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As we kick off 2012, make a commitment for a healthy lifestyle by incorporating the following tips.

1.  Schedule an annual physical.   Unlike a typical office visit where you see your doctor for a sinus infection, a sprained wrist, or those nagging heartburn symptoms, the annual physical is time specifically set aside to meet with your physician for a detailed and comprehensive examination of your health status.   It starts with the usual vital assessment (i.e., blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, respiration) and then moves into a full assessment of all the major body systems (e.g., heart, lung, abdominal, neurological, extremities, etc.).  I believe an annual physical is well worth the time for peace of mind about your health status.  Most insurers pay for an annual physical; however, recent studies have shown that an annual physical may not be necessary if you lead a healthy lifestyle.

2.  Update your health history.  Understanding your family history is important in knowing which health conditions may impact your personal health history.  Talk with your parents, siblings and extended family annually about their current health status.  Your physician should ask about your family history as it helps them understand if you are at greater risk for certain diseases.  Make sure you are able to provide them with the correct answers.  The Department of Health and Human Services offers a helpful on-line tool to keep track of your family portrait  https://familyhistory.hhs.gov/fhh-web/home.action

3.  Know your BMI.  Body mass index (BMI) is a method to calculate the degree of body fat based on your weight and height.  An ideal BMI is 18.5 – 24.9.  A BMI over 24.9 is overweight and a BMI less than 18.5 is considered underweight.  The National Heart Lung Blood Institute offers a calculator to quickly assess your BMI, along with helpful tools and techniques for weight management http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/

4.  Eat nutritiously.  Avoid overeating.  Eat healthy meals and snacks.  Focus on healthy sources of protein with an emphasis on a plant-based diet.  Eat mindfully and watch portion sizes.  Visit http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/ for great tips on healthy eating, weight management, and sample menus.  We all like to think we know correct portion sizes.  This site provides great visuals on common foods…you may be in store for some surprises on what a true portion really looks like.

5.  Drink more water.  Water needs to be replenished to keep the body well hydrated.  Water not only quenches your thirst but also quenches hunger.   Drink a full glass of water shortly before eating and you will find yourself more quickly satisfied with your meal.   Make your own flavored waters at home instead of spending tons of money on bottled flavored waters.  Use a combination of fruits (such as raspberry with lemon, tangerine wedges, fresh or frozen berries) and add mulled fruit or fruit ice to filtered, carbonated or good old tap water.  It makes an all natural beverage without any added sugar.  Very refreshing!

6.  Enjoy dark chocolate.  Go ahead, indulge a little.  The antioxidant-rich compounds found in cocoa, called flavonols, help improve blood circulation.  These compounds gobble up the free radicals or destructive molecules associated with heart disease and other ailments.