4 Ways to Improve Your Health in the New Year

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By Hannah Cline on December 26, 2017

In the beginning of the new year, many individuals are taking a moment to reflect on their health and make some positive lifestyle changes. Knowing where to begin, however, can sometimes be tricky. 

We spoke with four experts, each with a different medical expertise, and asked them what they would recommend for those kicking off the new year with wellness resolutions in mind. Check out their tips on how to improve your sleep, exercise, diet and mental health habits and improve your overall health. 

1. SLEEP: Limit your time in bed.

Frank Biscardi, M.D., medical director, Carilion Clinic's Sleep Centers

If you are unable to sleep after 10 to 15 minutes, get up and engage in a boring or relaxing activity (nothing productive!).  Avoid bright lights and handheld electronics as they will increase wakefulness. Stay out of bed for at least 30 minutes up to 120 minutes and then try to sleep again.

You want to train your brain that bed is a place for sleep, not wakefulness or a thinking spot. The more time you lay in bed not sleeping, the more anxious and frustrated you're likely to become. One of the best ways to improve your sleep is to make the bed a sleeping spot only and avoid excess time in bed not sleeping.

2. EXERCISE: Incorporate strength training into your routine.

Patrick Dunham, clinical training manager, Carilion Wellness:

Our muscles are movers for our body, in every movement we perform. Sitting upright, running, walking and working all require the use of major muscles.  Strength training can be beneficial to anyone with a doctor's clearance.

It is recommended to perform strength training at least two times per week, with multi-joint exercises included.  Strength training can be performed using one's bodyweight, free-weights, machines, bands or other methods. Three to four sets of four to eight exercises is recommended per strength training session.

3. NUTRITION: Focus on a plant-based diet.

Angela Charlton, registered dietitian, Carilion Clinic Oncology:

Optimize your intake of healthy nutrients by consuming a wide variety of colorful fruits, vegetables whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. The low-caloric density of a plant-based diet can aid in achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight. Setting a goal to eat a combined five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables per day and planning ahead with meals for the week are great ways to kickstart a plant-based diet.​

4. MENTAL HEALTH: Take a "Time Out."

By Tom Milam, M.D., Carilion Clinic Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine 

We often think of a "time out" as a punishment given to children who misbehave, but putting one's self in a "time out" can reduce stress and improve behavior. Taking a few minutes several times a day to intentionally relax, disengage or unwind can break the cycle of stress, improve mood and attention, and set a more positive tone for the rest of the day. Whether that time is spent sitting quietly, looking out a window, closing your eyes, taking some deep breaths, meditating or repeating some self-affirmations, something as small as a five minute "time out" can go a long way to improving your physical and emotional health.

What are some of your favorite ways to jump start your health goals?