Health take-away: New Year resolutions, tips to live by in 2016

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Everyone wants to be happier and healthier, but New Year resolutions have a bad rap for being too ambitious and soon forgotten. If your resolutions have already fallen by the wayside, consider adopting some of these 10 practices to advance your health and wellness in 2016. Each one is specific, relatively simple, and brings with it a powerful impact. Combine any two or more of these practices and feel the synergism as they work together for tremendous results. Have a happier and healthier New Year!

Make good fat even better

We need fat in our diet to stay healthy. In 2016, elevate the quality — and health benefits — of fat with the following additions to your diet: pasture-raised eggs, grass-fed butter, ghee, whole fat yogurt, kefir, extra virgin olive oil, extra virgin coconut oil, avocados and nuts — especially almonds and macadamia nuts.

Bid farewell to bad carbs

You can take your health to a higher level in just days by increasing good carbohydrates. Filled with fiber, good carbs include whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans. Bad carbs are in processed foods that have stripped away the beneficial fiber, such as white bread and white rice. Bad carbs are the major contributors to obesity, inflammation, pre-diabetes and diabetes.

Take care of your microbiome

Your microbiome is made up of trillions of bacterial microorganisms that live in and on your body and are essential for good health. In particular, the bacteria in you GI tract digests food and helps prevent disease. Antibiotics can seriously disturb your microbiome, leading to chronic disease and even anxiety and depression. Follow your physician's advice and only take antibiotics when absolutely necessary.

Make sleep a priority

Not enough sleep is a health risk. In the short term, it will diminish your quality of life. In the long term, not enough sleep can lead to both physical and emotional illnesses. Make 2016 the year you decide that a good night's sleep is worth the effort. Stick to a consistent schedule, sleep in a dark room with a cooler temperature (around 64°), cut out caffeine after 2 p.m. and no late-night snacking.

Consider Organic for the "Dirty Dozen"

The Environmental Working Group publishes an annual Shopper's Guide about the level of pesticides in fruits and vegetables. You can download the guide at ewg.org but here's a helpful sneak preview: Consider going organic with this "dirty dozen:" celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, kale, cherries, potatoes and imported grapes.

Embrace the moment you are in

Discover the power of the pause. Take a slow deep breath, let go of the world around you, and focus on the moment. This is called mindfulness and those who make it a daily practice reap many benefits including improved mood and performance, greater creativity and problem-solving skills. We make better decisions about what to eat and other lifestyle choices when we are mindful, which promotes health and lessens the risk of disease.

Laughter really is good medicine

A good laugh has the amazing capacity to reduce stress, it makes you more fun to be around, and lowers inflammation, pain and anxiety. Laugh long and hearty whenever you can.

Add music to motion

We all have an internal jukebox filled with songs that evoke great memories. Download tunes that inspire positive emotions and walk, dance, and play to music as part of a daily commitment to keep moving. When we add our favorite music to motion, our brains kick into another dimension and quite simply, we have a much better day.

Enhance the power of social connections

Our journey through life is meant to be shared. Multiple studies conclude that people who routinely interact with friends and loved ones live longer, have a higher quality of life, are less prone to disease and stress, and are more resilient. Plan more time with those who make you feel good about yourself.

Don't be afraid of the dirt

Most of us have come a long way from the family farm, and that's not necessarily a good thing. We've lost touch with nature and all of the benefits that comes with being outside. Now, there's increasing evidence of a connection between exposure to soil and an improved human microbiome — or the presence of healthy bacteria in and on our bodies. This year, go outside and play. Start a garden, jump in the leaves and get your hands dirty.

Mark Pettus, MD, is Director of Medical Education and Medical Director of Wellness and Population Health at Berkshire Health Systems. He is the author of "The Savvy Patient: The Ultimate Advocate For Quality Health Care," and "It's All in Your Head: Change Your Mind, Change Your Health."


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