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Ten Tips for a Healthy New Year

Joseph Gerald (Jerry) Reves, M.D.
December 22, 2021
An elderly man swimming.

'Tis the time of year when we resolve to do things that hopefully will help us age successfully. And, considering that we're entering the 34th year of this healthy aging column, I’ve included a list of mostly proven, and one or two speculative, tips for a healthy year.


The evidence is clear that regular exercise, meaning at least five times a week, is good for our health. It contributes to longevity, improves many chronic diseases, and prevents some life-threatening/altering events.

Still, many of us are uncertain about how much, what kind, and what's best for disabled people.

The intensity of exercise varies according to one's condition, but in general the more exertion the better. Walking about 30 minutes a day, however, is beneficial.

Cross training, or varying your exercise routine, is a good way to strengthen muscles and lower the risk of boredom. If you have physical challenges or are unable to do traditional exercises, ask your physician to prescribe exercises you can do under the guidance of a physical therapist.

Proper Diet

Over the years, this column has covered healthy eating habits extensively because evidence shows that what you eat contributes to good or bad health. Research shows that eating fruits, vegetables and non-saturated fats and avoiding processed foods, sugar, and salt are good for you. Red meats are less healthy than fish and some of the white meats.

Watch the caloric intake as well, since obesity and diabetes are the direct result of too many calories in and not enough expended (through exercise). Keep your cholesterol in check. Elevated cholesterol leads to vascular and heart disease, so read packaging labels for fat and cholesterol content. Eating wisely and in moderation is something we can all do to help preserve our health.

Physician Visits

At the risk of sounding self-serving, I urge everyone to have a primary care physician who manages the array of diseases we acquire as we age. Evidence shows that visits to a doctor at least once a year are good for you. Regular check-ups are when changes in your health, abnormalities and diseases can be detected by your primary care physician, who can refer you to a specialist for diagnosis or treatment.

Compliance with Medical Recommendations

Part one of good medical care is visiting your doctors regularly, and part two is complying with their recommendations. Whether it's making lifestyle changes, taking your medications or participating in physical therapy, evidence shows that compliance is vital.

If given a medicine, take it as directed. If told to do certain exercises, do them. Evidence shows many people don't follow their doctor's advice. Some reasons, such as costs, are valid. Others, like "I don't want to," are not.

I'll be the first to admit that doctors are not infallible, but more often than not their recommendations are for your health and should be followed.


People who regularly socialize tend to be happier and less lonely and have improved cognitive function. Marriage is obviously one way to maximize socialization, but marriage isn't necessary. What is necessary is regular interaction with other people and in person when possible. To the degree that some of these activities involve an altruistic function, all the better. In short, the less time we spend involved solely with ourselves and the more time focused on others, the healthier we're likely to be. The kind of interaction we have with others is, of course, important, meaning that sharing a meal with friends is of greater value than attending a political rally.

Alcohol in Moderation

Drink alcohol in moderation only. The general rule is that men can have more than women. The National Alcohol Research Group recommends no more than 14 drinks per week for men and 7 drinks per week for women. The daily guideline is no more than four drinks in any one day for men and three drinks in any one day for women. Alcohol is dangerous when consumed in large amounts: it adversely affects the brain and liver, impairs judgment and reflexes (hence do not drive when drinking), and can be addictive. A glass of red wine regularly may have health benefits, but that's not an irrefutable claim.

Do Not Smoke

In 1964 the U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry reported the link between smoking cigarettes and adverse health outcomes, including lung cancer. Massive campaigns have been mounted and laws have been passed since then that reduced the number of smokers. If you smoke, quit now. Like alcohol, smoking is addictive.


Vaccines that will prevent or limit the severity of disease are available for 18 diseases. Because we're still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone without a medical reason for not being vaccinated should be. COVID, however, is only one vaccine that is recommended and many others should be received. As we age we should keep our flu (influenza), pneumococcal, and Herpes zoster (shingles) vaccinations, among others, up to date. Ask your primary care physician if you're current with all your vaccinations. Keep your own record of vaccinations and when boosters are advised. The vaccines approved by the FDA are safe and effective.

Avoid Bad News Bombardment

Constant "news" programming on cable TV and social media platforms has bombarded us with non-stop topics that are unsettling and disturbing. Evidence shows that as little as 14 minutes of bad news (British Journal of Psychology 2011) negatively affects mood, anxiety, and other mental health parameters. Tuning in to large quantities of news especially before bedtime can impact your sleep. The news content that causes anxiety is not limited to politics, but includes wars, human suffering, health concerns, and natural disasters, to name a few. If one feels compelled to see what is going on, limit the exposure to a short time each day. Since the last election, we have refrained from watching any cable news, and our anecdotal experience is one of greater calmness in the Reves household.

Read this Column

There is zero evidence that reading this column helps you stay healthier as you age; on the other hand there is no evidence that it harms you. Thus, we will continue to put some tips out for your consideration in the hope that this year and all subsequent years will be happy and healthy. With tongue implanted solidly in cheek: the conclusion is read this column.  

Table 1. A List of Actions You Might Take to Stay Healthy. Where the Amount of Scientific Evidence in Support of the Suggestions Varies from None to Enormous.

Action Evidence
Exercise Enormous
Proper diet High
Physician visits Good
Compliance with medical recommendations Enormous
Socialize High
Alcohol in moderation High
Do not smoke Enormous
Vaccinations Enormous
Avoid bad news bombardment Some
Read this column None