A health calendar? Some surprising things you should be doing for your health

Year-end is a great time to reflect on our health and endeavor to improve it. But aside from the typical New Year's plans – like signing up for a gym membership or actually starting on that new diet – what should each of us be doing to put our health first?

UCLA Health doctors and other health experts suggest there are many steps that may not be top of mind, but can have a big impact on our well-being.

Keep a personal health calendar

"Similar to a work or family calendar, patients can greatly benefit from tracking their general health issues – or reproductive health issues – in a calendar. In our busy lives, we hardly pay attention to our health, and most health issues start with subtle symptoms that we fail to follow. In fact, most patients with illness cannot recall exactly when symptoms started and if they were associated with life events. By maintaining a health calendar and jotting down symptoms, medications, and mood changes, patients will be able to identify abnormalities sooner and seek care."

Dr. Aparna Sridhar, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Cooking is among the best tools to improve your diet

"People who cook at home eat a healthier, more nutritionally dense diet.  With obesity escalating and contributing to other serious health issues like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, cooking at home is a vastly underutilized tool patients can use to achieve their nutrition goals. Restaurant food is typically prepared with more salt, sugar, fat and processed carbohydrates than a home-cooked meal. If you cook at home, you can add a plethora of fiber-rich, whole-plant foods to your favorite dishes."

Erin Morse, chief clinical dietitian at UCLA Health

Help your gut bacteria help you

"For better health overall, you need to feed both your own human cells and also all the microbes that live on you and inside you – including the gut microbiome. The best foods for these microbes are plant-based foods and drinks."

Dr. Zhaoping Li, director at the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition

Lifestyle changes have a much bigger impact than you think

"Certain lifestyle choices are far more integral to your health than any doctor's visit. To promote general well-being, mom’s advice isn't far off: eat mostly fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; get at least seven or eight hours of sleep per night; reduce your work stress; make time to exercise and get outdoors; and spend quality time with close friends and family. The research behind each of these activities clearly demonstrates their benefits to your health."

Dr. John Mafi, assistant professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine and health services research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Regular cleanings can greatly alleviate allergies and sinus problems

"Patients with allergies and sinus problems should be rinsing their sinuses regularly with saline, a surprisingly effective method for controlling symptoms that accomplishes several things. First, it clears particles and irritants from the nose and sinuses. These include dust, pollens and smog, which irritate the sinuses and cause congestion, swelling, and mucus production. Second, it thins the mucus and rinses it out so that it is no longer so thick and bothersome in the nose. Finally, it soothes and moisturizes the membranes of the nose, which can be very inflamed and sensitive from allergies and infections. Sinus rinse kits are widely available without a prescription in almost all drug stores."

Dr. Marilene Wang, professor of head and neck surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Many chronic diseases are manageable and in your control

"A number of chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and stroke, have an identified association with diet. If each of us shift to a more plant-based diet – filled with vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits and other produce – we can not only potentially lower our risk for these diseases, but we can also be healthier and potentially live longer. Recent research shows that a low-protein diet, specifically low in animal proteins, is associated with increased survival and longevity."

Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and adjunct assistant professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

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