12/12/2013 11:14 am ET Updated Feb 10, 2014

Start the Countdown to a New You Now

Unfortunately, the holidays represent a time when most people take a break from their healthy habits. This year, give yourself a gift that will keep on giving after the holidays and into the New Year -- the gift of health and wellness. This can be a jump-start to preventing obesity-related diseases such as diabetes, which currently affect approximately 13.2 percent of the Hispanic population 18 years and older, and heart disease, which continues to be the leading killer of Latinas in the U.S.

Around this time of year, we all need a little help making the right decisions that fit within our lifestyle and culture during holiday celebrations. Rather than see our traditional Hispanic dishes and busy lifestyles as obstacles to success, I'm suggesting some simple steps that are easy to implement, relevant to our culture and cause for celebration.

Nutrition with Sabor -- For an overwhelming number of Latinas, the kitchen is the most important room in the house, and many prefer cooking traditional dishes at home. This is a great way to keep an eye on what you're eating and how many calories you're taking in. Adding more garlic, onions, cilantro or other fresh herbs is a simple way to increase the flavor while keeping your calories low in savory dishes. When it comes to sweet dishes and beverages, low and no-calorie sweeteners are a great way to cut calories without sacrificing taste. More than 6,000 foods and beverages contain low or no-calorie sweeteners, so look for low-calorie versions of your favorite flavors in everything from yogurt to chewing gum to Diet Coke!

Get Active Wherever You Are -- We need to exercise more! Finding the time is the challenge. That's why I propose some simple exercises you can easily do without leaving your house. Remember that any physical movement counts, so try lifting 20-ounce water bottles or soup cans while watching your favorite TV show, dancing while cleaning, or even setting your phone far from reach so you have to run a flight of stairs to answer it. It all counts toward your daily physical activity. Just stay active every day.

For the majority of Latinos, spending time with family is very important, so make sure your time together is active as well. When shopping for presents, pick a few that will keep your family in motion. Jump ropes, medicine balls, and stretch bands are a few inexpensive tools to keep you off the couch. Plan active vacations together were you can incorporate bike riding, playing with animals, swimming, or roller skating, etc.

Take Care of Yourself with Preventative Measures-- As parents, we tend to give love and support to everyone around us leaving no time for ourselves. Remember to schedule a little time for yourself. Reduce daily stress with exercise, friendships, group affiliations, hobbies and laughing. For a special treat, go on a girls' or boys' weekend to any place you can escape with friends; visit aunts, uncles or cousins you have not seen in years ... you will come back with so many great stories! Another way to care for yourself is to see your doctor at least once a year. Prevention is the best way to stay healthy. Your family will thank you forever.

Feliz Año Nuevo!