How to get a healthy start to the new year

Advice from some of Atlanta's Top Doctors

How to get a healthy start to the new year

Illustration by Getty Images

Every July, we present our annual list of Top Doctors, as selected by licensed physicians in the metro area. As we started 2024, we asked the primary care physicians on our list to share their advice for New Year’s resolutions.

Be Kind
If I could persuade my patients to make only one healthy New Year’s resolution, it would be to practice kindness every day in 2024. Kindness both to themselves and to others. Kindness is the act of being generous, compassionate, and considerate, which may render incredible health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, reducing stress levels, and improving mood. And guess what? Performing acts of kindness is low-cost, with significant high gain. Imagine that. With a little intentionality to these daily behaviors, your wellness is guaranteed to improve. May your journeys of kindness lead to a life of peace and joy far beyond what you ever imagined!

TaRessa Wills, MD
Assistant Professor, Faculty Physician, Emory Division of Hospital Medicine
Associate Site Director, Grady Memorial Hospital

Get Some Rest
A good New Year’s resolution is to learn to sleep better. Most patients that I see during their physicals are sleep-deprived. The current recommendation is seven hours. From my experience, most people are getting five to six hours of sleep. The benefits of sleep are numerous, but to name a few:

• It boosts mood, attention, and concentration.

• It helps maintain a healthy weight.

• It helps control your stress levels.

• It can help regulate your blood sugar and metabolism.

• It can support learning, memory, and overall brain function.

Some ways to help you sleep better:

• Sticking to a sleep schedule, even on the weekends, can help regulate your circadian rhythm.

• Getting regular exercise can improve sleep quality, but avoid exercising close to bedtime.

• Avoid heavy meals, alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine in the evenings.

• Avoid using electronic devices a couple of hours prior to bed.

• Keep your room cool, dark, and quiet.

• Managing daily stress helps in falling asleep, as well as maintaining sleep.

It is a natural process for sleep patterns to change as we age, but there are ways to help combat this. If you think you are not getting enough restful sleep, please bring it up with your healthcare provider.

Michael Kraft, MD
Family Practice Center

Get Outdoors
If I could persuade my patients to make one healthy New Year’s resolution, it would be to spend more time outside! Research has shown that spending 120 minutes per week outside has many health benefits. This includes—but is not limited to—lower stress levels, feeling more confident, and even a reduction in blood pressure. Find a safe area to spend time outside: Sit on your front porch and just observe people pass by, create and maintain a container or in-ground garden, or find a group of like-minded individuals and go on a hike, kayak, or take a camping trip!

Carmen Echols, MD
Emory at Stonecrest­­

Exercise Daily
If a patient would like to improve their health, there is one resolution that dwarfs all others: an earnest commitment to exercise daily. Daily exercise dramatically decreases the chances of developing a large range of diseases, including stroke, heart attack, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. It also prevents or improves diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, morbid obesity, depression, anxiety, and migraines. The total list is too long to include here. But daily exercise will keep you young and healthy. It is the closest thing you can find to a fountain of youth!

George W. Brown, MD
Program Director, Family Medicine Residency Program
Wellstar Douglas Hospital

Take a Holistic Approach
One of the most impactful New Year’s resolutions you can make for your overall health and well-being is to prioritize a holistic, lifestyle-medicine approach to your life. Here are some practical tips to help you get started.

• Balanced nutrition: Consume a balanced and nutritious diet. Emphasize whole, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

• Regular physical activity: Incorporate regular physical activity into your daily routine. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week, along with strength training exercises at least twice a week. Choose activities you enjoy to make it sustainable.

• Adequate sleep: Prioritize sleep by establishing a consistent sleep schedule. Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night. A well-rested body and mind are crucial for overall health and vitality.

• Stress management: Develop stress management techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga, or mindfulness.

• Social connections: Cultivate and maintain meaningful relationships with family and friends. Social support plays a significant role in emotional well-being and can positively influence health outcomes.

• Avoid harmful habits: Commit to reducing or eliminating harmful habits like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and recreational drug use.

• Regular check-ups: Schedule regular check-ups with your healthcare provider to monitor your health and catch potential issues early.

• Mental health: Prioritize your mental health by seeking professional help if needed, practicing self-compassion, and engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation.

• Environmental awareness: Make environmentally conscious choices in your daily life. Reduce your carbon footprint, minimize exposure to environmental toxins, and support sustainable practices.

• Lifelong learning: Embrace a growth mindset and commit to lifelong learning. Continuously seek knowledge and engage in activities that stimulate your mind and creativity.

Small, sustainable changes are often the most effective, so take it one step at a time, seek support from healthcare professionals if needed, and stay committed to your journey to better health. Your future self will thank you for it.

Candace White, DO
Emory at Miller Grove

Eat Whole Foods
My words of advice for a healthy New Year’s resolution are twofold. One, get as close as you can to a whole-food, plant-based diet. Second, find a way to be active that you enjoy. Exercise should not be a chore.

Dimple Shah, MD
Emory at East Cobb

Don’t Diet
I recommend not going on a diet. If your doctor offered you a surgery that had a 95 percent chance of failure, while increasing your risk for a life-threatening illness, would you accept it? Ninety-five percent of restrictive dieting does not create long-term weight loss, and dieting is a major risk factor for developing an eating disorder, the most lethal mental health disorder after opiate overdose. Why do clinicians continue to recommend dieting? Because of antifat bias, depersonalized medical care, and pressure to report BMI as a quality metric for payment. When setting a goal for the New Year, what are all the other ways you can achieve that goal without dieting? Ask your doctor, “If you could not recommend weight loss, what are all the other ways we can address my concern?”

Kara Pepper, MD
Primary care physician for adults with eating disorders

This article appears in our January 2024 issue.