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 are 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.


  • 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 also 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 or Tobacco Free Life for more resources.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

  • I know, I know – it’s hard. First, 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 more than 10 types of cancer, including endometrial, colon, and pancreatic.
  • 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 maintain. Choose more reasonable plans that encourage slow weight loss and long-term maintenance.
  • Check out these helpful links: Aim for a Healthy Weight (NIH), How to Lower BMI the Fastest (Livestrong), and Healthy Weight (CDC).


  • You take care of yourself, workout, 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 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.
  • Take it a step further and start using a daily moisturizer with sunscreen every single day.


  • No, we don’t mean the kind that involves boxes and trucks. We mean moving your body! Park a little further away from work or the grocery store. Commit to using 15 minutes at lunch to climb stairs or walk around the block. Start small.
  • Do you have mobility problems? There is still a plan that will work for you. If you have access to a pool, walk the shallow end or hang onto the side and do gentle kicks. Start yoga from a chair (after clearing with your health care provider).
  • Tie exercise to something you love: walk with a friend or ride a stationary bike while you listen to your favorite podcast or television show.
  • Find something you enjoy that works for your budget and your schedule, so you’ll stay with it.

Manage Stress

  • We all have stress in our lives (Hello 2020!). Recognizing it and managing it is the key.
  • Learn to meditate, do yoga, or take tai chi. There are many low-cost and free options available on YouTube and through various apps.
  • Speak to a therapist or a psychiatrist. Taking care of yourself will better allow you to take care of others.
  • Has your health care provider suggested anti-anxiety medication? Consider it. These medications are game changers for many people.

Combat Loneliness

  • Even before the lockdowns and quarantines of 2020, loneliness has emerged as a major public health crisis, so know that you are not alone if you are experiencing these feelings.
  • Loneliness is especially prevalent among people with limited mobility, teens, the elderly, and those who are isolated. But it also occurs among those who are surrounded by family and friends and those who spend more time online than with people in real life.
  • The first step to beating loneliness is to recognize it. Then, find ways to make real connections with people: through volunteering (e.g., animal shelters, nursing homes, hospitals), making friends with peers who have similar interests (, or taking classes or workshops to develop new friends and interests.

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 virtually – and reach them together.