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New Year, New You: 5 Health Resolutions That Are Easy to Keep

01/06/2013 11:05 am ET | Updated Mar 09, 2013

New Year's Eve brings to mind NYC's Times Square, noisemakers and bubbly, but what a difference a day can make. The month of January signifies a fresh start, complete with a new perspective and for many, New Year's resolutions. All right, for some it may have looked a little more like a hangover-filled day spent on the couch. But were you one of the many people who made a New Year's resolution this year?

Resolutions can get a bad rap. They often aren't specific enough, making them unrealistic and unattainable. But the notion of aspiring to be better is to be commended. Self-improvement shouldn't be dismissed as "all or nothing." You're more likely to stick with your goals if you set gradual benchmarks. When it comes to establishing a healthy lifestyle, small changes can make a big difference. For example, if you want to lose weight, create a weekly weight loss goal, in addition to your final target number. Don't give up even if there are weeks in which you don't lose any weight. Establish ways to hold yourself accountable: Track and measure your progress with apps or create a journal outlining your goals and the steps you're taking to achieve them.

These five resolutions are so easy to resolve to keep, they risk giving New Year's resolutions a new reputation. An added plus: They also happen to be kidney-friendly.

  1. Avoid unnecessary painkillers. Pain medications provide pain relief (maybe you even relied on them to nurse your post-NYE hangover), but it's important to balance the potential benefits with the risk of dangerous side effects, such as kidney damage, fluid retention, increased blood pressure, and digestive issues. Think twice before you reach into your medicine cabinet and check both prescription and over the counter (OTC) drug labels to evaluate the risks and benefits before taking a particular medication.

  • Quit smoking (or never start). Many bars and restaurants across the country are smoke-free. It's getting cold out, making it the perfect time to save yourself the trip outside while bettering your health. In addition to causing lung diseases and cancer, smoking acts as an accelerator for any disease that you may have. Smoking reduces blood flow to the kidneys and can also interfere with medications used to treat high blood pressure, reducing their effectiveness. Quitting can be difficult, but it is one of the most important lifestyle changes that you can make. For additional resources and tips on how to quit, visit the National Kidney Foundation.
  • Sit less and stand more. In case you missed it, recent research has linked sitting for eight hours or more a day with developing kidney disease, as well as a host of other chronic conditions. This rings true even in otherwise physically-active people. Sitting for that length of time is typical for the average desk job, but most of us go way beyond that. We sit on the couch, while driving, while riding the bus, and during dinner, just to name a few! While sitting is mandatory for some activities, get creative and expand your comfort zone when it's not. The human body was designed to be upright, but in modern society sometimes we need to help it out. Consider a standing desk and standing while talking on the phone.
  • Catch more Zzzs. Hit the sack earlier to make sure you're getting enough sleep each night. Studies suggest that irregular sleep patterns, eating before going to sleep and not getting enough sleep are all linked to obesity, while getting enough sleep is linked with maintaining a healthy weight. Sleep health is 50 percent habit and 50 percent fatigue. Obesity can cause kidney disease, because the kidneys have to work harder to filter out toxins and to meet the metabolic demands of the increased body mass index (BMI) in obese individuals. When it comes to a good night's rest, most people require about seven hours. Cuddle up and snooze your way to a healthy weight. (Okay, I would be remiss if I didn't also encourage you to incorporate healthy eating and exercise routines alongside better sleeping habits.)
  • Get organized. It's helpful to make a checklist. Organize one "room" or aspect of your life at a time. When it comes to your health, tackle your medical records and lab documents. There are many apps that can help you keep track of all recent doctor's visits, test results and immunizations. A trusty file cabinet will also do the trick. Don't forget to clean out your medicine cabinet -- expired medications and ointments have a way of lingering around. Make a list of all the medications you're taking, including vitamins, supplements and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. Share it with primary care practitioners and specialists alike. Some medications are kidney-toxic. It's important for your health care providers to determine if any medications and supplements could interact with one another in negative ways. Doses of drugs can change as you age or your kidney function declines.
  • For more by Leslie Spry, M.D., FACP, click here.

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