Tune in to a healthier life

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THE New Year is the perfect time for a new you.

To help improve your health in 2012, doctors, academics and health organisations offer up their top resolutions.

TV doctor Hilary Jones points out that quitting smoking is one of the most effective ways a person can improve their health.

When people give up tobacco, their circulation and respiration improve within a month and, depending on how heavy a smoker they’ve been, the risk of heart disease and lung cancer become similar to that of a lifelong non-smoker within just a few years: “If you haven’t already, this is the year to quit smoking. It’s the greatest single step you can take to ensure future good health, and hundreds of thousands of other smokers have now successfully done this,” he says.

Visit www.nhs.uk/smokefree to find out more about the NHS Quit Kit.

It can be a struggle for office-bound workers to find time to exercise, say experts, and, as a result, fitness levels can suffer.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) suggests both employees and employers resolve to make health in the workplace a priority in the New Year.

Professor Mike Kelly, public health director at NICE, points out that physical activity is essential for good health, contributing to both physical and mental well-being. It also helps to prevent or manage conditions including heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and obesity.

“Workers aren’t always active enough to benefit their health, so we’re recommending ways that employers can encourage staff to increase their levels of physical activity on their way to work, or during the day.”

These include providing information about walking or cycling routes and encouraging employees to walk or cycle some or all of the way to and from work, and also putting up signs to encourage staff to use the stairs.

Becoming more active is also recommended by Arthritis Research UK, who have funded research exploring the connection between healthy bodies and pain-free joints.

“This year we’re recommending that instead of relying on painkillers, people with back pain try yoga,” says Professor Alan Silman, medical director at Arthritis Research UK, who points out that 80 per cent of the population suffer from back pain at some point in their lives.

“Yoga provides real, positive benefits for people with chronic low back pain, plus there are no side-effects.”

For more information on the Yoga For Healthy Lower Backs programme, visit www.yogaforbacks.co.uk .

Feeding your body a nutritious diet goes hand in hand with maintaining physical fitness. But it can be easier said than done. One way to maintain healthy eating resolutions is by keeping a food diary, suggest MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition... Do it!), who run family healthy eating and fitness programmes.

They suggest writing down everything you eat and drink after it’s consumed, and then you can begin identifying your dietary strengths and weaknesses. For example, you might notice a tendency to snack at certain points in the day or recognise there’s not enough nutritional variety in your diet.

“Only once we identify the factors impacting on our food choices and patterns – and see when and why we’re doing things the way we are – can we work on breaking any habits contributing to them,” says Lucy Hannagan of MEND.

“Whether you’re trying to lose weight in the New Year, or just get healthier by increasing your five-a-day of fruit and vegetables, keeping a food diary can help.”

In addition, dehydration can be a reason people choose to snack, as they mistake thirst for hunger. Dr Roger Henderson points out that dehydration can also lead to more severe symptoms such as fatigue and headaches, and is a more common problem than many realise.

“Drink more water,” he stresses. “I’m aiming to make sure I always have a glass by me when working during 2012.”

As well as taking steps to improve your health at the start of 2012, it may be an idea to check your current physical condition.

Adults who have not seen their GP for three years are entitled to a general health check-up. This will usually include height and weight measurements, a blood pressure check, and cholesterol and blood sugar tests.