15 Easy Tips for Improving Your Health in the New Year

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Photograph By Daria Liudnaya/Pexels.

1. Know Your Numbers

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes can greatly affect your risk of developing heart disease, but they’re things you can control, says Ketan Trivedi, a cardiologist as well as president and chief medical officer at Virginia Heart. To do that, though, you need to know your readings: “Keep track of your blood pressure, your A1C, and your cholesterol levels.”

2. Get a Squatty Potty

Regular bowel movements are an important part of a healthy gut, but constipation is extremely common, says Barathi Sivasailam, a gastroenterologist with Capital Digestive Care. To achieve regularity, she suggests increasing both water intake and fiber—additional fiber without more water as well can actually make matters worse—and raise your feet when sitting on the toilet. “Studies have shown that by mimicking a squatting position, we can reduce the time needed for a bowel movement, reduce straining, and increase bowel emptying,” Sivasailam says. “To do this, simply place a stool under your feet. You can purchase specific stools to use under the toilet, but really any footstool or box will do.”

3. Go to Bed and Wake Up at the Same Time Every Day–Even on Weekends

“Make regular sleep patterns a priority,” says Jessica Riggs, a sleep-medicine, pulmonary, and critical-care physician with Virginia Heart. “Wind down at a regular hour, shut off electronics, and don’t vary the course on weekends or holidays. Start your day at a fixed time, expose yourself to plenty of light in the morning, and make healthy choices to energize your day.”

4. Take a Break From Mani-Pedis

“If you get regular manicures, let your nails be polish-free for a week or two,” recommends Dr. Maral Kibarian Skelsey, director of the Dermatologic Surgery Center of Washington. “This will allow them to recover from damage induced by gel, powder, or artificial nails. It also allows you to examine your nails for any changes. Some abnormalities, such as a new dark streak, should be examined by a dermatologist. It’s not always the case, but a new dark streak can be a sign of nail melanoma and is often diagnosed after it has progressed. Bob Marley, for example, died of melanoma under the nail that went undiagnosed for years.”

5. Rethink the Way You Treat Scrapes and Cuts

“All skin wounds—scrapes, cuts, etc.—heal faster when kept moist rather than dry,” says Dr. David Bray of Alexandria Associates in Dermatology. “Scabs slow down wound healing—never let a wound dry out and form a crust. It’s almost always best to loosely cover a wound with something like 100-percent pure petroleum jelly or a natural oil and a loose bandage.”

6. Improve Your Core Strength and Balance

“Having a strong core can really slow down degenerative changes to our spine that occur as we age,” says area neurosurgeon Joshua Wind. Nikhil Nayak, vice chairman of neurosurgery at VHC Health, adds that increasing core strength should include both abdominal and back muscles.



7. Don’t Skip Stretching

“Stretching is a critical component of good health,” says Colin Haines, a surgeon at Virginia Spine Institute. “One simple way to build stretching into your routine is to follow what I call the 5-5 rule—five minutes of stretching before you exercise and five minutes after. If it’s really cold and you’re exercising outside, do that warm-up inside before heading out, and come in for the cool-down stretch, too.”

Also, says William Kemp, a neurosurgeon with Virginia Spine Institute, “Pay attention to what you’re stretching. When you watch people stretch, they generally work their legs. Maybe they stretch their arms, too. But very rarely do people remember to stretch their core and their back. And yet that’s where a bulk of injuries come from. Our spine muscles need to be flexible to power our exercise, help us react quickly, and build endurance.”

8. Switch to a Mineral-Based Sunscreen

“My favorite tip for healthy skin is daily use of a chemical-free, mineral-­based sunscreen,” says Dr. Melda Isaac of MI-Skin Dermatology. “Mineral sunscreens include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Chemical-based sunscreens degrade more readily and leave your skin less protected from ultra-violet light.”

9. Take More Walks

“Walking for 20 minutes to one hour multiple times a week has been shown to help manage weight and extend life,” says Joseph O’Brien, medical director of minimally invasive orthopedic spine surgery at VHC Health. “Our octogenarian and nonagenarian patients are often enthusiastic walkers. It is never too late to start.”

10. Up Your Mental Stimulation

To keep your brain healthy, Richard Murray, director of neurosurgery at VHC Health, suggests not only playing games and puzzles, as well as learning new skills, but also engaging in regular social interaction—which helps boost mood and cognitive function.

11. Slather on Vitamin C

“A skin-care regimen anchored by a vitamin-C topical antioxidant and broad-spectrum sunscreen during the day and topical retinoid at night is the key to healthy skin aging,” says dermatologist Terrence Keaney, founder and director of SkinDC.



12. Pick a Fitness Activity You Actually Enjoy

“Many people are motivated to start a new exercise program when the year starts, but sticking with it can be very challenging,” says Chinedu Madu, a cardiologist at Virginia Heart. “For exercise to become a long-term habit, it has to be something you look forward to. You can hike, lift weights, swim, play pickleball, rock-climb, birdwatch. If you haven’t found the form of exercise you enjoy, be open to trying new things.”

Ehsan Jazini, a surgeon at Virginia Spine Institute, says he’s always trying new workouts: “In the past year, I’ve tried Glow Boxing, Pure Barre, Solidcore, Orangetheory, and spin classes. Sometimes you may try something and never go back. Or you might discover a new love. But keeping workouts fresh is a good way to make exercise fun.”

13. Practice Regular Mind/Body Relaxation

One key to a healthy gut is a calm mind. “If you notice yourself overthinking anything, take a minute to do breathing exercises and guide your thoughts to something more relaxing or productive,” says Nisha Chand of Northern Virginia Gastroenterology. “Your gut responds to how you react to your environment, and stress or anxiety can lead to conditions such as irritable-bowel syndrome and can flare symptoms in medical conditions of the gut.”

14. Exercise Outside Year-Round

When it’s cold in winter, many people choose to exercise indoors, says orthopedic surgeon Marc Rankin of Summit Orthopedics. But that “decreases exposure to sunlight, which is crucial for vitamin-D production [and] bone health.”

15. Be Flexible With Your Goals

In addition to setting small, more realistic health goals for the new year, Paul Silver, an internist with Complete Concierge Care, suggests taking them one day at a time and adjusting as you go. “Expect to fail periodically,” he says, but don’t let those failures derail you.



This article appears in the January 2024 issue of Washingtonian.

Amy Moeller

Fashion & Weddings Editor

Amy leads Washingtonian Weddings and writes Style Setters for Washingtonian. Prior to joining Washingtonian in March 2016, she was the editor of Capitol File magazine in DC and before that, editor of What’s Up? Weddings in Annapolis.

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