Partner up for a healthy new year

  • A couple discusses their health care plans with their physician. Monitor file

For LiveWell
Thursday, January 05, 2017

As we enter the new year, a large number of us will make New Year’s resolutions, thinking about what changes we should make to lead to a better year ahead. We tend to make a lot of these resolutions about our health, which makes sense because it’s an area that we think about frequently. Our health is also a place where we can make a goal, create a plan, and then track our progress with some success.

But “health” is such a big concept – of all the things out there, what should you do? It depends on your needs, your goals, and a healthy dose of shared decision-making with your friendly neighborhood medical, psychological, nutritional, and fitness experts. Below are a few solid tips that go beyond the gym membership:

What should I do for exercise?

While a safe and robust exercise program is part of a healthy lifestyle, ramping up to a full workout program from a less-active lifestyle should be done thoughtfully.

Strive for your minimum exercise requirements to ultimately include 150 minutes of weekly moderate aerobic exercise, which includes activities like brisk walking, swimming and mowing the lawn. This can be replaced with 75 weekly minutes of vigorous exercise like running, if you can handle it. Also incorporate some form of strength training two times per week, paying attention to your larger muscle groups (like your core) rather than just the “mirror muscles” (such as the biceps). Many medical and fitness professionals can help you find a regimen that works for your fitness level and find activities that you enjoy and will look forward to doing.

Also, reduce the time you spend sitting. Even those who put in the time exercising have a higher risk of metabolic problems the more time they spend seated during their day.

Recommendation: Don’t rush into anything! Make a plan, discuss with your health care team, be active both for aerobic and strength goals, and reduce your sitting time. Choose activities that you enjoy.

Why should I get preventive care?

You may have read “preventive care” on your medical office “to-go” paperwork, but wonder what it actually means.

A large part of what your health care providers do goes beyond treating things as they come up, because there are some things we can catch before they impact you, or keep from happening at all. When we mention “preventive care,” it includes things like vaccinations against preventable illness and screening tests for various medical conditions (including cancer screening). It also covers whether you should take a medication or supplement to keep you healthy, such as taking a daily baby aspirin to prevent cardiovascular disease. The list of services is much too long to put here, they can be found through such resources as the United States Preventive Services Task Force.

Recommendation: While you can search for preventive care guidelines online, given the large number, the levels of evidence behind them, and the chance for them to change, talk it over with your doctor about what services are right for you.

How often should I be seen in the office?

You may have read that physicians from Harvard made national news when they published an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine arguing against the annual physical.  This can get even more confusing when we see ads on TV and in the paper from insurance companies telling us that we should absolutely make sure we go in for the annual visit. What is the right answer?

There is evidence that an annual visit just for sake of coming in to the office doesn’t do much to help make us healthier, but this comes with large exceptions. Part of the reason that no large medical organization makes a hard rule about office visit frequency is because it changes based on how complex your medical care is. At the root of it all, communication with your health care team is important. You are the expert in your goals surrounding your health, and we can provide the knowledge and services to get you there. Even if you haven’t been in for a visit recently, reach out in some other way to see if any services are recommended, or to share your health goals for the new year.

Recommendation: Work it out with your doctor. Come up with a plan together about how often you should be seen. Communicate regularly even if that isn’t with an office visit (such as by phone or using an online patient portal).

Get going

You’re already on your way to a healthier 2017 by thinking about it – the next step is action. A common theme through all these recommendations is to be in touch with your health care team. Your doctor and all the medical professionals you work with are eager to help you craft a plan that meets your needs and goals in a safe and effective way.

(Douglas Phelan is a family medicine resident and osteopathic physician at the N.H. Dartmouth Family Medicine Residency and Concord Hospital Family Health Center. He can be reached at dphelan@crhc.org.)