10 Easy Health Tips to Start the New Year Right

With 2013 right around the corner, it’s time to gear up for a year full of optimism and good health!

If you’ve been waiting to write your resolutions until last minute, consider incorporating any—or all—of these health tips into your plan for a shining new year:

1. Drink more water. Many of us may not even realize that we go through our entire day dehydrated. If you feel tired often, take a look at what you’re drinking during the day—dehydration is known to cause fatigue and muscle cramps. This coming year, make the resolution to drink more water. After all, it’s calorie-free and readily available.

2. Cut down on caffeine. Caffeine is fine for an early morning boost, but if you need a cup of joe, tea, or soda just to get your through the day, you’re training your body for dependence. In addition, too much caffeine can disrupt your sleep and lead to dehydration, so consider replacing one caffeinated beverage each day with a healthier alternative, such as water.

3. Get more beauty sleep. Make 2013 the year of feeling bright-eyed and busy-tailed by getting more sleep at night. A number of experts agree that we need seven to nine hours of sleep each night to feel adequately rested.

4. Celebrate in moderation. If you want to live a healthier lifestyle in the New Year, choose to celebrate in moderation and reduce your alcohol consumption.  Not only will you help keep your liver happy, but you’ll also avoid extra calories. Try to limit your intake to no more than one drink of alcohol per day (1 drink = 12oz. of beer, 5oz. of wine or 1.5 oz. of liquor).

5. Quit smoking. We’ve written extensively about how smoking can increase your risk of breast cancer and generally wreak havoc on your health. But a new year is as good a reason as any to finally kick the habit for good. If you need help, click here to read more about tobacco quitlines.

6. Walk more. Walking is a great and easy form of exercise. Not only does it burn calories, but it helps build muscle as well. It’s also low impact and most people can do it comfortably and effortlessly. If you’re looking to improve your health in the New Year, you don’t have to walk much; only 30 minutes a day at a brisk pace will dramatically improve cardiovascular health and help maintain a healthy weight.

7. Lift weights. Make the resolution to build your body’s strength this year with moderate weight training. Not only will you help protect your bones, but you’ll also prevent the muscle loss that occurs with aging. Try lifting weights or doing resistance exercises for 20 minutes 2 to 3 times per week to keep your body healthy and active.

8. Focus on eating in moderation. Forget the diets that pervade most people’s new year. If you deprive yourself too much and remain hungry all day, you’re more likely to overindulge, particularly in the evening. Focus on moderate eating by enjoying healthy, mini-meals every few hours to keep your energy up throughout the day.

9. Cut back on the sweets. Last year, nearly 2 million people were diagnosed with diabetes. Eating too much sugar or carbohydrates floods the body with insulin in response to the spike in blood sugar. In turn, this can lead to a condition called “insulin resistance.” Over time, insulin resistance may develop into type 2 diabetes. In 2013, do your body a huge favor by cutting back the sweets and increasing fiber to prevent insulin resistance and diabetes.

10. Take vitamins. Ask your doctor what nutrients you may be missing and how you may benefit from nutritional supplements. For example, if you’re a vegetarian, it’s important to make sure you get plenty of vitamin B12. You may find a daily multivitamin can help fill in the nutritional gaps within your diet.

What are your New Year’s resolutions for 2013? Share your aspirations in the comments section below!


Reducing Risk: Common Factors that Affect Your Risk of Breast Cancer

breast cancer risksThe American Cancer Society estimates that the lifetime risk of a woman developing breast cancer to be 13% in 2012—more than one in 8. Furthermore, 75% of all women with breast cancer today have no known risk factors, or anything that would potentially increase a person’s chance of developing cancer.

Though having a cancer risk factor, or even several of them, does not necessarily mean that a person will get cancer, it’s always a good idea to reduce risk as much as possible. Some of the factors associated with breast cancer—such as being a woman, age, and genetics—can’t be changed. Other factors, like maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, not smoking cigarettes, and eating nutritious food, are dictated by a person’s choices. By choosing the healthiest lifestyle options, you can make sure your breast cancer risk is as low as possible, and find empowerment in your good decisions.

Family History: Though you cannot change your heritage or genetics, being aware of your family’s history means you’re more inclined to protect yourself against diseases that are prevalent in your family tree. Research shows that women with close relatives who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancerhave a higher risk of developing the disease. If you’ve had one first-degree female relative (sister, mother, daughter) diagnosed with breast cancer, your risk is doubled. If two first-degree relatives have been diagnosed, your risk is 5 times higher than average. A family history of cancer of the ovaries, cervix, uterus, or colon increases your risk. Female descendants of Eastern and Central European Jews (Ashkenazi) also face increased risk. Caucasian women are at a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer than are African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American women. The exception to this is African-American women, who are more likely to have breast cancer than whites under the age of 40. If you inherited risk, you can minimize its development by making healthy lifestyle choices, such as not smoking, adhering to a nutritious diet, exercising, and abstaining from alcohol.

  • Alcohol Consumption: Compared to nondrinkers, women who consume one alcoholic drink a day have a very small increase in risk, and those who have 2 to 5 drinks daily have a 15% higher risk than women who do not drink. That risk goes up another 10% for each additional drink women have regularly each day. (Note: one drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor). Research shows that alcohol of any sort can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Alcohol also may increase breast cancer risk by damaging DNA in cells. The bottom line is that regularly drinking alcohol can harm your health, even if you don’t binge drink or get drunk.
  • Smoking: Smoking causes a number of diseases and is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in younger, premenopausal women. Research also demonstrates that there may be link between very heavy second-hand smoke exposure and breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women. Smoking also can increase complications from breast cancer treatment, including damage to the lungs from radiation therapy, difficulty healing after surgery and breast reconstruction, and an increased risk of blood clots when taking hormonal therapy medicines. To reduce your risk associated with smoking, the only solution is to quit smoking [http://breastreconstructionnetwork.com/stop-smoking-series-all-about-tobacco-quitlines/] immediately.
  • Diet and Nutrition: Diet is thought to be a main contributor for about 30% to 40% of all cancers. Though no food or diet can prevent you from getting breast cancer, some foods can boost your immune system and help keep your risk for breast cancer as low as possible. Getting the nutrients you need from a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains can give your body the energy it needs to fight off infection and disease. Eating food grown without pesticides may also protect against unhealthy cell changes associated with pesticide use. Additionally, avoiding high-fat diets can also decrease breast cancer risk factors. Overweight women are thought to be at higher risk for breast cancer because the extra fat cells produce estrogen, which can cause extra breast cell growth and lead to the development of breast cancer.
  • Exercise: Research shows that exercising regularly at a moderate or intense level for 4 to 7 hours per week can lower the risk of breast cancer. Exercise consumes and controls blood sugar and limits insulin spikes in the bloodstream—an important preventative measure considering insulin is a hormone affects how breast cells grow and behave. People who exercise regularly tend to be healthier and are more likely to maintain a healthy weight. As we mentioned earlier, extra fat produces more estrogen. When breast cells are exposed to extra estrogen over time, the risk of developing breast cancer is higher Limiting fat in your diet is necessary for good health, and it is equally important to burn extra fat cells with exercise as an additional preventative measure.

What are some ways you combat the risk of developing breast cancer?

Stop Smoking Series: All about Tobacco Quitlines

Tobacco QuitlinesEvery state has a tobacco quitline, typically paid for with funds from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. In 1998, the states settled Medicaid lawsuits against the tobacco companies to recover their costs for treating tobacco-related illness, and the tobacco companies agreed to pay the state over $200 billion over 25 years.

Hundreds of thousands of smokers and chewers call quitlines every year, and the North American Quitline Consortium reports that depending on whether nicotine replacement therapy is part of the program, 30-day success rate ranges from 14–36%

The quitlines are telephonic tobacco cessation services that help smokers and chewers quit through phone coaching or counseling, medications, and education. Each quitline coach or counselor has had extensive training in tobacco addiction and best practices in quitting. The staff of each quitline stays up-to-date on the latest research in tobacco cessation and relapse prevention, and is trained to coach in the use of the various medications such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), antidepressants, and Chantix.

Each state determines how its quitline will provide services, including the hours of operation, whether medication will be offered, whether there will be a charge for participants, and the duration of the program. To find out more about your state’s quitline, call 1-800-QUIT NOW.

The coaching that you receive from a quitline is instrumental in helping you quit. The coach will discuss your smoking history with you, including your previous quit attempts. He or she will give you tips on quitting and strategies to deal with cravings. Many of these coaches are former smokers themselves and know what you’re going through; however, even if they have never smoked, the coaches are highly trained in helping you quit.

You will be encouraged to set a quit date either on the initial call or during a follow-up call. Setting a quit date is an important first step in your quit plan and signals your commitment to stop tobacco. The coaches will call you on a regular schedule throughout the program, and you are encouraged to call in any time you have issues or uncontrollable cravings.

All you have to lose is your tobacco addiction. Call your state’s quitline at 1-800-QUIT NOW and get started creating a healthier you today.


How to Develop Effective New Year’s Resolutions That You Will Keep

new years resolutions‘Tis the season to make New Year’s resolutions, but all too often they’re broken within a few days or weeks. We came up with a few ways to help make resolutions that you’re more likely to keep.

Do you really need to make resolutions?

For some people, using the word resolution dooms their plans. Maybe you should create a plan, set a goal, or make a decision.

Write it down.

To be successful in hitting your goal or resolution, you need a written plan of action. Take 30 minutes and write down what you want, why you want it, and how you plan to reach it. When your motivation wanes in the coming weeks, you’ll have that to look back on.

Be realistic.

Is losing 50 pounds in 2012 a goal that you can see yourself reaching? How about quitting smoking for the 10th time, or exercising every day? Be honest with yourself and set a goal that you can hit. Maybe 25 pounds, cutting down to ½ pack a day, or exercising three times a week are more realistic goals right now.

Focus on the short term instead of the long term.

Look at what you can do now rather than what you plan to do 6 months or a year from now. Using the examples above, focus on the month of January instead of the entire year. Decide to lose a pound a week, cut down by two cigarettes a day, or take up a new activity like Zumba or walking the dog after dinner.

Break down your resolutions into bite-sized chunks instead of trying to choke down a big goal.

Expect that things may not go the way you planned.

Most good plans have a monkey wrench thrown in at some point, and your New Year’s resolution is no different. Maybe in March you’ll hit a weight loss plateau, or your plan to quit will go up in smoke—how will you handle it? You may decide to make diet or exercise changes, or you may decide to quit smoking again.

You need to be flexible enough to roll with the punches and not feel defeated when things don’t work out as you had planned.

What has helped you to make successful New Year’s Resolutions?

Step 3 in Quitting Smoking: Taking Effective Actions to Stop

quit smokingThe one thing that many people don’t understand when it comes to quitting smoking is that addressing the physical addiction to nicotine is not enough. They must also learn to manage the ingrained habits that led them to smoke. People smoke after meals, while driving, and while under stress, to name just three examples. Those urges do not go away simply because the cigarettes are gone.

Quitters need to have a plan for when the habitual part of smoking raises its ugly head. We discussed that a little in our previous post about the 4Ds, but here are a few more tips to master the mental piece of quitting.

Look at your habits.

When did you have your first cigarette of the day? Was it right when you got up, after your shower, or after breakfast? Breaking that habitual urge can be as simple as changing your routine. If you smoked first thing, try going outside for a quick walk instead, or hop into the shower right away.

If your habits don’t change, your chances of staying quit are dramatically lower than if you consciously alter the path of your day.

Have substitutes handy.

If you can’t stop doing something that triggers you to smoke, keep something handy that you can put in your hand or in your mouth. Driving is a strong smoking trigger for many, and most cannot avoid it. Try putting a straw in your hand or a cinnamon toothpick in your mouth. If you find yourself lighting up at a certain intersection on your way to work, find a new route until you’re more secure in your quit.

Enlist help.

If you live with smokers, see what they are willing to do to help you maintain your quit. Having them smoke outside is ideal, since you were likely to smoke with them as part of your habitual conditioning and it’s easier to have them out of sight, out of mind. If they will not go outside, perhaps they would confine their smoking to one room of the house and keep the door closed.

If those you live with don’t smoke, perhaps they can help you identify your smoking habits and ways to break those habits.

You may need to alter your routine for only a few weeks while you master the initial difficulty of quitting, or you may need to change a few things more or less permanently. The main thing to remember is to never take one drag. This is no different from being addicted to any other drug. You would not suggest that an alcoholic or heroin addict has “just one” . . . and you can’t either.

What are your tips to quitting smoking?

Stop Smoking Series: the 4Ds

stop smokingQuitting smoking can be challenging, but if you know what to do when a craving hits, you’ll be ready to conquer any urge. The 4Ds are a good guideline to follow when you desperately want a cigarette. The order we show them is a general guideline, so modify it to work for you.


The moment the craving hits, tell yourself you can have a cigarette in 10 minutes. Then when the 10 minutes are up, tell yourself what a good job you did and challenge yourself to go 20 minutes. Any craving will go away in a few moments as long as you don’t keep thinking about it. After you delay, the next thing to do is . . .

Drink water.

In fact, get up and get a glass of water as you’re telling yourself to wait 10 minutes. And you want to drink water, not pop, coffee, or alcoholic beverages. First, while you’re quitting, your body is trying to get rid of the toxic materials you’ve inhaled all these years, and it needs water remove the junk from your system. Second, for many women, other drinks are triggers to smoke, especially coffee and alcohol. Third, the water will change the taste in your mouth and help to break the craving.

Please don’t make the excuse that you don’t like water. You can filter it or flavor it with fruit or small amounts of fruit juice. Find what works for you, and do it.

Do something else.

Your success in quitting may be determined by how well you shift your focus when you have an urge to smoke. The more you think about a craving, the worse it will become. After you’ve had your glass of water, find something else to do. If you were watching TV, move to another room and read a book. Take the dog for a walk. You need to break the association with whatever you were doing when you felt the craving.

Try keeping a bag of entertaining distractions with you, which could include puzzle books, books, art projects, or needlepoint. The main thing to remember is that you need to abruptly and quickly change what you’re doing and thinking to survive the craving.

Deep breathing.

This step can be done at any point in time, as many times as necessary. Deep breathing will release endorphins, which will help you feel better. It will also show you how well your respiratory system is healing during your quit. Take at least 10 deep breaths in through your nose—your stomach will move if you’re truly taking deep breaths. Exhale through your mouth with pursed lips, as if you’re kissing someone. Blow out hard, and imagine you are forcing out all the air in your lungs.

The 4Ds will feel awkward at first, but as you get used to them, you’ll find they are very helpful during cravings.


Step Two in Quitting Smoking: Pick a Time to Stop

quit smokingIf you’ve read the First Step in Quitting Smoking post, (link to first smoking post) you know why you want to quit. Now it’s time to take that step and do it.

Have you decided how you want to quit? You have several options, including pharmaceutical aids such as nicotine replacement therapy or Chantix, hypnotherapy, laser therapy, a telephone quitline, and cold turkey. Any of these methods can work, but only you know what is likely to work for you, based on your previous quit attempts. If you’re not sure which way you want to go, call your state’s quitline, or talk to your doctor.

Once you’ve decided how and why you want to do it, when are you going to do it? If you wait for the perfect time, it may never come. On the other hand, most smokers can remember a time when their minds or bodies were screaming it was time to quit, and they ignored those signals. If a signal comes to you in the middle of the night or while you’re driving home, get rid of those cigarettes immediately, and let that signal be the first moment of your quit.

There’s a reason your mind and body are telling you to quit at that moment—don’t ignore it.

Should you set a quit date?

If you call a quitline, they will ask you to set a quit date so you’ll commit to quitting. Some people question whether that is a good idea. The answer to that is, “it depends.” For some people, having a date is the first goal of their quit plan. They have time to prepare themselves and others for their quit. They can rid the house and car of all smoking paraphernalia, buy any pharmaceutical aids they need, and decide beforehand how to avoid and deal with cravings.

Some ex-smokers swear that picking a quit date wouldn’t have worked for them because it would have added even more stress to the process of quitting. Some people feel a sense of failure if they miss the quit date. Others use the quit date as an excuse to avoid quitting. They’ll set a quit date two weeks away, then as the date approaches, they move it back another two weeks. They tell themselves they need more time to plan, when they need to take action instead.

In the end, you have to decide what will work for you. In the end, it doesn’t matter if you quit on the first or the fifth of the month—you need to quit, and the time is now. If planning your life typically makes you more successful, pick a quit date, but don’t stretch it out more than two weeks. If setting a quit date will make you put off quitting, or if you feel motivated to do it now, seize the moment and get rid of the cigarettes.

Has setting a quit date ever worked for you? Why or why not?

The First Step in Quitting Smoking: Why Do You Want to Quit?

quit smokingAre you ready to quit smoking?

The first step in quitting is to determine why you want to quit. You know you should, and maybe your doctor has told you that you need to quit. However, you won’t be successful long-term unless the desire to quit comes from you, and the reasons you quit have to be your reasons. You can’t quit to please others or because they’re pressuring you. If you do, you’ll use that person as your excuse to go back to smoking.

You know what we’re talking about. At least once, you’ve tried to quit because someone was bugging you. When you did, you lasted for a few weeks or even a few months, but it was a tough quit to maintain because you weren’t doing it for yourself. In the end, you went back to it because deep down, you didn’t want to quit then—and you were even a little resentful of the person who was pressuring you.

So if you’re thinking about quitting for your kids, your spouse, or the dog, stop right there. What are your reasons for quitting? What do you want out of it? Your reasons will keep you going when you have that irresistible craving for a smoke. Your reasons will help your quit go more smoothly. Yes, quitting can be difficult at times—but quitting for other people’s reasons is even harder.

Here are ten common reasons for quitting we’ve heard from successful smokers:

  • I was tired of spending all my money and having nothing to show for it.
  • I woke up one day and decided I was done. I’d had enough of the smell, the expense, and the coughing.
  • I knew I could do so much more with the money and time I spent on smoking.
  • I wanted to feel better and not be dependent on cigarettes to get me through the day.
  • I didn’t like being addicted to nicotine because I was missing a lot of life.
  • I was sick of smelling and feeling bad all the time.
  • I wanted to run and play with my kids (or grandkids).
  • Being a smoker wasn’t for me—I’m worth a lot more than that, and I want to live to be an old lady.
  • The thought of having lung cancer or COPD scared me, and I knew it was time to quit.
  • I just got tired of the habits: waking up and smoking, driving and smoking, eating and then smoking . . . it was ridiculous.

Do any of these reasons resonate with you? What benefits of quitting are you looking forward to? When you have your own, clear reasons to quit, it’s time to move forward and do it—but quitting without a reason that is meaningful to you is a setup for failure.