Body Blog: Resolve to Be a Healthier You in 2011

Finals are done, break is here, and Christmas songs are a playin’.  Life is as sweet as mom’s home-made apple pie.  As we enjoy this holiday season, with the glistening, bright lights, beautifully decorated Christmas trees, and much needed home-cooked food, it is also time to start planning those annual New Year’s resolutions.  As a senior in college, I can report from experience that there is a prevailing rationalization among my peers that, given its deleterious consequences on one’s health, clearly needs to stop. Hence, a perfect New Year’s resolution.  The rationalization spoken among my peers goes very much like this:

“Because I am young and in college, I can now treat my body like crap and get away with it.  After all, college really is only about three things: studying, relationships and overindulgence.  Heck everyone else is drinking to what would technically be considered alcoholism in the real world, indulging in all-you-can-eat dining halls, pulling all-nighters and living off of coffee and candy in between.  What is socially acceptable must be okay! I’m still healthy because [insert a plethora of excuses here].”

If this sounds a bit like you, I’m going to bring you back to reality.  Even if you feel reasonably fine now, this lifestyle will surely lead to ill health in the long run and will just perpetuate bad health habits post graduation. There is a reason why over two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese and cancer and heart disease rates are skyrocketing. Our bodies cannot handle the stresses we are placing on them over time and the long-term effects are sure to appear if we do not take action NOW to protect ourselves.

After all, there is nothing more empowering than taking care of oneself and feeling great. Why not make this year’s New Year’s resolution about just that?  Here’s a list of suggestions, along with motivating facts, to make a healthy New Year’s resolution become a reality:

1)    Set aside at least 4 hours per week to exerciseOne cannot be healthy and be sedentary.  Besides providing cardiovascular benefits, exercising prevents depression, helps prevent chronic diseases like osteoporosis and type II diabetes, promotes better sleep and keeps you slim. As Nike puts it so wonderfully, just do it.

2)    Limit alcohol consumption.  Epidemiological studies constantly show that heavy drinking increases the risk of liver, head and neck, and esophageal cancers, and moderate drinking has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer.  To put it scientifically, researchers have found several genes involved in the breakdown of alcohol, including the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). ADH initiates the breakdown of alcohol into acetaldehyde, which is carcinogenic in animal models.

3)    Eat more vegetables and fruits. Lots more. Simply put, the more vegetables and fruits you eat, the more likely you will live a long, disease free life.  While everyone agrees that vegetables and fruits are “good for you,” how good they are for us has been hotly debated.  However, recent studies are confirming that these natural foods have powerful compounds in them, such as alpha-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and other newly discovered antioxidants that help defend the body’s tissues from oxidative damage.  Oxidative damage to DNA, proteins, and lipids is a known contributor to chronic disease and an accepted mechanism of aging.

4)    Put down the saltshaker.  Statistics show that citizens of the U.S. have a lifetime probability of developing high blood pressure at around 90%.  This is a sobering statistic considering high blood pressure increases a person’s risk of developing heart disease (heart failure, heart attack, or sudden cardiac death), as well as kidney failure and stroke.  After many years of high salt exposure, blood pressure starts to rise.  By the time this occurs, cutting down on salt does not so easily resolve the problem.  Do not salt your food and only purchase low sodium items when going grocery shopping. A useful guideline: compare milligrams of sodium to calories on food labels. Only buy items with sodium levels at or below the amount of calories per serving.

5)    Eat more natural foods. Reading food labels is scary man. Most seemingly simple processed meals and snacks sold in supermarkets have long lists of ingredients, many of which are artificial and can lead to ill health.  For example, synthetic food dyes often used in processed foods, such as colored breakfast cereals, candy and “fruit-flavored” beverages and snacks, have been linked to a wide variety of health concerns including behavioral problems, hyperactivity, allergic reactions and even cancers. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), an organization that advocates for nutrition and food safety, is calling for a ban on these synthetic dyes.  However, these, as well as other unsafe ingredients, are not currently banned and are still plentiful in our food supply.  Synthetic food dyes are only one example of the many potentially dangerous ingredients added to processed foods. I could go on with other examples, but that could take a while.  I’ll keep it short: go natural and be food additive free.

These are five simple goals that you can strive to practice every day. While you are still in college and have perhaps the most flexible schedule you are likely to have for years, do yourself a favor and resolve to improve your overall health.

So here’s to making better choices!  Happy New Year! Make it a Healthy One!

The Weekly Ten: Kiss Me (At Midnight)
The Weekly Ten: Kiss Me (At Midnight)
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