The American Council on Science and Health is dedicated to helping individuals distinguish between real and hypothetical health risks. As we head toward a new century, we all have the opportunity to make significant advances against premature disease and death–and to make them through lifestyle changes that are under our own control. Thus, we offer you these New Year’s resolutions to help you increase your chances of having a happy and healthy 1999.
1. Don’t Smoke.
If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, make 1999 the year in which you stop. If you’ve tried to quit before and failed–try again.
We’ve made this our number-one New Year’s resolution because cigarette smoking is the number-one cause of avoidable deaths in this country. Approximately half-a-million Americans die every year from diseases caused by cigarette smoking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every five deaths in the United States is smoking-related, and exposure to secondhand smoke causes approximately 3,000 deaths from lung cancer among American adults.
2. Be Sensible about Alcohol Use.
Starting now, resolve never to drive while under the influence of alcohol. Equally important, never ride in a car driven by someone who has been drinking. If you plan to drink, designate a driver who will stay sober, or otherwise ensure that you don’t have to ride with an impaired driver.
Furthermore, be aware that having more than one or two drinks affects both judgment and coordination: Resolve to be cautious. Remember that long-term excessive use of alcohol may cause liver diseases, disorders of the heart and nervous system, and–especially when drinking is combined with smoking–throat and pancreatic cancer.
3. Be Proactive about Your Health: Have the Appropriate Medical Tests.
Both high blood pressure and high serum cholesterol increase your risk of heart disease, the number-one killer in the U.S. Make a resolution to have your blood pressure and cholesterol level checked regularly. If either is elevated, follow your physician’s advice to reduce it. Other important screening tests include colonoscopy for individuals over 50, and for women, Pap tests and regular mammograms.
4. Eat a Balanced and Varied Diet. Avoid Obesity and Fad Diets.
There are no magical guidelines for good nutrition. Resolve to plan your diet using the key concepts of “variety, moderation, and balance.” Remember: There are no “good” or “bad” foods. Overindulgence is the primary danger from foods!
One-third of American adults are obese. Obesity increases the risk or severity of many medical problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and breast cancer.
Remember that the best way to lose weight is gradually. Choose a reasonable, balanced diet and plan an exercise program that will help you maintain weight loss. Check any program with your doctor before you begin.
5. Exercise Regularly, but Exercise Caution.
This year, resolve to develop an exercise program that enhances your strength, your endurance, and your flexibility. Consult your physician before starting an exercise program, especially if you are middle-aged or older. Keep in mind that it takes time to get into condition after years of couch-potato living–start slowly and increase your activity gradually.
6. Protect Yourself Against HIV and Other Sexually Transmitted Infections.
From 1981 through 1996, over 580,000 cases of AIDS in the United States were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although there are promising new drugs to treat AIDS, a cure has not yet been developed.
To reduce your risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, (including AIDS) resolve to:
- Avoid sexual intercourse with people who are positive for HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (SDIs), and with people who engage in high-risk behaviors such as intravenous drug use or unprotected sexual intercourse.
- Use a condom if you have intercourse with a person whose HIV or STI status is unknown to you. Remember, however, that condoms are not foolproof.
7. Get Appropriate Vaccinations.
Resolve to maintain your child’s immunization schedule through regular visits with his or her pediatrician. Immunization is not just for kids–adults should keep their own schedules up-to-date.
8. Use Automobile Safety Devices Every Time.
Always buckle up. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that the use of seat belts dramatically reduces traffic deaths.
Airbags and child restraints are also lifesavers. Airbags saved 1,198 lives between 1987 and 1995, and approximately 2,934 lives were saved by child restraints from 1982 through 1995.
9. Install and Maintain a Working Smoke Detector.
Every year in the U.S. approximately 5,000 people are killed and more than 40,000 are injured by residential fires. Most of those deaths and injuries take place in fires that occur at night while the victims are asleep. Smoke detectors give you the early warning you may need to escape a fire–so make sure you have at least one working detector in your home.
10. Focus Your Efforts on Things That Matter.
Almost daily we hear of another “health risk” or “cancer scare.” And yet, while people are fretting about the possible carcinogens in their foods and pondering the potential benefits of the latest supplements, more than 1,300 Americans are dying prematurely each day from cigarette smoking, and only one out of ten adults eats the recommended five servings per day of fruits and vegetables.
When it comes to achieving long life and good health, we largely determine our own fate. Let’s make the resolution to concern ourselves with the things that really matter.
Elizabeth Whelan Sc.D., M.P.H., is president of the American Council on Science and Health, New York City. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].