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Published in CenterView on January 16, 2012

UMMC experts weigh in on achieving success in the new year

By Matt Westerfield

A new year is under way, and faculty, staff and students across UMMC are seizing the opportunity to make it a healthier, happier 2012. It's been estimated that close to half of American adults make New Year's resolutions each year, and although many of those will abandon those goals midway through the year, experts say that a person who publically declares a resolution has a much better shot at succeeding. With that in mind, experts at the Medical Center offer advice on some of the most common resolutions that might help keep you on track.

Manage your health


For those resolved to live a higher quality of life in 2012, the first step is for them to take charge of their health.

Dr. Rebecca Waterer, director of Student/Employee Heath, encourages employees to familiarize themselves with the Wellness Benefits that their health insurance allows and take advantage of them annually. She said some regular checks to consider getting are cholesterol screenings, mammograms, blood pressure evaluations, pap smears, colonoscopies and prostate-specific antigen tests.

"I have learned over the years that health-care workers tend to spend much more time and attention addressing the health issues of others and often neglect their own health needs," Waterer said. "Disease prevention and early detection are of utmost importance to good outcomes, and we must remember that even though we all would rather not have to be the patient, there are times when that is exactly what we should be. The annual wellness exam should go to near the top of the 'resolution' list."

She also recommends finding a balance between the demands of career and home life.

"When we think about New Year's Resolutions, we have a tendency to want to fix everything and fix it now," she said. Because of this thinking, a person is liable to give up if he or she slips up early. "It is much better to concentrate on one or two areas and do them well."

Eat healthier


There's no better time to re-evaluate your eating habits than after overindulging in sweets and treats throughout the holidays. But dietitian Paul Robertson warns that a big change in eating habits without proper preparation can be a recipe for failure.

Those who make a resolution to eat healthier should take the time to research what works and what doesn't so they can avoid gimmicks and fad diets, Robertson said. It's also important that they are prepared to adjust their routines.

"Focus on the decisions you make as progress markers," he said. "Decisions are what lead to results. Focusing on the end-result may help you reach a goal, but it can often lead to difficulty maintaining that goal. Healthy eating as part of a healthier lifestyle is about making good decisions most often."

Other tips Robertson recommends are:

  • Eat at least three times a day in order to avoid excess portions.
  • Take your time to enjoy the food when you're eating.
  • Avoid high-sugar drinks like sodas, sports drinks, sweet tea and others.
  • Get a personalized diet plan.

"You can go to choosemyplate.gov and click on the Super Tracker Option to receive a personalized meal plan that will help meet your specific goals," he said. Contact Robertson at 5-8728 or probertson@umc.edu to set up an appointment or to ask general questions about healthy eating.

Get in shape


Follow-through is a key ingredient when someone starts a new exercise regimen to lose weight and get in shape. And the secret to follow-though is choosing activities that you enjoy doing, like going for a bike ride, says Nelson Ware, instructor of Physical Therapy in the School of Health Related Professions.

For those looking to improve their fitness, Ware recommends finding someone to exercise with. "Having an accountability partner will help you be consistent and set goals," he said.

It's not about intensity but duration, he added. Exercise that's too intense and be self-defeating. That's why he urges baby steps.

"A big problem is that people have unreasonable expectations," he said. "They work out too hard and get sore, so they become less consistent and then quit because it stops being fun."

Not only that, but there's the risk for injury. Ware says that physical therapists see a lot of patients early in the year who hit the gym too hard too soon and stress their joints, leading to over-use injuries.

So how much is too much?

"You should be able to maintain a normal conversation with limited difficulty," said Ware.

Joining a gym is no guarantee someone will get in shape. Rather consistency and enjoyment are crucial to keeping off the couch. Ware says a physical therapist is a good resource to get some recommendations for choosing an exercise program that may be the best personalized fit.

Quit smoking


Among the many great reasons to quit smoking is, not only will the ex-smoker significantly reduce his or her risks for diseases like lung cancer and heart disease, but there are even more immediate benefits.

Dr. Thomas Payne, director of research and associate director of the ACT Center, says short-term improvements include less shortness of breath, better sleep, reduced stress and tension (after two to three weeks).

"Virtually every health risk factor associated with tobacco use begins to drop when you quit, and eventually return to normal levels," Payne said. "Excess heart disease risk drops 50 percent within two years of quitting. Respiratory disease and cancer risks drop more slowly but essentially reach normal levels within 10-15 years."

Payne recommends a range of strategies that might help a smoker who is ready to kick the habit, including:

  • Make a list of 2 to 4 solid, personal reasons why you want to quit and write them down.
  • Set a quit date, preferably about two or three weeks out.
  • Identify one or two good friends or family members you can go to for support when it gets a little rough.
  • Have a strategy ready for managing stress, such as taking walks, reading, yoga/meditation or other relaxation exercises.
  • Don't be discouraged if all doesn't go perfectly. Try to learn from your mistakes, set a new quit date and try again.

"The ACT Center is Mississippi's premier tobacco cessation program," Payne said. "Our programs are offered statewide and are recognized and respected nationally. All services, including medications are free."

Visit www.act2quit.org to learn more about the ACT Center, or call the Mississippi Quitline for free counseling services at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.