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Jan 24 2012

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The better health resolution

This isn’t the only New Year’s resolutions list you’ll read this month, nor is it the only one with good ideas to offer. But it is one you should take to heart if you want to make the others far more do-able.

That’s because improving your physical and mental health gives you a strong leg up on hiking the Alleghenies, getting back your 32-inch waistline, learning a foreign language, running your first marathon and countless other life-enhancing changes.

Our list of five resolutions starts with one we think you’ll especially appreciate:

Think in terms of what you’re gaining, not what you’re forcing yourself to sacrifice. “Giving up cheese chile rellenos” sounds rather punitive, doesn’t it? One might even say it unfairly demonizes one of the noblest examples of Texas-Mexican fusion cuisine. So why not set the positive goal of balancing culinary pleasure with health eating? Work with your doctor to create a dietary plan that gets you where you want to be — and allows occasional gooey, queso-rific rewards for a job well done.

Slow the throttle on aging. For our first three decades or so, youthful health and fitness are durable assets we can almost take for granted. From then on, they’re conditional gifts we have to work to maintain. The best way to do that is a half hour or so per day of vigorous physical activity. If you lack the time for daily gym visits or the cash for a personal trainer, get creative.

From your body’s standpoint, a six-level parking garage is as good a walking track as a hilly hiking trail. Office building stairs sub nicely for Stairmasters. Dumbbells store neatly under a desk and can work almost as many muscle groups as a multifunction exercise machine. Then, on the weekend, set your DVR to record less urgent games and use the daylight to play Frisbee or touch football with your kids, ride a bicycle or do a long-delayed home repair project.

The satisfaction and visible benefits of exercise grow more obvious over time because, although physical activity can’t keep your hair as dark and lush as a 20-year-old’s, it can put the brakes on most other physical and mental signs of aging. For advice on lifelong physical health and fitness, go to the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services’ websites GetFitTexas (www.getfittexas.org) and Texercise (www.texercise.com), or the Department of State Health Services’ Walk Texas! Site (http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/diabetes/walktx.shtm).

Take a breather: Quit smoking. Yes, we did urge you to think in turns of what you can add, not give up during 2012. But really, can it be anything but a plus to spare your lungs a daily bombardment of more than a dozen harmful chemicals (including arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde and vinyl chloride) and dramatically lower your risk of lung cancer and emphysema? You’ll need plenty of will power and help to succeed, but it’s well worth the effort. Start by visiting the Yes! I’m Ready to Quit website (www.dshs.state.tx.us/tobacco/quityes.shtm).

Head off or control adult-onset diabetes. Heredity, ethnicity and age all can influence risk of diabetes, but other variables are under our control. If you’re 45 or older, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) recommends a test for diabetes every three years. If you’re at risk for diabetes, there are plenty of steps you can take to manage it, including dietary changes, physical activity and blood sugar monitoring. For more information, visit DSHS’ Diabetes Prevention and Control Program website (www.dshs.state.tx.us/diabetes/tdcprgrm.shtm).

Volunteer in your community. For social engagement, mental stimulation and pure emotional satisfaction, few activities are more rewarding than volunteering your time and energy to improving the lives of others. Volunteers are needed in every Texas community, so you’ll never lack for opportunities to help. Start your adventure by going to the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services’ Volunteer and Community Engagement website at (www.dads.state.tx.us/volunteer/vce.html).

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