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Make 2012 the Year of Better Health!

We know how it is. It's hard to find time to focus on your own health. So we've scheduled the time for you in the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Wellness Calendar. Make one simple change each month. By December 31, you should feel the difference. (Also, check out our bonus printable calendar. Hang it on your fridge or by your desk as a monthly reminder!)

Download your printable calendar

The Healthy Dozen: 12 Tips for 12 Months

JanuaryJanuary: Check On Your Check-Up

When was the last time you saw your primary care or family doctor for a well-visit?

"An annual exam is a good time to discuss non-urgent concerns," says Dr. Angela Fowler-Brown, a primary care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. She suggests people make a list of any questions they have about their well-being, from their weight to changes in mood. It is also a good time to address important health risks.

"We talk about family history and how we're going to tackle health-related behaviors such a smoking," she says.

Finally, based on the age of the patient, various routine screenings such as colonoscopies, mammograms or blood work may be discussed. Bottom line: Start off the New Year by scheduling your annual checkup - and make sure your family does, too.

FebruaryFebruary: Know Your Numbers

All adults should know the basics: their blood pressure, lipid or cholesterol count, waist circumference and body mass index (BMI). Understanding these numbers ... and how to get them to the proper level ... is key to overall health.

"These are predictors of cardiovascular health," says Dr. Loryn Feinberg, Medical Director of the Women's Cardiovascular Program, part of the CardioVascular Institute at BIDMC. "Your doctor will help monitor these numbers and work with you on a plan to keep your cardiovascular system strong."

MarchMarch: Get Your Head In The Game - Safely

Whether you hit the slopes for spring skiing or are getting the bicycle ready for the road, remember to grab a helmet. Estimates suggest that 85 percent of cycling head injuries could be prevented with the use of a proper helmet.

"Emergency room physicians see the tragic consequences of failure to use safety measures during sports such as skiing, snowboarding and cycling," says Dr. Laura Burke, an Emergency Room Physician at BIDMC. "Many of these injuries could have been easily prevented by helmet use."

AprilApril: Clouds or None - Protect Skin From Sun

Even on cloudy days, up to 80 percent of the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays can hit your skin. So grab sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 and use it every day.

The American Cancer Society notes you should pay special attention to areas uncovered by clothing, such as your face, ears, arms and hands. Also, check the expiration date on the sunscreen container to be sure it is still effective. Most sunscreen products last about two to three years. So if it's been in your closet longer than that, buy a new tube or can.

MayMay: Take A Hike

Add walking to your daily routine. Take a brisk stroll in the morning before work. Walk around the block with your family after dinner. Walking will not only help your heart, but it can relieve stress and help you lose weight.

And remember, you don't have to walk for miles to reap the benefits.

"Any activity that gets you up and moving is good," says Dr. Ernest Gervino, Director of the Clinical Physiology Lab at the CardioVascular Institute at BIDMC. "It's best to walk at a pace that feels comfortable, and let that be your guide. In fact, if you have been sedentary, complications or injury may occur if you move too fast."

JuneJune: Ban Bugs

Mosquitos and ticks are not welcome (and neither is the West Nile Virus or Lyme disease they carry). Be sure to use bug spray as directed when outdoors. And check yourself and children for ticks if you've been in tall grass or the woods.

Ticks can carry diseases such as Lyme disease. The most common symptom - a large, round red rash with a darker red center, sometimes taking the form of a bull's eye. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the rash occurs in 80 percent of cases, usually two to 30 days after a tick bite. Other symptoms of early Lyme disease include fatigue, chills, low-grade fever and headache. If you suspect an infection, call your doctor immediately.

JulyJuly: Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

You've heard that you should drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. The reality is you need to drink at least that much - and more if you're exercising or in hot weather. Water is best, but if you want to switch it up, go for a low-calorie, low-sugar drink.

Elisabeth Moore, a registered dietician in the CardioVascular Institute at BIDMC, says you should avoid getting thirsty, and be tuned into signs of dehydration (dark colored urine, headache, dry mouth). She also suggests carrying a water bottle at all times.

"I find that having one with a straw when sitting at my desk or at home is helpful, as sipping does not take much effort," she says. "Keeping well-hydrated is important for all body functions."

AugustAugust: Hone In On A Hobby

Whether you pitch in an adult baseball league, build furniture, paint murals or volunteer at the local animal shelter, it's important to have something you love to do. A hobby gives you time to relax, learn new skills, discover hidden talents and meet new people. This is especially true for seniors, who may have trouble adjusting to retirement.

"Seniors have got to stay engaged in the world," says Dr. Michael C. Miller, psychiatrist at BIDMC and Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter. "I'm a great believer in staying active. People who do best are the ones who keep themselves going. Community organizations, church or synagogue groups, a sport, volunteer activities, political activities. It can be almost anything."

SeptemberSeptember: Attack Snacks

During this month, replace one of your daily high-fat or high-calorie snacks with something healthier. Choose Baked Tostitos over potato chips. A handful of almonds is filling and contains protein. Frozen grapes or bananas are also a good bet.

Registered dietitian Elisabeth Moore says the biggest problems most people face are mindless snacking, snacking on foods "just because they are there" and needing that sweets fix.

"Planning ahead is key - bring snacks from home, portion snacks appropriately, and avoid eating foods just because they are available," she says. "Also, be aware of the times of the day you are more likely to snack - 3 p.m. is a big one, as is after dinner and before bed."

Moore also suggests using snack time to fit in the healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy items. Avoid snacks that are highly processed and contain a lot of salt and/or sugar. And make kids' snacks for school fun - put the ingredients for "ants on a log" (peanut butter, celery, raisins) in a container or give cut-up fruit with yogurt dip or vegetables with hummus.

OctoberOctober: Build Bones

Do you get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet? Most people don't. And if you smoke or drink alcohol, you are also more at risk for low bone density. Adding foods like milk, yogurt, cheese and broccoli can help. Also important - weight-bearing exercises like walking, running and even dancing!

"The recommend amount is 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium per day for adult men and women," says Dr. Tamara Rozental, an orthopaedic surgeon at BIDMC. "If you don't consume all the calcium you need from your diet, you need to supplement."

NovemberNovember: Sleep Soundly

The average adult needs about seven hours of sleep per night, and studies have shown not getting enough not only results in daytime sleepiness, but depressed mood, high blood pressure, weight gain, and diabetes-like blood chemistry changes.

To get the best sleep possible, Dr. Robert Thomas at the Sleep Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Needham says you need to do three key things: have a fixed wake-up time, get maximal light exposure for the first hour after awakening, and "listen" to your body when it is time to sleep. It's also important to allow adequate darkness in the evening.

"As a rough rule, turning the lights down at 8 p.m. for a person who keeps typical hours is recommended," Dr. Thomas says. "ANY light after that time is counterproductive, and you actually get functionally 'jet-lagged' with difficulty falling asleep, and generally feeling fatigued."

So shut off the TV and power down the computer and smartphone before bedtime - and don't surf the Internet late at night looking for answers to your sleep problems.

DecemberDecember: Reconnect With Friends

… and we're not talking about writing on their Facebook wall! Calling or getting together in person with friends and family has a big mental health benefit. The holiday season is one time where this may happen more naturally with parties and gatherings, but you should make an effort all year for that personal connection.

"This is particularly important for seniors," notes Dr. Virginia Cummings, Director of the Geriatrics Program at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Milton. "Older adults who report being lonely are more likely to have higher blood pressure, elevated hormone levels and lower quality sleep."

In addition, research shows strong social relationships may be associated with less depression and overall, increased mental health, she says.

Download your printable calendar

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted January 2012

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