The start of a new year is a chance to reflect on the past 12 months and set goals for the future. It’s a great time to take a look at the choices you’ve made about your health and how you can make better ones moving forward.

“There are small changes that can make a big impact on our health, whether it’s walking more, making smarter choices about the foods we eat or making sure we get a checkup to catch any health issues before they become serious,” said Richard A. Huntington, M.D., a primary care physician at Geisinger Kistler Clinic in Wilkes-Barre.

1. Exercise every day


Taking a brisk walk, hitting the gym or running outside is one way to get your heart pumping, burn calories and work toward the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week. Working out for 30 minutes a day, five days a week can help you burn calories and control your weight; reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even some cancers; build muscle and reduce stress. You’ll also get the benefit of feel-good endorphins from exercise. 

2. Eat your fruits and vegetables


The benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables are well known: You can ensure you’re getting enough vitamins and nutrients in your diet, create low-calorie, filling meals and help prevent some chronic conditions.

To boost the number of fruits and vegetables you eat each day, try adding fresh fruit to a bowl of cereal, oatmeal or yogurt in the morning. For lunch, enjoy a green salad with a mix of your favorite vegetables and a low-fat dressing. For dinner, try adding extra vegetables to a pasta dish. And when you’re hungry for a snack, reach for a piece of fresh or dried fruit instead of cookies or crackers.

3. Drink more water

Water helps you stay hydrated, digest food, maintain circulation, carry nutrients throughout your body and even keep your body temperature consistent. It’s also calorie-free and sugar-free, making it the best choice for a drink throughout your day.

“To start drinking more water, replace sodas and fruit juices during meals,” said Dr. Huntington. “You can also keep a refillable bottle of water nearby during the workday so you remember to stay hydrated.”

4. Cut back on added sugar 

Too much sugar in your diet can lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. You can easily reduce your added sugar intake by replacing soda, sports drinks and juices with water at meals. And when you crave something sweet, try eating a banana or an apple, rather than a cookie or a piece of candy.

5. Reduce your sodium intake

Sodium is sneaky—there might be more than you think in foods like bread, salad dressing and that can of soup you just ate for lunch. A high-sodium diet can lead to high blood pressure and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. To ensure you’re eating less sodium, stick to whole foods instead of processed ones, and check nutrition labels to see where sodium is lurking. 

6. Schedule an annual physical

Visiting your primary care physician for an annual physical is an excellent way to monitor changes in your health, prevent diseases and quickly begin treating any health issues that emerge before they become serious.

7. Aim for eight hours of sleep

You might have work and family obligations that keep you up later than you’d like, but getting a full eight hours of sleep is an important factor in staying healthy.

“Think of sleep as the time when your body heals and recharges itself,” said Dr. Huntington. “Getting a full eight hours can help you think clearly and feel rested, and it also helps you prevent diseases, maintain a healthy weight and feel less stressed.”

8. Take time to relax

Staying in good mental health is just as important as maintaining your physical health. Taking time to relax can tame stress, which, if left unchecked, can cause negative effects on your body such as muscle tension, headaches, fatigue and sleep problems. Simply breathing slowly several times a day, meditating, yoga, getting a massage or listening to calming music can help you refocus, think positively and reduce stress.

9. Quit smoking

Smoking causes lung cancer, and increases your risk of other types of cancer and your risk of heart disease. Additionally, it has other negative effects on your body like yellowing your teeth and causing tooth and gum problems, making you look older.

To quit smoking, talk to your doctor about options such as nicotine replacements, medicines and support groups.

"Few changes you can make benefit your health and well-being as much as quitting smoking,” Huntington said.

10. Get screened


When you visit your doctor for your annual physical, be sure to ask him or her about health screenings you should also get this coming year. Recommended screenings such as mammograms and pap tests for women, as well as colonoscopies, cholesterol and diabetes screenings for both men and women vary by age and your family history. Your doctor can help you determine which screenings are appropriate for you.