By Colleen T. Fogarty, MD
As we begin 2021 we are optimistic that this will be a happy, healthy year for us and our loved ones. We are still facing the challenges of COVID-19, but we have hope that more treatments can be fully developed and that a vaccine will help eradicate this terrible pandemic.
It is still essential to continue to follow all guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus infection. These include:
• Wear a mask when outside of your home.
• Stay 6 feet apart from other persons.
• Practice good handwashing all the time, particularly before re-entering your home.
• Listen to the guidelines of our Monroe County Commissioner of Public Health and state and federal officials to stop the spread.
But there is much more you can do to have a healthy body and mind. Here are some tried and true tips.
1. Practice Good Nutrition Habits. Try to eat five cups of fruits and vegetables per day and at least 50% or more of your grain products like bread, cereal and pasta as whole grains. Enjoy whatever fresh produce you can get at local farmers markets or grocery stores. Limit your total sodium intake to around 2000 mg per day. Don’t deny yourself an occasional treat, but be cautious about how much sugar and processed food you consume. These tips will help you keep a healthy weight and will also be good for your heart.
2. Stay Physically Active. Strive for at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day. Brisk walking is a fine exercise. Try to build strength training into your routine several times per week.
3. Keep Up-to-Date on Health Exams. Hopefully by now you have gotten your flu vaccine. If not, do it right away. The shingles series of shots is recommended for those 60 and over and the pneumonia vaccine is recommended for those 65 and older or with certain health conditions. Also stay current on your other tests like mammograms, colonoscopy, physicals and other screenings based on your health risks. Confer with your doctor on the right schedule and the safe time for you.
4. Ensure Your Mental Health. The winter can be a lonely time and with COVID-19 restrictions it may be lonelier. In order to avoid loneliness, keep in touch with your support people, like family and friends. You can telephone, video chat, email or visit outside when weather is permitting. Being socially connected and the feeling of belonging that you get is an important part of your mental health.
5. Nurture Your Spiritual Life. That means different things to different people. For some it’s being part of religious services even if they are online, for others its meditation and mindfulness. Whatever it looks like for you, it’s important for you to not get bogged down by worry and anxiety. Balance your fears with proactive things you can do to stay positive. Experiencing hope and gratitude can make a big difference in your health.
6. Experience Nature. Try to get outside for at least a little while every day. Pick up your mail. Walk near your home or apartment building. Get some fresh air and sunshine when we have it. But don’t risk going out on icy, slippery days. It’s important to avoid accidents and falls.
7. Expand your Mind. Stay engaged and connected with things that are bigger than you. Learn something new. Volunteer when you can. Many community organizations have found ways for volunteers to help from home.
8. Learn More About Community Issues. Find out more about diversity issues in your community and what is going on to fight poverty. The internet and local libraries have great resources for podcasts, videos, and other materials for you to learn more about your neighborhoods and your community.
9. Make Music a Part of Your Daily Life. Engage in music and the arts in a safe way. Listen to the radio, make playlists, watch broadcasts of your favorite musicians. Music is energizing and can help you with stress. So can singing, dancing or any kind of movement while you go about your daily tasks. And don’t forget to support your favorite community arts organizations. They can use your attention and contributions during this time when we can’t enjoy public performances.
10. Make a Personal Plan. Review this list and make a plan that you can follow daily to incorporate these healthy behaviors in your life. You will feel good knowing that you are on a path to good health in this new year!
Physician Colleen T. Fogarty is the William Rocktaschel professor and chairwoman of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Rochester. She is a board-certified family physician who practices full spectrum care for children and adults at Highland Family Medicine in Rochester. Her special clinical interests include working with patients coping with post-trauma symptoms, integrating mental health care within routine primary care practice, and behavioral change to promote health and wellness. She is also involved in research and has authored numerous publications.