6 Small Things You Can Do to Kickstart Your Healthier Year

smart phone on table with latte

Flickr Creative Commons_Marco Verch

A big lifestyle change can seem daunting, but taking small steps can make your goal both manageable and possible.

You don’t have to wait until January 1 to take action, you can start right now.

Here’s to your prolonged health and wellness!

6 Small Things You Can Do to Kickstart Your Healthier Year

1. Wash your hands.

Why: Washing your hands promotes a healthy immune system because you’re actively working to prevent germs from getting into your body. We touch openings on our faces – eyes, nose, mouth – many times per day, so what we do with our hands significantly impacts our immunity. Therefore, hand washing after touching contaminated surfaces may be the most powerful way to limit exposure. It’s also pretty easy to incorporate.

Common contaminated surfaces, in addition to doorknobs and handrails, include:

  • Credit card machines at stores
  • ATM buttons
  • Your phone (or anyone’s phone you borrow)
  • Computer keyboards
  • Anything in a gym

How to go further: Pick one activity you know you already do daily and commit to washing your hands before and/or after, such as exiting the elevator at work after your commute, or before you sit down to lunch.

Another solid habit, for example, could be committing to washing your hands after using your phone every evening. It’s also a good practice to regularly clean your phone – front and back – with an alcohol-based wipe.

While using hand sanitizer is not a substitute for washing your hands, it can be useful in situations where hand washing is not an option.

Related reading: Are you traveling during the upcoming cold and flu season? Get 10 tips on how to protect your immunity while on the go.

2. Drink a glass of water.

Why: Water consumption is instrumental in healthy organ function, naturally improves digestion to help break down foods, helps you absorb nutrients, and softens stools.

How to go further: Set a daily goal.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that adequate daily fluid intake is about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men and about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women.

As detailed by the Mayo Clinic, “no single formula fits everyone. But knowing more about your body’s need for fluids will help you estimate how much water to drink each day.”

One of our tips from 7 Tricks to Help You Drink More Water Daily is to pick out a reusable water bottle (BPA-free plastic or glass). You can fill up wherever you find a drinking fountain or sink. If you take it with you wherever you go – at coffee shops, restaurants, when you’re out running errands – you’ll have more opportunities to meet your hydration goals.

3. Swap out your next meal/snack for a whole food containing prebiotic fiber.

Why: Prebiotics are dietary fibers that stimulate the growth of healthy gut bacteria. That balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut it is key to living a healthy life because your gut is connected to your immune system, weight and metabolism, digestion, and mood.

Prebiotic fiber can be found in foods such as:

  • Dry Beans, such as cooked soybeans, lentils, split peas and kidney, pinto, black, lima, garbanzo, navy and Great Northern bean
  • Vegetables, such as cooked spinach, artichokes, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, asparagus, and cabbage.
  • Fruits, such as pears, raspberries, and strawberries

How to go further:  Download a macronutrient tracker on your smartphone, such as MyFitnessPal, to help you track your total fiber daily so you can monitor how much you’re getting.

The Institute of Medicine’s recommendation on total fiber intake is 25 grams for women, 38 grams for men below the age of 50, and 21 and 30 grams ages, respectively, for women and men ages 51 and above.

Related reading: 4 Steps for a Healthier Gut (and why it’s so important)

4. Schedule a blood test to get an accurate picture of your health.

Why: Your biochemistry is the most accurate way to understand how your health and performance is changing over time, for better or worse. Because your blood regenerates every 120 days, checking in on your biomarkers regularly gives you the most up-to-date snapshot and see the differences that diet, supplement, and lifestyle changes have made on your health.

There are many insightful markers that offer a more comprehensive picture of what your body is up to and what is going on behind the scenes, beyond the routine tests you’d find in an annual physical or check-up. Here are some important biomarkers to track:

  • Vitamin D: Research has associated lower levels of vitamin D to a variety of health issues, including increased inflammation, heart disease, depression, dementia, prostate cancer, and decreased bone strength.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium levels play an important role in your sleep, energy, longevity, and mood. Unfortunately, Magnesium deficiency is incredibly common, affecting more than half of the U.S. population.
  • TSH: TSH is your overall measure of thyroid stimulation. Your thyroid affects your metabolism, energy, weight, and temperature control.
  • hs-CRP: hs-CRP is a protein your liver produces in response to inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is associated with many chronic diseases. Elevated CRP levels are associated with increased risk for cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even autoimmune diseases, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. hs-CRP is one of the best indicators of inflammation.
  • hbA1c: hbA1c measures your average blood sugar over the last few months offering a more accurate assessment of diabetes risk than a single blood sugar test.
  • Cortisol:  Cortisol is commonly referred to as the “stress hormone.” While a little spike of cortisol is good – and natural – in response to short-term stressors, cortisol can become a problem when the body starts making too much, too often.

How to go further: Create and write down in your calendar the schedule you will follow for proactively checking in on your biomarkers. We recommend a re-assessment every 120 days.

Money-saving tip: If you sign up for all of your packages before January 31, 2019, you can take advantage of our multi-package discount. The markers listed above are in our main and specialty diagnostics packages. Get healthy and save some cash while you’re at it.

Related reading: 6 Things to Do As Soon As Your Blood Test Results Come Back

5. Pick just one meal to remove added sugar.

Why: Consuming added sugar can contribute or lead to blood sugar spikes, which can increase:

  • Insulin resistance
  • Weight gain
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Inflammation

Even if you’re swearing off desserts for a while, sugar can find its way into everyday food items like flavored coconut waters, yogurt, salsa, and energy bars.

How to go further: Pick a week coming up to journal your meals, drinks, and snacks while reading labels, as a way of observing how much sugar you’re consuming and when throughout the day. Once you have an overview of your eating habits, you can pick areas to reduce, one at a time.

For reference, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that “added sugars make up no more than 10 percent of your daily calories. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that means no more than 200 calories a day should come from added sugars.

The American Heart Association advises a stricter limit for added sugars — no more than 100 calories a day for most women and no more than 150 calories a day for most men. That’s about 6 teaspoons of sugar for women and 9 for men. One teaspoon of sugar has about 16 calories.

To put this into perspective, a 12-ounce can of regular soda has about 160 calories, or about 10 teaspoons, of sugar.”

6. Power down devices one hour before bedtime.

Why:  According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, blue light emitted by devices affects the body’s circadian rhythm, our natural wake and sleep cycle. “Too much blue light exposure late at night from your phone, tablet or computer can make it harder to get to sleep.” In this 2015 study, participants reading a light-emitting eBook took longer to fall asleep and had reduced evening sleepiness, reduced melatonin secretion, later timing of their circadian clock, and reduced next-morning alertness

Why is sleep so important? Because while one sleepless night won’t hurt, chronic sleep deprivation can take a toll on the body in the form of:

  • Fatigue, stress, irritability, cognitive impairment, imbalanced mood, memory loss, and lowered immunity.
  • High blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
  • Overeating; people who don’t get enough sleep have too much of the hormone that triggers hunger (ghrelin) and too little of the one that tells the body it’s full and to stop eating (leptin).

How to go further: Create a step-by-step “get ready for bed” routine for yourself and then follow it as consistently as you can. Include all the steps you want – how you get ready for bed, when you adjust the lights, and even what time you limit your phone/laptop/TV/social media use.

Related reading: Tired all the time or suffering from poor quality sleep? Check out 4 reasons that could explain why.

How WellnessFX Can Help

You can only change what you can see. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, improve your fitness performance, or just deciding to take control of your overall health, WellnessFX has you covered; even our most basic package includes more tests than the routine checkup.

Sign up for all of your packages before January 31, 2019, to receive our multi-package discount. Choose from your favorite diagnostics packages and save some cash while you’re at it.

Take the Next Small Step

The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.