3 Steps to a Healthy New Year

Looking to get a fresh start and set goals for your health in the new year? Consider beginning with these three steps.


Ditch the Sugared Beverages

New Year's Resolutions
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It has been reported that the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. Given that the American Heart Association recommends that the intake of added sugar not exceed 6 teaspoons daily for women and 9 teaspoons daily for men, it is easy to see how added sugar leads the charge when it comes to major causes of the obesity and diabetes epidemics.

A major source of added sugar that has come under fire in recent years is the category of sugared beverages, including soft drinks, sugared juices, and energy drinks. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average 12-ounce can of cola contains over 8 teaspoons of sugar! So, by drinking just one small soft drink, a woman would have already far exceeded her recommended daily sugar maximum (of 6 teaspoons), and a man would have nearly reached his (of 9 teaspoons).

One study showed that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas were associated with shorter  telomeres (which are a marker of aging--longer telomeres, simply speaking, are a marker of youth, while telomere shortening is an indication of aging). This, in turn, was associated with higher risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The study investigators concluded that "regular consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas might influence metabolic disease development through accelerated cell aging." In other words, in one more twist to the added-sugar saga, drinking sodas could age your cells--and, therefore, you.

Due to such risks as well as the contribution of sugared beverages to the childhood obesity epidemic, several cities across the United States have introduced warning labels or taxes on sugared drinks.

So, how can you best achieve this most important health resolution now and in the new year? Resolve now not to buy any more sugared beverages. Get any remaining soft drinks, hot chocolates, sugared coffees, or energy drinks out of your house now, and don't allow any more in.

Make water, unsweetened tea, or black coffee your go-to beverages instead.


Go Mediterranean

The Mediterranean-style diet is almost like magic when it comes to a sustainable way of eating that has been scientifically proven to prevent everything from cardiovascular disease to breast cancer to dementia.

Rather than being a fad diet that one chooses solely for the short-term purposes of weight loss, the Mediterranean Diet is a lifestyle choice, a way of eating for the rest of one’s life.

This is the natural style of eating for most of the inhabitants of countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea—hence the name.

The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes consumption of whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, tree nuts, extra-virgin olive oil, fish and poultry, and wine (particularly red wine) in moderation.

Several resources are available to those who wish to explore and adopt a Mediterranean style of eating. In addition to various cookbooks that are now available, readers can find resources including but not limited to the following, for starters:


Get at Least 30 Minutes of Exercise Every Day

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Most national and international guidelines recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week. This can translate into 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five times per week, for instance. And research has borne out the health benefits of a daily 30-minute walk: in the Nurses’ Health Study, for example, those who walked briskly or otherwise achieved moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes every day had a low risk of sudden cardiac death during 26 years of follow-up.

What counts as moderate-intensity exercise? Physical activities such as  general gardening, brisk walking, ballroom dancing, and the equivalent fall into the category of moderate-intensity exercise.

The key is to start with an activity you enjoy and that you will be able to do most if not all days of the week. That will make it easier to stick with in the long run.

And the long run, after all, is what New Year's resolutions are really about.

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Article Sources
  • Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvadó J, et al. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. N Engl J Med 2013;368:1279-1290.
  • Leung CW, Laraia BA, Needham BL, et al. Soda and cell aging: associations between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and leukocyte telomere length in healthy adults from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. Am J Public Health 2014 Oct 15:e1-e7.
  • Johnson R et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation 2009.
  • Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. United States Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Tracy SW. History of medicine: something new under the sun? The Mediterranean diet and cardiovascular health. N Engl J Med 2013;368:1274-1276.