Wednesday
Jan112012

Using the New Year to Make New Health Goals

I dislike the term “New Year’s Resolutions” because it connotes setting lofty goals with no actual plan. What often happens is that these goals never come to fruition.

I always plan a new year by setting forth goals. Then, I formulate a plan to actually accomplish them. The plan is not a stagnant tool, as I review it regularly and make necessary changes to get closer to my goals. Formulating the plan takes research and support from family and friends. This is absolutely necessary for success. Remember that old adage: “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Click Arrow at Site to ListenThere are financial goals, personal goals, career goals, athletic goals and social goals. The one I cherish above all are goals related to health and wellness. Without our health, we really have nothing. I have too often seen cases where one’s health only became a priority once they were stricken with a life-threatening illness.

I’ve been branded the “medical advocate” because I don’t stop at being a health advocate to my patients. I go one major step further. I encourage each individual to become his or her own medical advocate. After all, no one knows your body better than you. I encourage my patients to read, ask questions and seek more than one medical opinion on issues that are not simply black or white. My wish is for my patients to take the driver’s seat when it comes to their health, and learn about various options available to them. By becoming their own medical advocate, communication between patient and physician is enhanced, which will lead to better outcomes.

One very common health goal is exercise. To avoid regular exercise is clearly an anathema to health, akin to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Research shows regular physical activity is critical to prevention of chronic diseases and prevention of falls. It aids mobility, social interaction and emotional and cognitive health. For maintenance of memory as we age, exercise is one of the greatest strategies available to us by increasing blood flow to the brain.

Data as late as 2009 speak of these grim facts: Less than 20 percent of the adult population engages in recommended frequent exercise to achieve health benefits.

Data show more than 50 percent of people who start an exercise program give up before the end of 12 months. Nearly half those individuals who purchase home-exercise equipment eventually use it as a clothes hanger. Surveys show 69 percent of men in the United States consider themselves physically fit. In reality, 13 percent of men in the country are physically fit.

Aerobic activity, nicknamed “cardio,” and resistance training are important components of an exercise regimen. Aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, cycling and swimming, is important for a healthy heart and brain. It is useful for weight control. But what is not commonly known is that the calorie burn from performing cardio occurs during the activity. It tapers off quickly once the exercise is completed.

Weight training is more vital as we age. I am a competitive bodybuilder on the national level, but strength training for the non-competitor will garner health benefits.

Many benefits come from regular weight training:

1.) A greater degree of fat burning occurs with weight training vs. cardio exercise. Resistance training builds muscle; cardio does not. With more muscle mass, metabolism greatly increases, thereby burning fat even while one is sedentary. Research shows regular resistance training can increase metabolic rate by 15 percent. Weight training will keep one’s metabolism running like a furnace. The result is improved body composition or improved muscle-to-fat ratio.

2.) Enhanced muscle mass reduces risk of injury. Weight training is the best exercise to protect against osteoporosis. Strong muscles as well as active muscles pull on ligaments and bones, thereby greatly aiding in laying down new bone on an ongoing basis.

3.) Regular strength training helps guard against insulin resistance, which is rampant in our society and is often a precursor to Type 2 Diabetes. It can help keep blood pressure under control and increase gastro-intestinal transit time, which may help guard against colonic polyps and colon cancer.

4.) Increasing muscle mass has a beneficial role both cosmetically and physically. Folks with enhanced muscle mass look healthier and age better with less loss of facial muscle mass. Regular weight training will minimize this age-related loss in muscle mass.

5.) Muscle mass is vital for successful aging. To maintain the ability to live independently, one needs to have enough strength to be able to open a jar or shut a window. These independent daily activities require strength.

6.) Weight training greatly aids in balance and coordination.

Let’s use the first month of this New Year to make new goals that will positively affect health and wellness. By being in charge of one’s health and wellness, one can expect to be their own medical advocate. It’s a wonderful feeling of self-empowerment.

Dr. Elkin is a board-certified internist, cardiologist and anti-aging medical specialist.

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE / DISCLAIMER: I am offering—always—only general information and my own opinion on this blog. Always contact your physician or a health professional before starting any treatments, exercise programs or using supplements.
©Howard Elkin MD FACC, 2012

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