Put Yourself at the Top of Your Gift List this Year

6225530793_5cee65a95c_b (1) Running around frantically buying gifts for your loved ones this holiday season? Take a moment to decide what you will give yourself.  How about better health? You’re worth it and, frankly, this is also the most important gift you can give to those who love you.

There has been much debate about how much of our health is genetically influenced and how many of those risks we can change ourselves based on diet and lifestyle choices. The truth of the matter is that we are born with many of our health risks, and some of these cannot be changed. However, there are choices we can all make that will dramatically lower our lifetime risks for many diseases and conditions.

Tobacco

  • You already know that smoking tobacco increases the risk for lung cancer, but did you know that it also increases the risk of at least 10 other cancers, including cancers of the bladder, pancreas, stomach, colon and cervix?
  • Tobacco use is also associated with pregnancy complications, heart disease, stroke, lung disease and bone loss.
  • Chewing tobacco and using cigars and pipes count as tobacco use
  • Are you a tobacco-user? Good news. Cutting down or quitting tobacco use now will likely improve your health no matter how long you’ve smoked or how old you are now.
  • Want to quit smoking? Try Smokefree.gov or Quitnet.com for more resources.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

  • I know, I know --- it’s hard. Don’t focus on reaching a magic, unattainable number or looking like a supermodel. Focus on the health benefits that move you a bit closer to your ideal BMI.
  • You probably know that a lower BMI will decrease your risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease. But did you know that, second only to tobacco, lowering your BMI is your most effective tool in reducing your cancer risks? This may include >10 types of cancer, including endometrial, colon and pancreatic cancers.
  • Steer away from radical diet and exercise plans that encourage rapid weight loss, elimination of major food groups, and other lifestyle changes that will be difficult to adhere to long-term. Steer toward more reasonable plans that encourage slow weight loss and long-term maintenance.
  • Helpful Links: NIH - Aim for a Healthy Weight, Livestrong - How to Lower BMI the Fastest,  CDC - Healthy Weight

Tanning

  • You take care of yourself, work-out, and then jump into the tanning bed at your local gym? Wait a minute … if you care about yourself and your health, drop the tanning bed routine. UV exposure from tanning beds and from sunlight increases the risk of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.
  • Need the glow? Look into self-tanners that give you the look but not the risk associated with tanning.
  • Know the manager at your health club? Speak to him or her about making a change at your gym that will truly improve the health of its members --- unplug the tanning beds, for good.

Chances are you already know that the above changes will improve your health. You may have tried to make these changes in the past and you may have become discouraged and quit if you didn’t reach your goals. Try again – this time for you. And be sure to choose an intermediate goal that is both attainable and maintainable. Also, connect with others who have similar goals – locally or online – and reach them together.

Have you made a positive change recently? We'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Photo by Moyan Brenn, via Flickr.