A healthy diet and regular exercise are an important part of staying healthy Image Credit: Getty

Doctors from Dubai Health Authority have mapped out a few habits that, if implemented consistently, will help make us healthier and hopefully happier in 2019.

Doctors emphasise that the best way to achieve resolutions is to focus on establishing habits and routines that will help you achieve your resolution.

“Focus on building habits that will help you achieve your goal,” says Dr Nada Al Mulla, Family Medicine Physician and Head of Nad Al Hammar Health Centre. “If your goal is to read 12 books a year, create an environment that will facilitate that. Make it a habit to carry your book with you at all times. If your goal is to reach a certain weight, focus on exercising three times a week. Also, check your progress regularly. Break your goals into a series of steps, focusing on creating sub-goals, which are concrete, measurable and time-based.”

Yearly screening

Dr Mulla says people must opt for comprehensive health screenings. “It sounds so simple and yet people avoid doing this or taking time out for it. I highly recommend that people should undergo a comprehensive health check-up once a year, especially if they have a family-history of certain diseases. In general, an overall comprehensive check-up helps understand risk factors, aids early detection and provides a proper snapshot of your health so that you can take the right action at the right time.”

Women above the age of 40 and those with a family history of breast cancer should opt for mammograms before turning 40 and should consult their doctor about the right time to begin these tests.

Quit tobacco

Even if you have tried to quit several times before and you have been unsuccessful, head to a cessation clinic rather than trying on your own. “Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death,” says Dr Al Mulla. “On average, smokers try several times before they quit for good. Nowadays there are several medical ways to quit tobacco. Visit a tobacco-cessation clinic so that doctors can support you and help make the transition easier.”

Exercise: a feel-good medicine

New research suggests that exercise causes changes in the brain that boost memory and thinking skills. Additionally, let us not forget, exercise reduces the odds of developing a battery of lifestyle diseases: diabetes, blood pressure and stroke.

In addition to the health benefits of regular exercise and physical activity, new research suggests exercise can get the brain working better.

In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise seems to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Resistance training and other exercises do not have the same results. Researchers from the university also pointed out that physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and that regular physical activity may improve the performance of daily activities for people afflicted with the disease.

At a time when dementia is highly prevalent and it is estimated that by the year 2050, more than 115 million people will suffer from the condition worldwide, this study seems extremely pertinent.

“Exercise is known to help brain health and over the years, research after research is reinforcing the same thing,” explains Dr Suhail Al Rukn, President of the Emirates Neurology Society and Neurologist at Rashid Hospital. “It is a known fact that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory — the prefrontal and medial temporal cortexes — have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who do not.

“Exercise fosters the release of chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells; it helps stimulate blood vessels in the brain, and even helps in developing new brain cells. Brain health decreases as we get older. Since aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume, it can help maintain brain age.

“Exercise also helps the body release chemicals called endorphins, which trigger a positive feeling in the body. Regular exercise is known to improve your mood, reduce stress, reduce anxiety and even depression and improve sleep.”

The golden question is what type of activity or exercise should one follow. “This research talks about aerobic exercises and while that is important it is good to mix up your exercise to include resistance training so the workout is balanced,” Dr Rukn says. “This will help achieve overall good health.

“This research has looked at walking and participants walked briskly for one hour, twice a week. However, it is important to note that this was for research purposes. The general recommendation is half an hour of moderate physical activity most days of the week, or 150 minutes a week.”

Cut back on sugar and eat healthily

“Decreasing sugar actually increases people’s energy, by minimising the highs and lows that sweet foods triggers,” explains Dr Al Mulla. “Eat natural sugars in moderation, such as two portions of fruit a day, but keep your portions in control. Follow a balanced healthy diet, do not skip breakfast and stay clear of fast food.”

Be kind to yourself and slow down the pace of life

Dr Khawla Ahmed Al Mer, Consultant Psychiatrist at Rashid Hospital, says it is time to take a back seat, slow down the pace of life and take time out to do things that bring you genuine happiness.

She also debunks the concept of multitasking. “There is no such thing; you’re really just switching back and forth between tasks really quickly. This makes your brain work more so unless needed it is better not to task switch and do just one thing at a time.

“Fewer digital conversations, more one-on-one conversations, packing in fewer tasks in a day, saying no to things, people, situations that bring you stress, positive thinking and daily exercise are some of the things to focus on in 2019 to help you lead a balanced life.”