After a month of office parties, holiday open houses, family dinners and even a possible indulgent vacation, it's time to face those New Year's resolutions, yet again. Never mind what happened last year: Now is the time to start. No matter what you've heard or ever rationalized, it's never too late to begin the journey to better health and optimal fitness.
The latest research shows more clearly than ever before that how you look and feel right now -- meaning your weight, musculature, bone density and heart health -- are the primary factors that determine your potential longevity. And if you want to stick around to see (fill-in-your-own-blank of hoped-for life experiences), then you've got to get up off the couch and get moving.
This is particularly true for men, and no one knows this better than I do. Twelve years ago I was just another M.D. with a family practice, a potbelly and a declining sex drive. A year later I was the Body-for-LIFE champion in my age group. And just last week I celebrated my 72nd birthday and I'm in the best shape of my life in every way imaginable.
Since my initial transformation, I've dedicated my medical practice to helping men turn their health around. So take a page out of my playbook and follow these ten resolutions for 2011. By doing so, you're taking the first steps necessary for a stronger, leaner body.
- Get a good physical that includes a stress test: Schedule your annual physical for the beginning of the year, especially if you haven't had one in a while. Health insurance companies want you to be proactive (because you're less of a financial risk if you stay healthy), so this is most likely covered on your plan. The stress test is particularly important because heart disease is the number one killer, and every man is a potential victim.
- Make a list of your fitness goals and tape them to your refrigerator and bathroom mirror. This way you'll be able to remind yourself of your goals -- and have to deal with them -- every day. Be realistic as well as specific: nothing will happen if you just want to "get into better shape." Give yourself directions, such as "lose twenty pounds by summer" or "increase arm circumference by two inches."
- Men like a contest, so take advantage of your competitive edge and create your own "biggest loser" challenge. Entice your friends with a financial reward: everyone who's participating contributes a significant fee into a prize kitty and the winner (the man who loses the most weight) takes all. Then, brag about the contest to everyone you know so that you won't quit before the final weigh-in.
- Clean out the house: Get rid of junk food and holiday treats. I know it's hard to part with your favorite holiday dessert gift, but really, haven't you had enough? Restock the pantry with healthy snacks like high protein shakes and bars, and lots of fruit and vegetables.
- Go on a very low-carb diet for two weeks to eliminate cravings for sugary and starchy foods. Low-carb means no bread, pasta, rice, couscous, potatoes, pizza, cookies, cakes and packaged chips or snacks. Create a plate for every meal that is one-third protein and two-thirds raw, steamed or roasted veggies (yes, even for breakfast).
- Lay off alcohol: It will truly sabotage your program. Don't get me wrong; I like a drink just as much as the next guy. But every time I reach for a cold beer, Scotch, or even vodka/juice combos, I remember that they are just another caloric/carbohydrate disaster waiting to happen. Worse, too much can affect your sleep and put you on the road to type II diabetes, and who needs that?
- Take "before" photos -- from the front, side and back -- every two weeks. Put one set in your wallet and another next to each of your posted fitness goals (see #1). Recording your progress is one of the best ways to keep you on track.
- Make cardio the key component of your exercise program. For the best, fastest results, you'll need to do it four to five times a week, for at least a half hour at a time. It doesn't matter what you choose: exercise bike, treadmill, swimming or walking the mall, as long as you are exercising at a rate where conversation is difficult.
- Sex is a great form of cardio: the more frequently you do it, the better. You'll feel better about yourself when your sex life is active. Plus, it's good for the heart. But seriously, do I have to give you reasons for having more sex?
- Get plenty of sleep. Next to changing your diet, getting more sleep is probably the most important thing you can do to enhance your health. Seven or eight hours of sleep every night is the only way that you can reset and get ready for the stresses of the next day. Get off the computer or turn off the TV at least one hour before you go to sleep, and forget about a nightcap (it's detrimental to your health as well as your ability to have more sex).
Most guys feel they've still got a lot of living to do, and the new year is the perfect time to keep moving toward being your best, so you can enjoy the coming days and everything they have to offer. Taking care of yourself is always a good plan, and it's never too late to start. You'll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
Jeffry Life, M.D., Ph.D., has a thriving age-management medicine practice in Las Vegas. His first book, "The Life Plan" will be published by Atria Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, in Spring 2011. For more information, visit his website at www.drlife.com.