GUEST COLUMN: 7 Healthy Habits for the New Year and Beyond

Published 8:00 am Friday, January 27, 2023

Making new year’s resolutions is a common tradition, but 77 percent of people who make them, break them within just a few weeks.

This year, focus on long-term lifestyle changes that can make a big impact on overall health and longevity. 

“The start of a new year symbolizes a time for change, but adopting new, healthy habits isn’t limited to just one time of year,” said Thomas Sligh, MD, an internal medicine physician with Merit Health Medical Group. “Even small, incremental changes in lifestyle can make a big difference in overall health.”

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Dr. Sligh suggests adopting these seven habits for long-term healthy living:

  • Eat well: Incorporate nutrient-dense whole foods into your diet like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and fish. Limit processed foods and sugar-sweetened drinks which are linked to obesity and heart disease.
  • Exercise regularly: Only 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise can prevent strokes and heart disease and help manage stress. Exercise can come in many forms like walking, biking, gardening and more. This year, find an activity you enjoy and look forward to that also increases your heart rate.
  • Get better sleep: Low-quality sleep is linked to an increased risk of obesity, weight gain and can negatively impact brain function. To improve the quality of your sleep, avoid caffeine at night, reducing screen time before bed and keep a consistent sleep schedule.
  • Decrease stress: Stress can cause serious health conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease. Practice self-care with your favorite activities and mindfulness techniques like meditation. But, if stress becomes overwhelming or chronic, consider talking with a mental health professional.
  • Cut down on alcohol: After the holidays, the new year is a great time to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol. Drinking over the recommended limit, one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, is associated with short and long-term health risks including impaired judgment, high blood pressure, heart disease and some cancers. To cut back, set a drink limit when out with friends or designate days of the week to completely abstain.
  • Stop smoking: If you smoke, stop. Over 16 million Americans live with chronic diseases caused by smoking like lung disease and cancer. Smoking also increases the risk of premature death and exposes loved ones to second-hand smoke. Increase your life expectancy by as much as 10 years by giving up the habit.
  • Visit your doctor: A study published by The Journal of The American Medical Association (JAMA) found adults with primary care providers are more likely to fill prescriptions and receive health screenings such as mammograms and colonoscopies. Kick off the year with a visit to your primary care physician for a wellness exam or to catch up on vaccinations. 

“This may seem like a lot at first,” Sligh said. “But once these simple lifestyle changes have become habits, you’ll notice some positive differences in your health, and you’ll feel better too.”

If you need help finding a primary care provider, visit or call 1-855-MSMERIT to find one and schedule an appointment.