Start 2023 off on healthier footing

Person selecting a weight at the gym

With 2022 winding down and 2023 right around the corner, it's time to start thinking ahead to the resolutions you'd like to set for the new year. 

While people typically set January 1 as the kick-off date for incorporating healthy habits, making changes or starting new practices, every day is an opportunity to restart, says Nikia Clark, a Community Relations Coordinator for the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. While it's important to identify a starting point and good to incorporate new changes that can lead to better health, "Give yourself some grace too," she says. "With a new year, people have their list of resolutions, but I also like to tell people, this is a lifestyle change. January 1 is a day on the calendar, like August 2 or February 10. Every day is a new start."

Top on her list of healthy resolutions is to check which cancer screening tests are recommended for your age and then make an appointment to have the screening done. This includes an annual mammogram starting at age 40, and a prostate exam starting at age 45 (or 40 for Black people). Additionally, if you're a smoker, get a lung cancer screening – eligibility includes being age 50 and above with 20 pack-years of smoking history and smoking in the last 15 years. Colorectal cancer screenings are also encouraged, starting at age 45, unless there is a family history of the disease, in which case screening might begin at age 40 or earlier.

Then, consider other recommended annual health exams: have you scheduled your yearly physical? Or made an appointment to see a dentist? Taking care of your teeth and mouth can help identify or help prevent other ailments that can change your overall health as well, she says. If this is the year to quit smoking, start small: Delay the first cigarette of the day by five minutes and, in a few days, delay it another five minutes until eventually, the first cigarette happens in the afternoon. Combining the delaying method with nicotine replacement options, like a patch or gum, can add to your successful and gradual efforts to quit.

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Find reasons to be grateful

The beginning of a new year, after a busy holiday season, can be a very stressful time.

Elizabeth Bouchard, PhD, Senior Vice President and Associate Director for Community Outreach and Engagement, has a simple suggestion to help alleviate that stress: journaling. "It can take less than five minutes to write in a gratitude journal. There are lots of ways to do this, but as a first step, a person can write down three things they feel grateful for every day. These can be little things, like 'My favorite t-shirt was in the clean laundry this morning,' or something bigger and more important, like 'I had a great walk with a friend.' It's important to actually write these down and not just do it in your head. Research suggests that gratitude journaling can help how we feel and our connections to others. As you do this practice more and more, you may start to find yourself paying more attention to the positive things that happen throughout your day."

She and Clark both point to the benefits of even moderate exercise for short periods of time. Getting off the couch, getting some fresh air and moving your body more all help boost the levels of endorphins that make us feel better and happier. Many people will get a gym membership at the start of the year, in keeping with their New Year's Resolution to get healthier, but by March, they haven't used the membership in months or weeks. Start small, by taking a walk around the block, and make a habit of it, they say.

"Sometimes it's better to have an accountability partner, someone who can help you stay on track," Clark says. After so much time apart, this gives people a reason and an excuse to see each other in a positive, healthy setting and can support each other in working toward your goals.

Help is available

If the stress is still piling up, and your mental health has taken a hit due to the pandemic, there are resources available to help. Erie County has a free 211 line for 24-hour, confidential assistance for mental and social health services, in addition to the Crisis Services hotline (716-834-3131) and Spectrum CARE Team for families and children in crisis (716-882-4357).