Health is the catchword for January. Articles and ads exhort us to live healthier, make changes, do more. Here are five simple things you can do this month to launch your healthier year:
1) Declutter your kitchen - January 3rd is Fruitcake Toss Day, and January is Oatmeal Month. Clearly these are a sign that January is a great time to discover what’s lurking in your cabinets. Imagine your kitchen-clear-out is a game of real-life Survivor. Vote off your island cabinets anything you don’t want to see in your arteries or clinging to your waist. Especially toss all the sodas (even diet!) and juices, which contribute, on average, many pounds per year of calories without even giving you the benefit of feeling full.
Oatmeal, however, is a keeper - whole grains have been shown to give you a large number of benefits - blunting insulin spikes, protecting against type II diabetes (especially in African-American women, where the effects are especially beneficial) and suppressing appetite cravings. Stock up on raw whole-grain goodness and sneak it into as many meals as you can - but especially at breakfast (which studies show is a crucial part of sustained weight-loss success stories).
Here’s a Well Worth It Tip: As a reward for your kitchen de-cluttering efforts, consider investing in a new set of smaller dinner plates. Studies have shown that people eat what’s served to them, and feel the same satiety even when the size of the plate is much smaller - which has been shown to result in as much as a 15 pound effortless weight-loss over a year!
2) Give life - January is Blood-Donor month. Here’s a wonderful article from the BBC, titled, In The Bag, about the experiences of a frequent donor. Donating blood gives many benefits - not just to the recipient, but also the giver. Tantalizing science hints that regularly giving blood may lower your risk of heart attacks, particularly if you’re a man or a post-menopausal woman. Giving also boosts your altruism goals - and, as regular Doc Gurley readers know, altruism has been shown by many studies to improve both the quality and length of your life. Finally, as the BBC article shows, the frequent health screenings and questions that donors undergo are a great reminder to care for yourself - even as you care for others. In these hard economic times, donations of all kinds, including blood, are down. Take the time to give life. If you aren’t qualified to donate blood (because the criteria are very stringent) consider donating your time at a blood drive. We all benefit, when someone gives.
3) Love check-up - January is Cervical Cancer Screening month. In addition to the stand-by PAP smears, many of us are supposed to get regular sexually-transmitted disease (STD) screenings (men and women) - even if we don’t have symptoms. What better time than January to get your engine tuned and checked, so that all your parts are revved in time for Valentine’s Day? This snuggly winter month (post-holiday-extravaganzas) is a great time to get these important check-ups off your to-do list. While you’re at it, get yourself eagle-eyed for love opportunities too - January is also Eye Care Month, so schedule an exam to get your peepers checked as well.
4) Gratitude time - January is National Thank You month. Instead of thinking of those overdue thank-you cards as a looming task, keep in mind that they’re a prime opportunity for you to improve your mood. Studies have shown that gratitude exercises, such as heart-felt letters or journals, can have profound and lasting positive effects on your mood. Gratitude has been correlated with optimism, happiness and extroversion. A recent study even tried to quantify the effect that practicing gratitude has on happiness - and came up with an increase of 25%! (which begs the question - what is a quarter of happiness worth?). So get out those pens and write yourself happier this month.
5) Silly and joyous - with the economic downturn, it can feel ever harder to find and nurture your joy habit. But difficult conditions make it all the more important for you to find some joy whenever the opportunity strikes. January gives us lots of chances to open our hearts and cut loose a bit. You can celebrate any of these days this month - January 8 is Bubble Bath Day (sigh…), January 21 is Squirrel Appreciation Day, January 24 is Compliment Day, and my favorite, January 10 is Peculiar People Day (who, moi?). Over-achievers can, of course, pick any January day to relax in a bubble bath, watching the squirrels through the window - while composing compliments for all the wonderfully peculiar people in your life.
Doc Gurley's motto when it comes to her health writing is: Just A Spoonful of Humor Helps The...well, even without Julie Andrews breaking into song, you get the idea. Doc Gurley's health writing has appeared in Salon, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Chronicle Sunday magazine, with letters in the Washington Post and UK's Daily Telegraph. Her research has appeared in academic publications including the New England Journal of Medicine. She is also the author a humorous book of serious healthcare advice, Dodging Death, forthcoming from Penguin/Avery books.
Visit Dr. Jan Gurley on her website:
If you would like to comment on this story, please visit our SHARE section.