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New Year, New Goals

Achieve optimal health in 2011

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New Year, New Goals

The New Year is a time for reflection and leads us to intentions for the future. Health-focused resolutions are common, and here's how you can keep them.

The start of the New Year is a time for reflection upon the successes of the past 12 months, and naturally leads us to revisit our personal intentions for the future.

Health-focused resolutions are common at this time of the year, with many of us wanting to lose weight, quit smoking, or exercise more regularly.

Weight management, fitness, stress management, heart health, and immune function collectively form the foundation of good health. Evaluating and taking action in these five key areas can help you to optimize your well-being, no matter what your personal health challenges and goals may be.

Weighty thoughts

Concerns about weight are almost inevitable after a holiday season of overindulgence. As careful as we may be with our diets, we often find ourselves trying to get back on track come early January.

Dear diary
Whether you are trying to achieve specific weight-loss goals or simply want to look for nutritional gaps in your daily diet, a food diary is an excellent tool for increasing awareness about what you eat every day (see below).

Food diaries have been shown to increase and support weight loss. In one large study, participants who kept a record of what they ate every day lost more weight than those who didn’t record their intake.

Balancing act
Eating a balanced, whole-foods-based diet will meet your body’s nutritional requirements while helping to manage your weight in a healthy manner.

  • Have lean protein at every meal to help you feel full for longer periods. Choose organic sources where possible, and be sure to include fish or other omega-3
    fats regularly.
  • Aim for seven to 10 servings of fruits and veggies per day. Start by adding an extra handful of carrots to your diet today!
  • Choose low-glycemic, high-fibre grain sources; read the label and look for at least 4 g of fibre per serving. Explore delicious nonwheat options such as spelt, quinoa, and kamut to add variety to your diet.

Keeping a food diary

  • Create your own paper-based chart or download one to print.
  • Consider online, PDA, or smartphone-based options for convenience. Additional tools such as daily nutrient intake calculations and goal-setting support are available with electronic tracking options.
  • Update your diary whenever you eat. Relying on memory at the end of the day or week will ensure that those extra lattes or snacks are forgotten.

Fit tips

Exercising regularly offsets the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle, boosts weight loss, and allows you to enjoy optimal energy levels. Increased exercise is a perennially popular resolution every New Year, and is a vital step on the road to ideal health.

Here are some ways in which you can support your commitment to exercise.

Know yourself
If you’ll do anything to get out of a gym workout, plan to attend a class instead, or sign up for an organized sport. If you love the outdoors, join a hiking club or organize excursions with friends. The best exercise is the one that you enjoy doing and will keep coming back to.

Changing it up
Choose a variety of activities so that you have exercise that supports your endurance, strength-building, and flexibility.

Breaking it down
Experts recommend 60 minutes of exercise every day. If an hour of daily exercise feels daunting, think of achieving this goal 10 minutes at a time. Strive for activity throughout the day: get off the bus early to extend your walk home, take the stairs, walk to errands, and have car-free days.

Feeling the burn

Calorie burn charts can be helpful when comparing the benefits of one activity to another. Note that actual calorie use is affected by your weight and the intensity of the activity.

Activity Calories burned in 60 minutes*

Basketball
Bicycling (recreational)
Carrying an infant 
Cleaning, dusting
Gardening
Ice skating
Jogging (~8 km/hr)
In-line skating
Snow shovelling
Skiing (cross-country)
Swimming
Walking (~4 km/hr)

600
300
250
175
275
400
600
900
425
550
550
250

*Numbers above are based on a 150 to 160 lb (68 to 73 kg) individual.

Stress release

High stress levels undermine your hard-won health successes, silently but surely. The myriad effects of perpetual stress include increasing the risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome, decreasing cardiovascular health, and depressing immune function.

Controlling time
Poor management of personal and professional time can be a significant source of stress. Regaining a sense of control over the way that your time is spent each day can help you to de-stress significantly (see below).

Managing time

  • Keep a time log. Much like a food diary, a time log will cultivate a new awareness of the way your time is spent. Paper records or online trackers can help you see areas where change is needed.
  • Differentiate between tasks that are “urgent,” requiring your immediate attention, and “important,” essential for achieving your professional and life goals. Offset future crises by re-emphasizing areas that are important yet not urgent (relationships, goal-setting, self-care) and let go of any that are neither important nor urgent.
  • Plan your day’s activities in advance, prioritizing as needed.
  • Work on difficult or undesirable tasks first.
  • Try to recognize the time-burning pitfalls of perfectionism.
  • Work through a task from start to finish, noticing factors that interrupt you regularly (text and email notices, co-workers, last-minute tasks).

Calming the mind
Meditation is an ancient practice that can be used to improve our handling of modern stresses. A broad range of techniques, using chanting or silence, done in a group or alone can still the frenzy of the stressed mind.

Simply sitting quietly for a few minutes while focusing on the movement of the breath in and out of the body can be a powerful and calming experience.

Heart your heart

Dietary and supplemental strategies can help to decrease blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and minimize cardiac risk factors. Whether you have suffered setbacks in your ardiovascular health or not, eating with your heart in mind will support the healthy function of this vital system.

Heart food

  • Fill your diet with soluble fibres such as whole oats and barley to help eliminate excess cholesterol, especially if your low-density lipoprotein (or LDL—the bad cholesterol) is high.
  • Reduce consumption of animal-based saturated fats and fried foods, and steer clear of trans fats completely.
  • Increase your intake of magnesium-containing foods such as leafy greens, beans, and nuts to help lower blood pressure. Adding extra-virgin olive oil to salads can have
    a similar effect, as can eliminating sodium from the diet.
  • Promote overall cardiovascular health by following the DASH or Mediterranean diets, filling your plate with colourful fruits and veggies for their antioxidant properties, and consuming whole grains and healthy fats.
  • Support heart health further by keeping your BMI below 25 and finding support to quit smoking if needed.

Life support
If diet alone is not helping you reach your goals, consider some of the following supplemental options.

  • Fish oil, containing a minimum of 1,000 mg of EPA, has been shown to benefit heart health and decrease the risk of heart attacks.
  • CoQ10 supports energy delivery to the heart, corrects depletions from prescription statin drugs, and decreases blood pressure.
  • Adequate levels of vitamin D may help prevent calcium buildup in the arteries. Aim to take in 1,000 IU per day, especially in the winter months.

Immune power

The immune system has a central role in protecting us from infection, allergy, and cancer. While some degree of disease is to be expected in even the healthiest bodies, daily choices will optimize our natural defences.

Eating for immunity
Eating whole, unprocessed foods is essential for healthy immune function.

  • Consume a diet rich in assorted fruits and vegetables to help prevent infection.
  • Keep protein intake high (at least 0.8 g for every kilogram of body weight); this has a positive effect on the diverse components of our immune system. Infection-fighting antibodies are manufactured from protein sources.
  • Eat low-glycemic foods and cut out refined sugar, especially when you are feeling rundown or are in the midst of an infection. High blood sugar levels can dull our immune response to challenges, reducing the immune system’s effectiveness.

A little extra help
If your immune system needs an extra helping hand, consider using some of the following supplements.

  • Take a daily probiotic supplement, which has been shown to prevent a variety of infections, especially in children.
  • Get an adequate amount of vitamin D (up to 1,000 IU per day for adults), which plays a role in autoimmune disease and seems to decrease the incidence of infections.
  • Top up your stores of vitamin C and zinc, and take echinacea extracts, all mainstays for immune reinforcement.
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