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New Year's Resolutions

By Eric Van De Graaff, MD December 28, 2009 Posted in: Heart Health

Happy Holidays one and all.

‘Tis the season when nearly everyone entertains the idea of New Year's resolutions. I have no stats on this but I suspect that sales of gym memberships, diet and self-help books, and nicotine patches go through the roof around this time of year. Every purveyor of exercise equipment targets those of us with good intentions but a record of poor follow-through with promises of renewed health, youthful energy, and the ability to slide into those skinny jeans for the first time in years. We all graze our way through the holidays and promise ourselves redemption through an ascetic lifestyle of assiduous exercise and vice-free nutrition. Ten pounds gained through the holidays, five pounds lost in January. You do the math and it’s no surprise we’re all 50 pounds heavier than ten years ago.

Sadly, we break our New Year's resolutions more reliably than politicians back out on campaign pledges. More reliably than a promising Husker season turning into another “rebuilding year.” More reliably than being delayed in a layover in Denver (which is the situation I find myself in as I write this). More reliably than . . . well, you get the picture. I am of course no exception to this, having never seen Presidents Day with my resolutions intact. One website I consulted contradicts my anecdotal experience, suggesting that a whopping 46% of all resolutions are still in force by the 4th of July. My suspicion is that this website is secretly funded by the makers of the “Abdomen-izera™” (as seen on TV).

The problem, as I see it, is that we simply set our sights too high. It’s not infrequent for me to see patients tipping the scale at 300 pounds who ask me how much weight I think they need to lose. I tell them that if they can get below 280 their blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, and energy level might see a big improvement. They look at me a little surprised and tell me they were thinking more along the lines of getting under 200 pounds. I see them a year later and they are ten pounds heavier. Losing twenty is manageable. Losing a hundred for most people (unless they happened to be a contestant on a reality television show) is as likely as sunny, warm winter day in Omaha.

Here’s what I propose: Let’s all think of resolutions that are simple, sustainable, and make sense. Try these:

  1. Take every opportunity you can to increase you daily level of activity. Park farther away, make an extra loop around the office every hour, take the stairs instead of the elevator, treat your dog to an extra quarter mile on your daily walk, etc. Be creative, but pick things that are easy to incorporate into your daily habits.
  2. If you’re a smoker, resolve to ask your doctor what he or she thinks you should be doing to quit. Despite the fact that it is our jobs as doctors to get to you quit smoking, we bring the subject up far less than we should. We really can’t be blamed, though. Bringing up the issue over and over is a little like being the school nerd who keeps asking the cheerleaders to homecoming. After a while the repeated rejection makes you want to drop the subject all together. That’s why you should decide to initiate the conversation and then think hard about following the advice you get.
  3. Plan to get your routine health screening done this year. No one likes needles or colonoscopy probes (at least no one I know) but there’s a good reason to stay up to date with your routine maintenance. There are plenty of websites that will supply you with the checklist of tests, scans, and studies you might need and your primary doctor will be happy to guide you based on your personal health history.
  4. Become compliant with your medications. Consider these stats:
    • 14-21% of patients never fill their original prescription
    • 60% cannot identify own medications
    • 30-50% ignore instructions associated with their drugs
    • 20% take other people’s medications
    • 125,000 people with treatable ailments die each year because they take their medication improperly
    • Annual hospital costs due to noncompliance in this country amount to $8.5 billion
  1. Treat yourself to one big, juicy, greasy, cholesterol-laden meal a week (or whatever your culinary vice may be). Now, you’re thinking, that’s one resolution I can live with. But in return, tighten your diet down for the remaining 20 meals you ingest each week. Cut back on sugars, fats, fried foods, starches, and (most of all) sheer volume. Reward yourself once a week for a job well done.
  2. Find ways to simplify your life so that you have time to exercise. If you want to get more fit you need only 30 minutes a day. What can you give up for a half hour a day?
  3. Compile a list of your medications and health problems and research each so you know what you’ve got and why you take each drug. Enlist a family member or friend if needed. Ask your doctor or nurse to help clarify the ones you have questions about. Carry the list with you whenever you go out and update it as often as needed.
  4. Pick someone close to you and together decide on a health goal that you both need to meet. Plan activities around your shared interest and support each other when the going gets tough (which, for me, comes well before Groundhog Day).
  5. If you’re overweight plan to lose enough pounds over the next 12 months to get back to where you were two years ago. Do that for a few years in a row and it’ll be like turning back time.
  6. Share this cardiology website with two friends and challenge each to pass it on to two more people and so on and so on. By the end of the year envelopes filled with cash will be pouring into your mailbox. At least that’s my resolution . . . and you know what that’s worth.
Eric Van De Graaff, MD
Eric Van De Graaff, MD

Eric Van De Graaff, MD is a Heart & Vascular Specialist at CHI Health Clinic.

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