The 8 best ways to stay with your resolutions this year

The Doctors | 12/29/2011, 7 p.m.


This year ... I want to lose weight. This year ... I swear I'm going to work out more. This year ... I'm going to give back. This is the time, every year, when many of us look forward to making healthy changes. We're resolute, ambitious and even excited to wipe the slate clean, break bad habits and live better. Here are eight tips to help you make your resolutions a reality:

Add exercise to your list.
If you want to be more active this year, you have to make exercise just as important as grocery shopping, carpooling and even going to work. So schedule it in. Just 10 or 15 minutes of exercise in the morning and the same at night is enough to start; but you do need to work out at a moderate pace to reap the health benefits, and preliminary research suggests higher intensity leads to longer life. How do you know if you're exercising hard or hardly exercising? If you don't break a sweat, your breathing stays the same and you can still chatter, your intensity is too light. Moderate levels mean your breathing quickens, you develop a light sweat after about 10 minutes of activity and you can talk in short sentences, but you can't sing. If you're short of breath or in pain, you're pushing yourself too hard.

Quit smoking.
A combination of counseling and medication can double and triple your chances of success, experts say. Recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that about 70% of smokers want to kick the habit, and more than half tried last year. Talk to your doctor first; he can answer questions and point you to places to find support. He also can suggest the best medications for you: Some nicotine replacement therapies, such as the patch, nicotine gum or lozenges, are over-the-counter and help with withdrawal symptoms; prescription medications help with withdrawal as well as lessen the urge to smoke. Smoking harms every single organ in your body; it can cause cancer, heart, lung and respiratory disease and kills nearly 450,000 people every year. For more information and help quitting, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit www.smokefree.gov.

Breathe deeply.
It's a small, relaxing act with far-reaching effects: Chronic stress may raise the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety. It can cause headaches and upset stomachs, and it can worsen conditions such as eczema and asthma. Inhaling deeply from your abdomen instead of taking shallow breaths from your chest gets your body more oxygen and helps you feel less anxious. Try this: Sit up straight, with one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Then breathe in through your nose for a count of 10 (the stomach hand should rise, the chest hand barely move); then exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as possible (same hand rules apply). Repeat five to 10 times.

Get your teeth cleaned.
If preventing heart disease isn't on your list of resolutions, add it now: It's the No. 1 cause of death in the USA. And if you are scared of dentists, it's time to get over it. New research presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions in November found that people who had their teeth cleaned by a dentist or hygienist had a 24% lower risk of heart attack and 13% lower risk of stroke. One possible reason: Professional cleanings appear to reduce inflammation-causing bacterial growth that can lead to heart disease or stroke. More tips to protect your heart: Stop smoking, eat healthy, move more, reduce stress and limit alcohol.