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Its that time again, when we decide what we’re going to change about ourselves and our health habits, and by doing so, decide what things we’re probably eventually going to fail at and feel guilty about: these are also called New Year’s resolutions.

Having felt enough guilt in my life, though, I’m in favor of very simple, attainable goals. Baby steps toward better health. So here are a few of my baby steps, you’re welcome to throw in your own.

  1. Exercise: Most years I’m like the little girl with the curl on her forehead in the nursery rhyme: when I’m good I’m very good, when I’m not I’m horrid. I can’t tell you how many Januaries and early Februaries I’ve spent regularly attending the gym, then fading away in March and April, active again in May, off again in the summer, etc. This year it’s baby steps. I’m going to do SOMETHING, ANYTHING active three days a week. Now, there are many studies of exercise and clearly more is better. But even mild to moderate exercise helps joints, circulation, brain function, and weight control. (In fact, a recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that exercise can even blunt the genes for obesity, http://archinte.highwire.org/cgi/content/abstract/168/16/1791. More on that in a later post) And, you have to start somewhere.
  2. Stretching: I already do qigong exercises, but I’m talking about plain old stretching of the joints. There’s ample research showing that regular stretching avoids injury, improves muscle strength, and lessens joint AND muscle pains. I’ve been through a few stretching books, currently I like good old Stretching by Bob Anderson (actually, the updated version http://www.amazon.com/Stretching-20th-Anniversary-Revised-Anderson/dp/0936070226/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1231127230&sr=8-1) as well as the books and DVDs by stretching guru Aaron Mattes www.stretchingusa.com.There’s something to be said for two-person stretches as well. I’m a basketball fan, and I’ll never forget the great Portland Trail Blazers 0f 1976-77, who personified the “team” rather than individual approach. Before every game, Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas would help each other stretch out. My wife already has a stretching routine, but maybe I can bud in for a bit. Also, I’ve had some professionally assisted stretching (recently by my friend Ben Benjamin www.BenBenjamin.com , who has written books on stretching and massage), and it’s fantastic. So, my plan is stretching four days a week.
  3. Vegetables. I’ve reviewed a lot of diets over the years. In fact, there was a book years ago, now out of print, that interviewed many prominent diet doctors and nutritionists (Atkins, Barry Sears, Pritikin, etc) and compared their strategies for diets as they applied to (in this case) cancer. High protein, high carb, high fat, whatever the diet was, none of them cut out vegetables. Even Atkins loved his vegetables, although he didn’t bring them into the diet for 2-3 weeks. Here’s why vegetables are universally important: they’re not fattening, they’re full of important nutrients from antioxidants to phytochemicals to hormone balancers, they contain critical forms of fiber for our digestion, and they are the closest thing to the natural foods of our ancestors that we get. My current dietary recommendations include 6-8 helpings of fruits and vegetables (I’m including fruits here, but at least 5 helpings need to be vegetables). And, if I’m recommending it to others I need to do it.
  4. Down time. We live in what I call a 24 hour world. We can do just about anything we want day or night. Gamble? Buy a pizza? Watch CSI reruns? Invest in the stock market? You bet, 24 hours a day. Now, as one who has studied Chinese Medicine, I know that all Yang and no Yin makes Jack (or, in this case, Glenn) a chronically exhausted, wired boy who isn’t able to slow himself down when the time comes to rest. So (he says as he uses a spare moment to hammer away at his laptop and to catch up on his blogging) I will strive to take some time this year to relax, to take in a little more of nature, to read for relaxation rather than only for mental stimulation, and to try to offset a lifetime of compulsive activity.
  5. Listen: I had a great conversation with friends the other night, about whether we have taught our children proper listening skills. In fact, whether they can be taught at all. My friend Betty contended that, for any number of reasons (social anxiety, feeling of self-importance or insecurity, inability to focus, etc) we don’t listen to one another enough in conversations. I like that as a goal: to listen more. I think that in my work I spend a fair amount of time and energy listening to patients. But, in my personal life, I’m not as conscious of it.

So there they are, 5 baby steps toward a good 2009 for me. And, through the magic of the internet, it’s all out there for everyone to see: hold me to it.

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