Step #1: Make a list of small, attainable goals.
“It might be run a 10K, it might be lose a certain amount of weight,” says Dr. Alan Glaseroff, a clinical professor of medicine at Stanford University and co-director of Stanford Coordinated Care. “Then sit down and think, ‘What steps are going to get me there?'” Think in small, doable increments — like losing 2 1/2 pounds a month or eating breakfast every day.
Step #2: Establish an exercise routine.
Increase your odds of sticking with it by training for a fun run — not a marathon — at the beginning of the year. (Remember what we said about small, attainable goals!) Why not invest in fitness app to give yourself positive reinforcement for running and walking 10,000 steps (about five miles) a day? Studies show that simply sitting less is good for your health, too.
Step #3: Learn your vital statistics.
These include your body-mass index (BMI), blood pressure, and waist circumference. If these stats run high, you’re at increased risk of metabolic syndrome — a group of conditions that together increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
BMI. To figure out your BMI, use the Centers for Disease Control calculator: 18.5 or lower is underweight, 25 or higher is overweight, and 30 or higher is obese.
Blood pressure. Use one of the machines at your local pharmacy to measure your blood pressure. (Normal is less than 120/80.) “Most people with high blood pressure have no idea they have it because there are no symptoms,” says David Zich, a board-certified internal medicine physician and emergency room physician at Northwestern University.
Waist circumference. If it’s over 35 inches, you’re at greater risk for heart disease.
Step #4: Plan to cook at home more.
“Plan ahead so you can eat at home,” says Glaseroff. You’ll save money and stay slimmer because you’ll be able to control ingredients and portion size better. A lot of studies show that eating out leads to weight gain. Of course you can still splurge on the occasional night out, but planning your meals ahead of time will help curb the urge to order takeout or indulge in fast food.
Tip: Cook large amounts of food ahead of time, so you can save time and have leftovers for the rest of the week.
Step #5: Vow to get more beauty sleep.
Trust us: Getting more sleep is worth it. If you’re deprived of shut-eye, you increase your risk of high blood pressure and weight gain. It’s not just a matter of spending more hours in bed. Work on so-called sleep hygiene, which means not exercising or eating too much right before hitting the pillow — and making sureFido doesn’t crawl into your bed and wake you up. Also, try to set up a consistent sleep schedule.
Step #6: Interview your family about their medical history.
Ask immediate family, aunts, and uncles about any history of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s — and the age of onset. “You want to collect this information so you can hand it down to your children,” says Dr. Kathryn Teng, director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Personalized Healthcare. “Document it and update it from year to year. You’re trying to identify what you’re at higher risk for so you can take steps to prevent that disease.” Don’t forget to share this info with your doctor.
To help you talk to family members, the Cleveland Clinic just created a helpfultool kit and the acronym STORY. (S is for “state your purpose.” T is for “talk with living relatives.” O is for “stay Organized.” R is for “be respectful and recognize not everyone wants to talk.” Y is for “update yearly.”)
Step #7: Start wearing sunscreen every day.
Yes, even in winter. Apply it under your makeup. And make an appointment to see a dermatologist, who can assess risk and make recommendations. It’s especially important to see a skin doctor if you can count 50 or more moles on your torso — a risk factor for melanoma. “[People] really need to get their posteriors in to see a dermatologist at about age 30,” says June Robinson, a research professor of dermatology at Northwestern University.
Step #8: Get up-to-date on your vaccinations.
A shot or two beats the alternative. Check the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations. But get the flu shot every year. If you haven’t had a booster shot for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough) in 10 years, get one. Make sure you got the measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox vaccines, too. If you’re traveling outside of the country in 2014, check what other shots you may need.