Dr Mary McCarthy - Some new year’s health resolutions can be worth the effort

With each January that comes around, so too does a list of resolutions that people plunge headfirst into with a new-found zeal, albeit a few days after the Christmas and New Year hangovers have subsided.

Very often, many of these resolutions will be health-focused as people either try to kick unhealthy habits, take up a new exercise class or try to scale back on their sweet treats.

Indeed, in recent years we are seeing the wide adoption of trends for January such as Veganuary and dry January as there is a sense of a “we are in this together” mentality to see these commitments through.

Of course, there are some habits which are within your best interests to quit. Although often the worst ones for us are the hardest to stop. In January many people opt to quit smoking, and this is certainly one of those changes which will bring about massive, even lifesaving health benefits.

Smoking damages your heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, heart attack, peripheral vascular disease where blood circulation in your feet is affected and cerebrovascular disease, where blood supply to your brain is compromised.

It is also a risk factor in many cancers, not just in lung cancers but in throat cancers and those of the oesophagus or gullet. It is a factor in bladder cancer and cervical cancer, as well as breast cancer in younger women. World-wide it is the most preventable risk factor for cancer. It affects lung function and increases the risk of Chronic Obstructive Airways Disease and other respiratory diseases. Of all the health resolutions that anyone could make, stopping smoking is one of the best and most effective.

People should not feel like they are alone in quitting. There is an increasing amount of help available, from online advice to nicotine patches to help with cravings and much more. The number of people who have successfully quit smoking is impressive and with that resolution ticked off, most look at how they can improve their life in other ways.

There’s no escaping that January can be a difficult month as it seems just that bit more difficult to escape the cosy confines of your bed in the morning. Increasing exercise is one way of shaking off the January blues. Introducing a bit of gentle exercise is good for body and spirit – and a walk, either solo or with a friend, is an easy way to do this.

The walk doesn’t even have to be very long. Ten, 20 or 30 minutes may be enough to get some fresh air and a different perspective and walking is a unique way of seeing the world around you. Walking improves your circulation and your blood pressure, but it has mental as well as physical effects. It improves self-perception and self-esteem and reduces stress, anxiety and fatigue. Physically active people have a 30 per cent reduced risk of becoming depressed – and staying active helps those who are depressed to recover. If walking with a friend is difficult, there are many ramblers’ groups in Shropshire, catering for all ages and abilities, so someone to walk with is easy to find.

Keeping ourselves healthy and happy is one of the best New Year’s resolution we could make. Happy New Year!

* Dr Mary McCarthy is chair of the local medical committee and represents Shropshire, North Staffordshire and South Staffordshire on the General Practitioners Committee of the BMA. She has worked at Belvidere Surgery in Shrewsbury for more than 20 years.

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