Doctors share tips for turning resolutions into habits

Make 2013 memorable by following these UAB doctor-recommended lifestyle changes.

By mid-January, many well-intended New Year’s resolutions have already faded into memory, but it is not too late to make lasting changes for improved health. Doctors at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) encourage staying on top of those resolutions until they become habit in order to make this year and every year the best yet.

nycu_resolutions_sTo turn those resolutions into habit, UAB Wellness Director Lauren Whitt, Ph.D., said the new behavior needs to be repeated for at least 21 days. But, Whitt warned, day four is where many new actions begin to wear off.

“The first day of a new behavior — you’re excited — and that positive feeling carries over into day two,” Whitt said. “By day three, you start to get tired of it. By day four, it can drop off. Make it past day four and you are well on your way to making a new behavior a habit.”

Nutrition adjustments for weight management purposes are always popular changes at the beginning of the year. Cardiologist Alan Gertler, M.D., said to try eating Mediterranean-style instead of doing a crash diet.

“This food regimen emphasizes taking in lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, oily fish like salmon, skinless grilled chicken and some nuts like almonds, as well as cooking with olive oil and going easy on red meat,” said Gertler, UAB associate professor of medicine. Gertler added that alcohol drinkers should stick with red wine.

To turn those resolutions into habit, UAB Wellness Director Lauren Whitt, Ph.D., says the new behavior needs to be repeated for at least 21 days.

Timothy Garvey, M.D., professor and chair of the UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences, added that portion control is also a way to eat healthier and manage weight. He also recommends getting active.

“Perform moderate exercise three to four times per week,” Garvey said. “It doesn’t have to be marathon training — even moderate exercise that allows you to converse with your exercise partner will do.”

Better living should include a relationship with a primary care physician, according to UAB Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine Stephen Russell, M.D.

“One of the best ways to be healthier is through accountability,” Russell explained. “Meet with your primary care doctor to review your health profile and chart a course for a healthy new year.”

Dermatologist Marian Northington, M.D., encourages her patients to make wearing sunscreen daily a habit.

“To protect against skin cancer, wear a moisturizer with SPF 30 every day, even on cloudy days,” explained the UAB associate professor of medicine. “The rule to follow is: If you are not using a flashlight, you need sunscreen.”

Northington added that investing in a wide-brimmed hat for full-face sun protection — instead of a baseball cap — is best.

Finally, Stephen Stair, M.D., noted that smoking cigarettes cannot be a part of healthy living. Make this the year to quit and quit for good.

“There are so many health risks related to smoking, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, COPD and emphysema, and these are common, preventable illnesses,” said Stair, a UAB assistant professor of internal medicine. “Even for longtime smokers, quitting today means your risk of heart disease and cancer begins to drop.”

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