Changes don’t have to be difficult or dramatic to make a difference. There is no time like the present to adopt good habits that can improve your health and happiness for the long term.
Eat healthfully. “Eat, drink and be merry” is a recipe for unwanted pounds and health problems down the road. A 2017 study that examined the yearly weight patterns of 3,000 people in the U.S., Germany and Japan found small yet significant increases during holidays. Instead of resolving to lose weight at the beginning of a new year, resolve not to gain it in the first place. Even small amounts can add up over time, increasing stress on joints. And excess body fat and unhealthy food choices can fuel inflammation that can affect joints and raise the risks of other health problems.
Make connections. “Healthy social support that leaves you feeling connected and supported is every bit as important as other aspects of health maintenance,” says Sara Honn Qualls, PhD, professor of psychology and aging studies at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. “Social support buffers us in times of need by supplying practical assistance and by bolstering us with emotional support.” Research bears this out. Studies have linked inadequate social support to the onset of depression and the development (and poorer outcomes) of a host of health problems, including heart disease, stroke, cognitive decline, cancer and diabetes.
Be open with your doctor. Your relationship with your doctor may be one of the most important for your health. “Several studies show that people who play a more active role in their care have better outcomes – they do better,” says Liana Fraenkel, MD, Yale University School of Medicine professor and chief of rheumatology, VA Connecticut Healthcare System in West Haven. Working in partnership is essential to taking an active role in your care Your doctor won’t know certain things about you unless you share them. “It’s very important to be comfortable enough with your physician so that you [can be] completely honest, even if you are not taking your prescribed treatments or you are using other treatments, such as herbs or marijuana, that you don’t think the physician would endorse,” says Dr. Fraenkel.
Get active. Staying active has numerous benefits: losing or maintaining weight, strengthening joint-supporting muscles, improving heart and lung health, relieving fatigue, reducing stiffness, bolstering mood and lowering the risk of a wide range of diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week. Yet research shows that only 1 in 10 people with arthritis gets enough physical activity.
Practice meditation and mindfulness. Meditation has been connected to benefits including reduced stress, depression and anxiety and improved quality of life, says registered nurse Mary Jo Kreitzer, PhD, founder and director of the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota, which focuses on integrative medicine research and education. Studies have found that meditation in some cases has helped chronic pain patients when other approaches or interventions were not effective, she says. “We now know that meditation can literally change the structure and function of the brain,” Kreitzer says. “While mindfulness is a form of meditation, it is also a way of being,” she explains.
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