I think we can all agree that, as far as years go, 2020 was an incredibly difficult one. The COVID-19 pandemic touched nearly every aspect of day-to-day life — for everyone.
I'm sure we've all had moments when it can be a struggle to remember what life was like before the pandemic — before masks, social distancing, quarantining and canceled events.
This has been a very ... long ... year, and it won't be missed.
We can't have a do-over, but there are steps we can take to start the new year off with our best foot forward. And if there's one thing that 2020 has taught us, it's that our health has never been more important.
"When considering lifestyle changes to promote better health, there are steps we can all take that can be effective without being overly ambitious," says Dr. Vandana Khera, internist with Houston Methodist Primary Care Group.
Soak up some sunshine
"You get most of your vitamin D — an essential nutrient your body uses to build strong bones — from sunlight," explains Dr. Khera. If you spend most of your time indoors, though, there's a good chance you might not be getting the recommended amount to help your body produce vitamin D.
Dr. Khera suggests setting a daily reminder on your smartphone to help you remember to get out and soak up some sun. And, as an added bonus, it will give you an excuse to get away from your desk and get your steps in.
"It's important to remember, though, that being exposed to too much sunshine can be worse for you than getting too little," says Dr. Khera.
Hometown tip: For Houstonians, consider visiting one of our many beautiful parks for a relaxing stroll, including Memorial Park, home to the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, and Hermann Park, home to the Houston Zoo.
Drink plenty of water
"We've all heard how important it is to drink enough water, but it really is an essential step in being healthier," says Dr. Khera. "Every part of your body relies on water to function properly, even down to the cellular level — it's that important for you."
The recommended amount for adults depends on a number of factors relating to your health and environment, but a safe rule of thumb is 13 cups of water a day for men and 9 cups of water for women.
A good gauge for being properly hydrated is if throughout the day you rarely feel thirsty and your urine is pale yellow or clear.
If you're one of the many fans of sparkling water, you may be wondering if it can actually replace regular water. The answer is yes — most of the time.
Exercise, but not too much
"The key to exercising is choosing a workout routine that is practical, and then sticking with it," says Dr. Khera. "I find that patients who are successful at following a long-term exercise regimen have reasonable expectations for what they can achieve."
For example, exercising only 15 minutes a day is far better than exercising for an hour a few times a month. "Remember," Dr. Khera says, "any activity is better than no activity."
Get plenty of sleep
Just as regular exercise provides significant health benefits, getting the right amount of sleep is vital for your health.
And it's not just about your physical well-being: Sleep affects your mood and your ability to focus on daily tasks. "Getting the proper amount of quality sleep — seven to eight hours for adults — provides your body and mind with a strong foundation better health," Dr. Khera says.
Schedule your yearly physical
"A great way to start the year strong is to schedule your annual physical," Dr. Khera says. "Your primary care doctor is an amazing resource in helping you identify key lifestyle changes that can provide the greatest impact on your overall health."
Additionally, having a primary care doctor who knows you and your health baseline is important for when you aren't feeling your best.
"Getting to know you when you're well provides your doctor with valuable information to better treat you when you're sick," Dr. Khera says. "In fact, your doctor may be able to help prevent some illnesses altogether through your physical exam."
Right now, you may be thinking it's best to avoid seeing your doctor in person, but know that our primary care offices have extensive safety measures in place to keep you safe during your visit.
Relax, don't stress
When trying to live a healthier life, it's important to be aware of obstacles that make it harder to achieve your goals. Stress should be at the top of that list.
"Stress may be unavoidable, but there are effective ways to manage it and minimize the toll it takes on you," Dr. Khera says.
She recommends common relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, yoga or, for those who prefer to work up a sweat while they unwind, walking outdoors or exercising.
And don't forget the power of your pet: "The companionship you share with your pet can make a difference in your mental well-being," says Dr. Khera. "So, if you have a pet, making time for it can be a great way to relax and focus on fighting stress."
Stay safe by knowing the symptoms of COVID-19 and how to get care
COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future, and it's critical you know the common symptoms and what to do if you feel sick. Some COVID-19 symptoms overlap with other common respiratory illnesses, so it's important to know how to distinguish COVID-19 from a cold, flu or allergies.
If you feel sick, your first step should be to get screened virtually by a primary care doctor or use Houston Methodist Virtual Urgent Care, available 24/7. Our providers can help you determine if COVID-19 testing is needed and advise you on where you should go.
Many people experience only mild symptoms that can be treated at home through pain relievers, cough medications, rest and hydration; however, if your symptoms are severe, such as high fever and/or severe shortness of breath, you may need to go to your nearest emergency room. To the extent possible, call ahead to inform the emergency room staff that you're concerned you may have COVID-19.
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