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Tips for a Healthy New Year

It's that time of year again -- a time when millions of Americans vow to make improvements in their lives by committing to New Year's resolutions. If you're still looking for suggestions, the nation's leading health experts are urging all Americans to adopt healthier lifestyles in 2003.

“In the coming year, thousands of Americans will become ill and many will die prematurely for reasons that are entirely preventable,” says Dr. Yank D. Coble, Jr., president of the American Medical Association.

The main culprits are tobacco use, unhealthy diets, alcohol abuse and lack of physical activity, according to the AMA. “Recent statistics about America’s unhealthy habits are startling,” Dr. Coble says.

More than one-third of the adult population is obese, 25 percent of adults smoke, and more than 5 million Americans suffer from alcoholism. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 60 percent of adults do not get adequate exercise.

“Obesity is not simply a cosmetic issue,” Dr. Coble says. “It causes a wide range of health problems that can lead to strokes, heart attacks, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Certain cancers also occur more frequently in the obese.”

Obesity is usually defined as exceeding 20 percent of one’s recommended body weight, according to the AMA.

“We are also seeing an alarming increase in the number of obese and sedentary children in America,” Dr. Coble adds. “This means children are experiencing weight-related problems and conditions that were unimaginable 20 years ago.”

Anyone needing to lose weight should consult with their physician to set realistic, achievable goals for both diet and exercise. Counseling, medications, or other treatment options may be recommended.

Research shows that even minor weight loss and moderate exercise results in significant health benefits. “I tell my patients that they don’t have to starve themselves, and they don’t need to train for the Olympics. They just need to start somewhere,” says Dr. Coble. “If they tell me they don’t have time to exercise, I tell them they don’t have time not to exercise. People who exercise are more efficient in almost all regards. They have more energy during the day and sleep better at night.”

Tobacco keeps killing

Despite widespread public awareness of the dangers of cigarettes and other tobacco products, more than 400,000 Americans died in 2002 from tobacco-related diseases. Cigarette smoking has been linked to lung and other cancers, emphysema, heart disease and many other debilitating illnesses.

“The dangers of tobacco use cannot be overstated,” says Dr. Ronald M. Davis, an AMA trustee. “Quitting smoking is the most important step that smokers can take to enhance the length and quality of their lives.”

Dr. Davis also warns smokers to avoid exposing others, especially children, to cigarette smoke. “We know that 53,000 nonsmokers die each year as the result of second-hand cigarette smoke. If you want to help improve the health of all Americans this year, work with your elected leaders to pass clean indoor air legislation.”

Such laws have an impact on tobacco use. California has some of the strongest clean indoor air laws in the country and consequently, one of the lowest smoking rates, according to the AMA SmokeLess States National Tobacco Policy Initiative.

Alcoholism can be managed…with help

Alcoholism also continues to be a major cause of death in this country. “If you think you or a loved one has a problem with alcohol, talk to your physician or contact an organization involved in alcoholism treatment,” says Dr. J. Edward Hill, a family practice physician and chair of the AMA. “Do not let embarrassment keep you from seeking help. Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease that can lead to cancer, liver disease, psychiatric illnesses and early death.”

Alcohol abuse among teens and college-age students is of particular concern. A recent study concluded that binge drinking resulted in the annual deaths of 1,400 college students and 70,000 sexual assaults on campus. A Matter of Degree, a program that combats high-risk drinking among the nation’s youth, defines binge drinking as consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in a row. “Each weekend in America, an average of 1 teenager is killed each hour in a car crash. Nearly 50 percent of these crashes involve alcohol,” says Dr. Hill.

Good health begins with awareness

The AMA recommends other common-sense approaches to good health. Age-appropriate exams and screenings can help detect health problems early and prevent them from becoming more serious. Be aware that if you are a minority, you may be at increased risk for certain diseases. The prevalence of diabetes in blacks, for example, is approximately 70 percent higher than in whites. All adults should have periodic screenings to evaluate blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Healthy men under the age of 40 should get a physical exam at least every four years. After age 40, men should be screened annually for colon, rectal and prostate cancer. Statistics show that men do not visit their physicians as frequently as women, ignore symptoms of disease longer, and are less inclined toward preventive health generally.

Women should talk to their physicians to determine appropriate screenings and tests that may include: mammogram, Pap smear, colorectal exam and fecal occult blood tests.

“The New Year is a great time to commit to better health,” says Dr. Coble. “You’ll feel better, be more active and greatly reduce the risks associated with life-threatening medical conditions that stem from ignoring your health.”

Courtesy of ARA Content

For more information, log on to www.ama-assn.org.

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