Now that a stressful 2020 has come to an end, there are many ways to make 2021 healthy and safe for you and your family, even though the year is beginning as our country remains in turmoil and the COVID-19 pandemic is worse than ever.
Doctors at Baystate Health suggest setting realistic goals and prioritizing what is most important to you, taking small steps, and remembering not to beat yourself up if you encounter a setback in your health goals for 2021.
Some healthy goals to consider as you continue on your journey to good health are:
Make A Plan for Good Overall Health
While weight loss, health screenings, and stress reduction are among some of the best ways to achieve and maintain better health, creating a plan that is manageable is the key to success. Look at the new year as a time to set small, attainable goals that you can maintain throughout the year, that will also lead to long term success and better health.
Now is a great time to make an appointment for an annual exam and include your physician in your health goals for the year. For those who don’t have a primary care provider, the best time to choose a doctor is before you need one. Over time, your healthcare needs may change or you may face a new health challenge. The relationship you have with your healthcare provider, who knows you and your medical history, can lead to a better overall outcome that will protect your health. Also, as the global telemedicine trend continues, especially with the advent of COVID-19, it provides a fast and convenient way for you to connect with your doctor for urgent needs such as fever, cough, and skin rash, as well as management of chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Whether you want to lose weight, quit smoking, or reduce stress, your healthcare provider can suggest additional resources such as support groups, reading material, or if appropriate, medications or aids that can help. Getting advice from your primary care provider and support from friends and family is a great way to keep your New Year’s health resolutions going all year long.
- Dr. Linda Schoonover, Baystate Primary Care at Baystate Wing Hospital
Don’t Allow Sleep Problems To Affect Your Health
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to more sleep problems at a time when sleep is especially important for health and well-being. Good quality sleep is important for preventing infections and keeping your immune system working well. Studies have shown that sleep deprived people don’t mount the same immune response after vaccinations as good sleepers do, so it is important to make sure you get a good night’s sleep prior to getting a flu or COVID vaccine.
A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine by Baystate Health’s Dr. Eva Mok showed increased rates of flu in patients with untreated sleep apnea. So, getting good quality sleep is just as important as getting enough sleep. If you are having difficulty sleeping or signs of poor-quality sleep with loud snoring, difficulty staying asleep, urinating frequently at night or daytime sleepiness or tiredness, you may benefit from a sleep medicine evaluation.
- Dr. Karin Johnson, medical director, Baystate Health Regional Sleep Program and Baystate Medical Center Sleep Laboratory
With all the attention on the COVID-19 vaccines, it is not too late to get your flu shot if you haven’t received it yet. Flu vaccine was updated this year to match the anticipated circulating strains. If you belong to any of the groups prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, please get it. Both the flu and COVID-19 vaccinations are important means in preventing serious respiratory infections. Beyond the flu and COVID vaccines, it is important to keep up to date on adult immunizations. The protection you have from some childhood vaccines can wear off over time requiring you to get booster shots.
- Dr. Armando Paez, chief, Infectious Disease Division, Baystate Health
Reduce Your Risks for Cancer
Reducing identified dietary and lifestyle risk factors can help prevent many diseases, including cancer. Don’t use tobacco, avoid drinking too much alcohol, increase moderate aerobic exercise to at least 30 minutes daily most days of the week (moderately vigorous walking will do), and if overweight, shed some pounds.
- Dr. Wilson Mertens - vice president and medical director, Cancer Service, chief, Division of Hematology Oncology, Baystate Regional Cancer Program, Baystate Health
Keep Kids Healthy
Until everyone gets their COVID-19 vaccines, parents need to model and help their children follow the basic COVID-19 safety guidelines of mask wearing, handwashing, social distancing, and avoiding indoor gatherings with anyone who is not in your close family pod.
Parents need to keep their children healthy by keeping up with their regular visits with their pediatricians to monitor their growth, development, general overall health, to give them any needed vaccines to prevent serious infections, and to keep up with medications for common conditions such as asthma.
During stressful times, parents need to be very aware of their children's mental health, checking in with older children on a daily basis about how they are doing, and watching for any signs of depression and anxiety related to the pandemic and social isolation.
Also, during the pandemic there are 3 basic tasks for parents:
1. Tell your children that you love them and show them that love throughout the day in a multitude of ways.
2. Tell your children that you will do the best you can to keep them safe during the pandemic, and demonstrate that by modeling mask wearing, handwashing, social distancing, and avoiding indoor gatherings with people who are not in your close family.
3. Tell your children that whatever happens during the pandemic you will work together as a family to overcome any difficulties. Modeling resiliency will teach your children the skills that they will need to overcome the difficult problems they may face as they grow older. Pediatricians are here to help patients and families through these difficult times, and parents can reach out to their pediatricians with any concerns about their children.
- Dr. John O’Reilly, chief, General Pediatrics, Baystate Children’s Hospital
Reduce Your Risk for Diabetes
Over 34 million Americans have diabetes and 88 million American adults – approximately 1 in 3 – have prediabetes. Prediabetes puts you at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes and also increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. By modifying your risk factors and adopting a healthy lifestyle – from eating more nutritious foods and limiting your portions to exercising to maintain an appropriate weight – you can help delay or prevent some of the serious complications of diabetes such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney damage and limb amputations.
Aside from reducing your risks for diabetes, if you want to maintain good health in 2021 and beyond, consider:
- If you are overweight, eating 20% less can lead to slow sustained weight loss over time
- Fit in exercise, even 10 minutes at a time, which can lead to significant physical and mental health benefits
- Address your mental health which can be the primary barrier to a healthier you.
- Also, quit smoking, this is the best decision you can make for your health.
- Dr. Chelsea Gordner, director, Baystate Inpatient Diabetes Service, Departments of Adult and Pediatric Diabetes at Baystate Medical Center and Baystate Children’s Hospital
Focus on Mental Health
There are many ways to improve your mental health. Consider getting outdoors for walks in nature, ideally with others (socially distanced and masked). Find opportunities to be kind. Even though many of us are hurting in various ways nowadays, it's not unlikely that there are others who are hurting even more.
It’s important to remember that we all have things to give: attention, compassion, listening, forgiveness, it doesn’t have to be material. Giving feels good year-round, much better than receiving.
Also, be kind to yourself: treat your body well by eating healthy foods and not overwhelming it with unhealthy substances such as too much alcohol, sugar, and more; don't be mean and punitive towards yourself, if you notice mistakes you've made or things you don't like about yourself—acknowledge them and make a commitment to change, make a plan to change, and get started.
- Dr. Barry Sarvet, chair, Department of Psychiatry, Baystate Health
Don't Skip Annual Preventive Exams
Annual preventive exams are vital in detecting conditions like breast cancer or cervical dysplasia at an early, manageable, and treatable stage. The well visit is a perfect time to address bothersome symptoms, set health goals and learn updates on disease prevention. Checking in annually with an established provider supports a trusted relationship which facilitates seamless care if a medical problem arises.
Learn more about primary care and women's health services.
- Dr. Julie Thompson, FACOG, IFMCP, chief, Obstetrics, Baystate Franklin Medical Center and Pioneer Women’s Health
Maintain a Healthy Heart
Maintaining a healthy heart begins when we are young by following a healthy diet and maintaining a proper weight, keeping active with regular exercise, quitting smoking, and keeping your cholesterol and blood pressure in check.
If you are having symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, palpitations or swollen legs please contact your physicians to be checked out as these may be signs of serious heart conditions.
As for your general health in 2021, as we continue to fight the current pandemic, please follow the CDC guidelines in regards to social distancing, hand hygiene and wearing masks. It is not only about your health but the health of the loved ones around you. During these unprecedented times, try to find moments of “Zen,” be it listening to your favorite music, going for walks, playing with your pets, reading a nice book or drawing. Everybody has to find his or her way of reducing their anxiety and life stressors. Also, don’t forget to take your medications regularly.
- Dr. Mehdi Pajouh of Baystate Cardiology in Westfield
Know Where to Go When Emergencies Happen
My health tip for the new year is one that will come in handy for a lifetime. I often get the question: "When should I go to the Emergency Department compared to Urgent Care?"
It's not really a simple answer, but a good rule of thumb when any new, acute, severe, uncontrolled symptoms need to be addressed in the Emergency Department (ED). For example, if you are having the worst headache of your life or experiencing any new acute severe shortness of breath, chest pain or abdominal pain, you should go the Emergency Department. If you are having any bleeding from an injury that is not under control with simple first aid measures, that also belongs in the ED. If you are experiencing any new neurologic symptoms or new seizures/convulsions, that also needs to be attended to in the ED. Anytime there is a loss of consciousness from any cause, that should also be evaluated in the ED.
Urgent Care is an ideal locale for the care of minor injuries and ailments like coughs, colds, earaches, urinary tract infections, insect bites and stings. Urgent Care is also appropriate for acute flare-ups of chronic conditions such as migraine headaches, asthma, gout, and eczema. Most urgent care centers have on-site X-rays and can take care of acute fractures and other minor traumas. It is also important to know during the current pandemic that you should not be afraid to go to the ED with any new acute severe symptoms as all hospitals have protocols in place to protect patients and their families from potential exposure to COVID-19.
Trying to "tough it out at home" can be a fatal mistake if it's an acute heart attack or stroke.
- Dr. Brian P. Sutton, FACEP, medical director, Baystate Health Urgent Care