It’s that the time of year to exchange gifts, eat lots of sweet potato pie (your granny’s or Patty’s) and jot down your resolutions for 2016. Hopefully, improving your health is on the top of the list. But beyond the typical “lose weight” resolution, there are so many other changes you can be making to improve your overall health that will also help you shed some pounds too.
Here are a few tips on how to make 2016 your healthiest year ever with these tried-and-tested tips.
Get You Some Coverage
You can workout everyday and only eat vegan meals, but without health insurance none of that really matters. Having coverage ensures preventive healthcare, allows for routine screenings for chronic diseases, and treatment for any illnesses you may have.
Translation: Healthcare really is the Holy Grail to strong health.
If you are uninsured and missed the December 15 Obamacare deadline, it’s not too late to enroll—the next and final deadline is January 15 for Feb 1 coverage. Even better: 7 out 10 Americans end up paying $75 or less for a plan. And while Obamacare isn’t perfect, too many African-Americans are falling through the cracks of the Medicaid expansion gap. The uninsured rate for Blacks has decreased from 22.4 percent to 12.1 percent since October 2013.
Get Your Screenings
After getting an insurance plan, now it’s time to kick your year off by making a doctor’s appointment to really understand and access your current health status. Getting a physical will test your blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and numbers, blood sugar, vitamin deficiencies and will screen for other potential ailments. Also, don’t be scuuuured to ask for an HIV test. Don’t assume that because your blood was taken, they are testing for that. So speak up and don’t let them talk you out of it.
FYI: Ladies, don’t forgot to get a Pap smear, clinical breast exam, mammogram and colonoscopy (if needed), along with STD and HPV screenings. Fellas, you also need to proactive in getting screened for STDs, as they are usually asymptomatic in men—and if you’re old enough, a colonoscopy and prostate exam.
Find a Workout You REALLY Like
Every January, the gym is packed with people hogging up the treadmills and elliptical and by February they are gone. Why? Sometimes folks get bored or they burn out. The key to working out consistently is finding workouts that you can’t get enough of.
If you have a gym membership, explore the classes they offer. You might discover that you really like Spin, Hip-hop dance or CrossFit. If you don’t have a gym membership, you can find a variety of workouts on your cable’s On Demand, Hulu and/or online—or keep it old school and use DVDs. But whatever you do, just get to sweatin’ 3-5 days a week and don’t forget to add in days of strength training too!
Unglue Yourself From Your Phone
Your obsessive need to be logged into Facebook or check your email isn’t just stopping you from living in the moment. From depression and low self-esteem formed as a result of comparing your life to everyone else’s on social media, to the potential damaged caused by your phone's radiation, your health may be negatively impacted by technology.
Not to mention, the stimulation from scrolling and playing Candy Crush and the glowing light from the screen is jacking up your sleep. Try putting it away an hour before bed and whatever you do, don’t sleep with it in the bed.
Which leads us to…
Get More Zzzzs In
A 2015 study found that Blacks were five times more likely to get sixs hours or less of sleep a night. We're also more likely to wake up in the middle of the night than whites. Whether it’s worrying about your job, money, working a late shift or stress in general, too many of us are not sleeping the recommended 7-8 hours a night. And trust, sleep is incredibly important. It’s our bodies’ way of healing and refueling. It also gives our brains time to process and strengthen our memories and is great for our mental health, productivity and mood.
To get in more Zzzz’s, try to not drink coffee six hours before bed, rest before bedtime to take down those stress levels, try not to watch television or internet surfing in bed, don’t eat super heavy meals and drink a lot of liquor before bed, don’t sleep with the television on and keep your bedroom nice and dark. For more tips, visit the National Sleep Foundation.
Learn How to De-stress
Yes, Black folks have plenty of reasons to be stressed. With our chaotic personal lives, structural racism and sexism, daily microaggressions, the economy, our jobs and serious injustices like Sandra Bland’s death, we have of a lot weighing on our minds and souls. But this year, we have to cope because stress is seriously effecting our physical and mental health.
In fact, stress kills.
So what can help? Exercising releases feel good hormones, yoga and meditation is a great way to strengthen the mind-body connection and sex is great too. Praying and journaling to get out your feelings helps, as well as talking to a therapist (yes, that’s not just for white folks). And if possible, eliminate the sources of your anxiety such as finding a new job and ending a toxic relationship.
Try Going Without Eating Meat One Day (or More) A Week
The world lost its collective mind this year when the World Health Organization said that eating bacon and red meat would kill you. Before you subscribe to Beyoncé’s vegan delivery service, please chill, that’s not necessary.
But there is something to be said about eating less red and processed meats and incorporating more of a high fiber plant-based diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lentils and beans, nuts and healthy oils. Studies have found that a high fiber plant-based diet helps improve health, will help you lose weight, reduce your risk for certain cancers and can stabilize and even reverse chronic illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
So start slow, one day a week. It might be hard, but you can get creative with it. Take the meat out of your chili, tacos and burritos and add in more chopped veggies. Or eat lentil and other low-sodium hearty soups with fiber filled salads. For delicious and filling vegetarian recipe meat eaters will love go here.
Kellee Terrell is an award-winning Chicago-based freelance writer and filmmaker who writes about race, gender, health and pop culture. Her articles and interviews have been featured in Essence, The Advocate, The Root, Al Jazeera, The Body, Hello Beautiful and The Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @kelleent