9 resolutions for the new year

When my exercise class starts again next week, I know what I’ll see in the gym: longer wait times for treadmills, ellipticals and other equipment for the next few weeks as many people resolve to become healthier in the new year. Marketers are familiar with this behavior, too. That’s why January finds us inundated with ads for workout gear, fitness club memberships, and vitamins and supplements.

We all have the best intentions when we make new year’s resolutions, and many of our aspirations involve health, according to a recent poll by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion:

  • 12 percent of Americans making resolutions plan to exercise more.
  • 11 percent aim to lose weight.
  • 8 percent promise to eat more healthfully.
  • 8 percent want to try to quit smoking.

The pollsters found that 44 percent of Americans were somewhat or very likely to vow to improve themselves in some way in 2014, although 28 percent of those making resolutions last year ultimately did not keep them. But if you’re going to make a health-related resolution, why not make one (or more) that will increase the odds that you will live to a healthy old age? That prospect certainly motivates me.

SECRETS TO LONGEVITY

At the 2013 LeadingAge annual meeting, author Dan Buettner shared nine secrets to longevity that he had uncovered with the help of scientists while researching with National Geographic the areas around the globe with the highest concentrations of people who had reached or surpassed the 100-year mark. The founder and chief executive officer of Blue Zones devised the “Power 9” from his observations of those in these “Blue Zones” of Loma Linda, Calif.; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; and Okinawa, Japan. These habits can build on whatever advantages your genes may give you or perhaps mitigate some negative effects associated with your DNA, collectively adding up to 12 years to your life. They're tips you can apply to your life and share with residents and their families as well:

  1. Make exercise a natural part of your day, something you get through your normal daily activities.
  2. Determine your purpose in life.
  3. Reserve time to relax, reflect and get rid of the stress in your life.
  4. Consume properly sized portions of food and beverages. Remember that a serving of meat is three to four ounces, the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of cards. Stop eating when you feel 80 percent full. Those living in Blue Zone areas eat their smallest (and last) meal of the day in the late afternoon or early evening.
  5. Make plants a focus of your diet. Beans are a mainstay in the areas studied, and meat (most of the time, pork) is eaten an average of only five times per month.
  6. Enjoy the health benefits of wine, imbibing with friends and food. Blue Zone residents (with the exception of the Seventh-Day Adventists of Loma Linda) drink alcohol regularly, in moderation.
  7. Participate in group activities. Most of the centenarians studied are members of faith-based communities and regularly attend services. Denomination doesn’t matter.
  8. Put family first. Keep your parents nearby or in your home (it lowers their and your disease and mortality rate), commit to a life partner and spend time with your children (so they’ll care for you as you age).
  9. Establish and maintain friendships.

STICKING TO IT

That last point ties in with a piece of advice Buettner had for those looking to make positive—and lasting—changes to their health habits: Surround yourself with people who will reinforce longevity-supporting behaviors.

Another great tip comes from one of the nation’s most prominent doctors, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “Instead of a giant leap, resolve to take small steps to improve your health this year,” he tweeted yesterday. "The best resolutions are the ones you'll stick with."

A federal government website also offers tips for those wishing to achieve health-related goals.

Here’s to a healthy, happy new year!

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Topics: Activities , Clinical , Executive Leadership