Get Healthy in 2010

If you make New Year’s resolutions, improving your health is likely on your list. But where to start? Even those with seemingly unshakable resolve can feel overwhelmed. Here are 15 tips to get you started on your path to better health. 

1. Have a Diabetes Test

More than 2 million Canadians have diabetes, yet about a third of them are undiagnosed. It is recommended that everyone over the age of 40 be tested for diabetes every three years. If you have certain risk factors such as being overweight or high blood pressure, you should be tested earlier and more often. If you experience symptoms such as excessive thirst and urination, weakness and fatigue, blurred vision or foot numbness, get a blood test now.

2. Find a New Leash on Life

Is it time to consider adding a new member to your household? Living with and caring for a pet has been proven to boost your overall health and mood. Research shows pet owners visit the doctor less often, have lower blood pressure and experience less sleeping difficulties than those without a furry, four-legged friend.

3. Hit the Hay

Try going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, even on weekends and holidays. Your body likes routine, so you’re likely to get a better night’s sleep. Plus you’ll get higher quality slow wave sleep, which is when the body repairs and regenerates tissues. Expand your sleep education at http://www.bettersleep.ca.

4. Be Sun Smart

Exposure to UV rays increases a person’s chances of developing skin cancers, cataracts and is also responsible for weakening the immune system. If you need to be outdoors between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are their strongest, apply an SPF 15+ broad-spectrum sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes beforehand. And don’t forget to protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses. Environment Canada issues daily UV observations across Canada. Click here for today’s UV index.

5. Get Your Back on Track

If you suffer from back pain, in addition to abdominal and back exercises that help to strengthen your core, try walking briskly or swimming regularly. Low-impact aerobic activities can condition your back muscles and promote healing and recovery. Speak to your doctor or physical therapist about which activities are right for you.

6. Uncover the Fat on Food Labels

Learn to identify—and avoid—saturated and trans fats (the ones that raise your cholesterol). On food labels, they’re often disguised under names such as coconut, palm and kernel oils, shortening, partially hydrogenated oil, lard or cocoa butter.

7. Warm Up to Gardening

Always do some slow, sustained back, arm and leg stretches before gardening. And rotate your chores to avoid repetitive movements. For example, after 15 minutes of raking, swap to pruning for a while. For tips on avoiding gardening injuries this spring, visit Health Canada’s Garden Safety page.

8. Cut Your Alzheimer’s Risk

Eat more vitamin E-rich foods, such as spinach, avocado and peanuts, along with more vitamin C-rich foods, such as broccoli, tomatoes and oranges, and you could help conserve memory and other brain functions as you age. Studies show that vitamins E and C when used in combination are likely to have some beneficial effect in reducing the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Research also shows that keeping your mind active through games that stimulate your brain may also help to maintain brain health. Challenge yourself at www.gamesforthebrain.com.

9. Get Tested for Glaucoma

One in 100 Canadians over age 40 have glaucoma, an eye disease caused by increased pressure within the eye. Often there are no symptoms and those affected may not know there’s a problem until the damage is permanent. If you have blurred vision, see haloes around light, suffer loss of side vision or have pain in the eye, visit an eye-care specialist immediately. Once you hit 40, get tested every two years.

10. Learn Peak Pollen Times

Spring is hell for hay fever sufferers, but diagnosing the culprit can often help. The Weather Network’s pollen forecast lists problem trees, weeds and grasses in each province and their peak pollination times. Use it to diagnose which one(s) trigger attacks, and, where possible, to avoid exposure at peak times.

11. Donate Blood

Every minute of every day, someone in Canada needs blood—so why not chip in? A single donation can save up to three lives. Canada needs 600,000 donors across the country to maintain its blood supply. Visit www.bloodservices.ca, or call 1-888-2DONATE.

12. Calculate Your WHR (Waist-Hip Ratio)

The waist-hip ratio is used to measure the proportion of fat distributed around the torso and is calculated by dividing your waist measurement by your hip measurement—there’s a calculator at www.bmi-calculator.net/waist-to-hip-ratio-calculator. A healthy WHR is less than 0.8 for women and less then 1.0 for men. It’s just one indicator of your well-being, but risks of serious problems like heart disease increase with a higher WHR.

13. Eat More Roughage

To stay healthy, women need about 25 grams of fibre a day and men need about 38, yet most people consume less than half of the recommended amount. You can introduce more fibre into your diet simply by choosing cereal with psyllium or oat bran for breakfast, eating whole grain bread for lunch and adding beans, lentils and a variety of vegetables to your dinner plate.

14. Book In for a Medical

Let’s get the tough one out of the way first: If you didn’t have a check-up last year, book one now, before you go back to work. Talk to your doctor about which tests you need, based on your age, and whether your family history calls for any extra checks.

15. Stretch Daily

If you have a desk job, stretch regularly to avoid neck, back and shoulder pain. Try this: Place your fingertips on your shoulders with your elbows pointing out. Move elbows as far back and then as far forward as you can ten times. Now repeat down and up. To learn more stretches, visit the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

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