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Local doctors and health experts suggest big and small changes to improve health in 2018

Contrary to popular belief that all New Year’s resolutions are doomed to certain failure, one research study published several years ago in the Journal of Clinical Psychology suggests that people who resolve on Jan. 1 to fix some problem will much more likely be successful than those who make no firm New Year’s resolution. 

During a series of phone interviews over six months, the researchers found that the “resolvers” reported that they were 46 percent successful mid-year, compared to only 4 percent in the “nonresolvers” group. 

In the spirit of optimism, 12 doctors and experts in the community have offered below their advice about small and big changes residents throughout the Lowcountry can make in 2018 to improve their health. 

  • Debbie Petitpain, Sodexo Wellness dietitian at MUSC:

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Debbie Petitpain


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Focus on what you should eat more of to improve your health. Goals around limiting or eliminating foods like desserts, fast food, or alcohol only make us crave those foods more, especially if they are our favorites. Feelings of deprivation can lead to resentment or frustration and eventually overindulgence in the very things we were trying to eat less of. Goals focused on eating more — more vegetables at lunch, more water during work, breakfast before leaving the house — provide not only a full belly but a sense of empowerment. 

  • Matthew Carpenter, addiction sciences expert at MUSC:

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Matthew Carpenter


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Quitting smoking is difficult, and smokers often make repeated attempts before they are successful. The key is to keep trying, and do so with the best tools possible. There are a number of quit smoking medications, and smokers who use these, and use them as intended, have a much higher chance of reaching success.

But smoking is also a behavioral ritual as well, and medications alone will have limited success. That’s why it is best to alter the environmental context: the cues, the associations, of smoking. Habits are learned, and learning new behaviors takes time. Do anything that disrupts the automatic reflex to smoke. To start changing these habits, limit the places or times that you smoke. Put your cigarettes in another room, or in the trunk of your car, and keep the medications more accessible. 

  • Patrick O’Neil, director, MUSC Weight Management Center: 

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Patrick O’Neil


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Pick one thing and following through on that. For example, if adding exercise to your routine is important, what about setting a goal to get 30 minutes of activity, such as a walk, 4-5 days per week? Or start with a shorter duration if needed, and focus on the frequency initially. Plan for and prepare two vegetables with each dinner meal. Walk for 10 minutes of your lunch break.

  • Janis Newton, director, MUSC Wellness Center: 

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Janis Newton


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Under-promise and overachieve: Make goals that you know you can achieve and have fun during the process. If you are not willing to make the change long-term then don’t choose that as a goal.

  • Jacobo Mintzer, executive director, Roper St. Francis Research and Innovation Center:

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Jacobo Mintzer

1. Exercise. If you can, try to get 150 minutes of aerobic exercise and 90 minutes of weight training per week. Aerobic exercise improves the ability of your brain cells to reproduce.

2. Community engagement. Volunteering and related activities will improve the connections among your brain cells.

3. Sleep. Try to get a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night. During the night, your brain restores and rids itself of substances that can impair brain functioning.

  • Gene Saylors, oncologist, Charleston Hematology Oncology Associates:

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Gene Saylors


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I see the best results from dietary change by minimizing carbohydrates. I advocate for not abstaining from foods you love, but these choices should make up 10 percent or less of your diet. Healthy fats are important but many people consume too many of the fats that cause inflammation in the body. These fats can lead to cancer, so do yourself a favor and eat more fish and minimize the bacon.

Finally, try to get some exercise if you are physically able. If possible, get your heart rate up and break a sweat several times per week. But if you can’t, just go for a walk.

  • Valerie Scott, family medicine doctor, Roper St. Francis Physician Partners:

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Valerie Scott


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The lifestyle change that has the biggest bang for the buck is to stop smoking. Cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States. 

The first step is to decide that you want to quit and then make a plan. Many people find it helpful to find a specific reason to quit, such as to watch your daughter get married. I recommend writing this goal on you mirror with a dry erase marker so it will remind you every day.

  • Preston Wendell, medical director, Trident Health Emergency Services:

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Preston Wendell


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New Year’s resolutions that involve our health do not have a finish line that we are racing to cross. Success comes when our new habits become so routine that we cannot understand how we ever did it any other way.

  • Stancie Rhodes, emergency doctor, Trident TraumaCare:

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Stancie Rhodes


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The Number 1 thing I recommend to people looking for a challenge or to improve their health is to sign up for a race. It doesn’t have to be a major event; a local 5K or holiday fun run works great. Committing to something will give you a deadline to focus on and a concrete goal to work toward. Signing up with a friend or group of friends can make it really fun, and you can push each other to stick to a training schedule. There’ll be no backing out then!

  • Marc New, gastroenterologist, Coastal Carolina Gastroenterology Hepatology:

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Marc New


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I’d recommend avoiding desert and high sugar content sodas during the week, but have fun and relax the diet on the weekends. Avoid late night snacking and increase exercise by walking one or two flights of stairs and parking your car at the far end of the lot and walking in. The simplest steps can achieve steady, substantial results. Write your goals down and read them three times daily visualizing the result, i.e. the new you.

  • Darren Sidney, electrophysiologist, Trident Heart Specialists: 

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Darren Sidney


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Last year, my New Year’s resolution (that I actually kept) was to never take the elevator at work. It got hard when I had a patient at the top floor! This is a great resolution along with parking further away from your location and walking to your destination. I hope the stairwell doesn’t get too crowded!

  • Kenneth Perry, emergency doctor, Moncks Corner Medical Center

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Kenneth Perry


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One of the easiest things that patients can do to make sure their resolutions come true in 2018 is to get a primary care doctor and make sure that they schedule a check-up. Maintaining a regular schedule with a primary care physician helps patients learn their risks for many manageable chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes.

Article source: https://www.postandcourier.com/features/your_health/local-doctors-and-health-experts-suggest-big-and-small-changes/article_b380430a-ea46-11e7-ab43-37d91267309d.html

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