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Resolve to be healthier

By David P. Norton, M.D.

A Special to Reminder Publications

If you meant to make a New Year's resolution, but didn't, don't fret. Here's one that's never too late to make, can be fulfilled in many different ways, and best of all, has lifetime benefits: I will improve my health.

Physicians will tell you that, for better or worse, by what you do or don't do, you the patient, more than anyone else, control your health and well-being. There's no time like the present to take charge.

Here are nine suggestions to help you reach the goal of a healthier you. Take on a few a time, and make progress at your own pace. This is, after all, a lifetime effort. And work with your primary care physician to make sure you're going in the right direction.

Examine your diet. We all can eat better, and probably less. Think more fish, fruits, nuts, and vegetables, less red meat, fast food and soda. Drink water or skim milk, not drinks with empty calories. Think of food as fuel for your body, and don't overfill the tank. The rules are simple: the more calories you take in, the heavier you get; the more saturated fat and cholesterol, the more you tempt heart disease.

Get moving. Walking every day will do wonders for your muscles, bones, cardiovascular system, brain, and just about every other part of your body. Try to do something vigorous, that raises your heart rate, for at least 30 minutes, daily if possible. Making exercise an everyday part of your life (and your children's) is one of wisest moves you can make.

Be a loser. Fight obesity by losing weight. Associated with more than 30 medical conditions and judged to be as dangerous to health as smoking, obesity affects more than 60 million US adults, and, frightfully, the numbers are growing as fast as our waistlines.

Be a quitter. Given the overwhelming evidence of its consequences for ill health, quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health -- and your family's, given the dangers of second-hand smoke.

Update your immunizations. The return in 2006 of mumps, measles, whooping cough and other preventable diseases should be warning signs to us all. Global travelers should be extremely conscientious, and parents should be doubly diligent about their children's vaccinations. Remember, also, to get an annual flu shot, an item especially important for children, the elderly, and individuals with chronic health conditions. These groups are the most susceptible to the flu, potentially suffering severe consequences. This is more than a personal health issue; it's a matter of public health as well.

Get tested, checked, and screened. Get your screening tests, like mammograms, pap smears, colonoscopies, or PSA's for prostate cancer. We've made great strides in cure rates because of earlier detection and treatments. Get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked frequently, and keep watch on those as directed by your physician. For men (and their significant others): if you're in that 25 percent of the male population who doesn't see a physician regularly, stop gambling with your health. Find a primary care physician and get a checkup.

Practice prevention. Guard yourself from skin cancer by avoiding long periods in the sun and wearing sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen. Act responsibly to prevent sexually transmitted or infectious diseases. Protect your eyes and hearing when using power equipment, like lawnmowers or snow throwers.

Avoid medication errors. If you take medications or supplements (nearly four of five Americans do every week), work with your physician and pharmacist to ensure that the medicines you take to make you better won't cause you harm. Preventable medication errors injure an estimated 1.5 million people every year in the US, a far too common and costly failing of our health care system.

Improve our public health Every individual action we take affects our public as well as personal health. Air and water pollution from toxic materials, our failure to get immunized and take other preventive steps can cause major public health ills. Each of us can do more - recycle, dispose of trash properly, drive safely to improve our public health. The investments of time and energy are well worth the returns.

David P. Norton, M.D., a physician with Holyoke Pediatric Associates in Holyoke, is chairman of the Massachusetts Medical Society's Public Health Committee. Physician Focus is a public service of the Massachusetts Medical Society. Readers should use their own judgment when seeking medical care and consult with their physician for treatment. Send comments to