your own skin -- and your spouse’s or partner’s -- for new moles that look suspicious or changes in an existing mole or, and once a year have your skin examined by your doctor.

15. Nap Time

If you’re among the 39% of Americans who get less than seven hours of sleep each weeknight, here’s a short-term tip: Take a nap.

“Overcome your sleep deprivation with a good nap during the day,” says Bill Anthony, PhD, author of The Art of Napping. “It’s a no-cost way to better health, performance, and mood.”

The key to a good snooze is to get over your guilt of checking out in the middle of the day, explains Anthony. Then find a quiet spot where you won’t be interrupted and spend 20 minutes in la-la land. Still, your long-term solution to exhaustion should be some regular one-on-one time with your pillow for at least seven to nine hours a night to help reduce your risk of diabetes, heart problems, and accidents and increase your attention span and ability to remember.

16. Flu Fight

You’re young, you’re healthy -- you don’t need the flu vaccine, right? Think again.

“We used to recommend that only individuals who are at high risk -- like the elderly and people with asthma -- get the flu vaccine,” says Isadore Rosenfeld, MD, Rossi Distinguished Professor of Clinical Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. “Now we recommend it for almost everyone.”

And that includes kids, he says. If you’re not looking forward to dragging your child to the doctor for another shot, you can relax: Kids older than 2 years old (and adults) can get a nose spray vaccine as an alternative to a needle, with similar levels of antibodies to protect against the flu virus.

And Finally ...

One last to-do from our nation’s top medical experts. Tip No. 17: Have a happy, healthy New Year -- one and all.

Originally published the January/February 2009 issue of WebMD the Magazine.

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