Health Features

Looking Better, Living Better

Each morning as we brush our teeth, we mentally review the tasks that will take us through the day. And on Jan. 1, we face the weighty need to develop strategies for a whole year. Better physical and mental health are the daunting themes of most people’s New Year’s resolutions, but even modest steps can launch your journey toward feeling and looking more vital.

better eats
Three simple words can make a world of difference in your physical well-being over the coming year: fruits, vegetables and sugars. In the case of fresh edibles, think ‘more.’ And with sugar, think ‘less.’

“I was at a health fair where people were talking about extreme restricted diets, but that’s not the way to create healthy, lifelong habits,” says Jennifer McDaniel, a registered dietitian and owner of McDaniel Nutrition Therapy. “Start small and be realistic; eat more vegetables and fruits. Fresh produce reigns supreme when it comes to improving your diet.”

The next important step is making fresh items accessible at home, she says: “When I return from the grocery store, instead of stuffing all my vegetables into refrigerator drawers, I wash and put them in clear containers on a middle shelf. We eat three to five times more produce when it’s not hidden.” So what are the best fresh foods to choose?

“Items that are in season taste better and are cheaper,” McDaniel says. “Still, any type of produce can fit into your diet. Most people think of fresh produce as being healthier, but frozen products prepared correctly are a great alternative when you need something quick. Canned produce has a place, too. Vegetable soups are a good, low-maintenance choice.”

McDaniel says we can train our taste buds to crave produce rather than salty or sweet snacks.”I teach my children to moderate,” she notes. “I put the cookies out of sight and place nutritious items in the freezer or refrigerator. Research has shown that we can get our brains to crave healthy food if we see and eat it often enough.”

Demonizing ‘unhealthy’ foods actually is not helpful, McDaniel cautions. “When we put restrictions on those items, we tend to crave them more,” she explains. “Life should not be full of donuts and candy, but we can figure out how to enjoy small amounts occasionally.”

subtract sugar
Sugar-busting is another major point of emphasis in the nutrition world. “One of my top tips for clients is paying attention to added sugar,” says dietitian and nutritionist Amy Knoblock-Hahn, Ph.D., owner of Whole Food Is Medicine. “Research shows that added sugar leads to inflammation-related conditions like heart disease and obesity. Obvious sources are candy, cookies and soda, but it also can be found in places you don’t expect, like salad dressing.”

Some foods, of course, are naturally sweet. So are they loaded with sugar, too? Yes, but it’s not a problem because natural foods also contain helpful nutrients, says Knoblock-Hahn. “Fruit comes with healthful vitamins and fiber,” she notes.

Food labels are being revised to help consumers track added sugar. “New health guidelines tell us we should limit it to 36 grams per day,” Knoblock-Hahn says. “That’s the equivalent of one can of regular soda. Getting rid of obvious sources of sugar is a good start.” She says we also should take a look at foods we eat daily that we think are healthy. Common culprits are yogurts, soups and cereals that appear to be healthful because they are made with vegetables, fruits or whole grains.

relax and unwind
Stress is another thing we should try to give up in the new year. Total abstinence seems unlikely, but we can avoid much of it. “Life is more stressful than ever,” says Diane Sanford, Ph.D., a psychologist at the Midwest Mind Body Health Center. “Most people don’t learn stress-fighting skills as they’re growing up. We are so distracted and tuned out with social media and cell phones that our ability to reflect and problem-solve is compromised. We can’t lead our lives as usual and just expect stress to go away on its own.”

But we can seek relief when it starts to interfere with our lives, Sanford notes. “Research indicates that people spend 80 percent of their time worrying about the future, 20 percent regretting the past and very little enjoying the moment,” she says. “The present is where you can find the most joy and satisfaction.”

Sanford advises modifying your habits to reduce negative, self-critical thinking. “I tell patients about a calming technique called STOP for when your mind starts to get carried away,” she says. “It stands for ‘Stop, Take a breath, Observe and Proceed.’ Think about something positive like a loved one, a memorable experience or a wonderful vacation.”

Maintaining reasonable expectations is another critical anti-stress factor. “In a new year, we get hyper-focused on how great we think life should be,” Sanford says. “It’s helpful to redirect our attention to what we can control and turn it into a positive, pleasant experience. Appreciate a sunny day, flowers blooming, snow falling, even the scent of soap in the shower. Mindfulness is as simple as bringing deeper attention and sensory awareness to things you already are doing.”

work it out
Exercise is another top stress-buster. “The best activity for most people is walking,” says Andy Hayes, fitness manager at the Jewish Community Center. “It’s very low-intensity, so you can do it frequently enough to develop a habit, especially if you are new to regular exercise. And you can do it anytime, anywhere—at a gym or community center, in your neighborhood or at the mall.”

Walking is easily scalable, according to Hayes. “You can start slowly and build up from there,” he says. “After two or three weeks, you may find yourself wanting to do more. Introduce something new, like strength training. Once your body is used to a faster heart rate, you can exercise more and stay in that elevated state longer.”

Hayes adds that exercise and mindfulness practices complement each other well. If you’re tired of cold, dark days, take a lunchtime walk and use the time to reflect. “Even when it’s cold, you still can go for an enjoyable walk if you layer up and wear gloves and a warm hat,” he says.

looking and feeling good
Never before have so many people lived so long. Because of that, baby boomers are becoming more interested in defying the effects of aging, says Dr. Richard Moore, cosmetic surgeon and medical director of The Lifestyle Center and The Edge for Men. “A segment of the population goes to the gym regularly to maintain good health and appearance,” he notes. “Others are less active but still want to maintain their looks.”

Whatever your age, gender or activity level, Midwest winters demand proactive skin care in addition to exercise. “In cold weather, we need antioxidant vitamin serum and moisture creams for our faces and bodies,” says plastic surgeon Dr. Michele Koo, who practices in Kirkwood. “The added layer of protection helps skin cells repair damaged collagen, and increasing elastin production helps skin plump up and become firmer. This is particularly true in the 35-plus age group as skin cell efficiency begins to decline.”

Diligent skin care can ward off winter damage and foster a springlike glow, Koo adds. “When skin is appropriately cared for with gentle cleansers and the right medically based products, the overall look is dewy, healthy and fresh,” she says.

guys just wanna have fun
Midwestern men have been slower to board the cosmetic bandwagon than their east and west coast counterparts, according to Moore, but early adopters are visiting practices like The Edge for Men in increasing numbers. “We do a lot of body sculpting for men,” he says. “They especially like noninvasive procedures because there is no down time and they can continue to go to the gym. They also are using anti-aging treatments like neuromodulators, dermal fillers and microneedling to target skin quality, promote collagen growth and firm their facial skin.”

Men also are looking for help with hair issues, according to Moore. Some want laser body hair removal, and others need to add volume up top, he notes. “About 86 percent of men and 40 percent of women experience thinning hair,” Moore notes. His practice features the ARTAS iX Robotic System, which uses a computer-guided robot arm, stereoscopic imaging and artificial intelligence to identify and pluck healthy hair follicles from the back and sides of the head and replant them where hair has thinned. It’s a permanent solution, according to Moore.

Another emerging issue for aging gents is hormonal imbalances that can cause conditions like sexual dysfunction. Moore says to focus on optimizing testosterone levels. The ‘normal’ range is broad, so patients should check with a doctor to find out how healthy levels can be achieved.

did you know?
15.7 million minimally invasive cosmetic treatments are done in the U.S. each year.

winter products and procedures
Once the bustling holidays are in the books, there’s more time to think about improving the appearance of your skin, hair and body. Whether you envision yourself with slimmer thighs, smaller pores, fewer wrinkles, more hair (or less), there are procedures that can help. Here’s a look at some popular products and treatments and what they cost.

>> Dr. Koo Skincare Gloss vitamin serum for antioxidant replenishment. COST: $130
>> Dr. Koo Skincare Rejuvenate retinol cream to smooth skin and minimize wrinkles and pores. COST: $65-$150
>> Dr. Koo Skincare Glow treatment for pigment control and sun damage repair. COST: $65-$150
>> Neuromodulators such as Botox and Dysport. COST: $280-$810
>> Noninvasive fat reduction (Coolsculpting). COST: $1,481
>> Injectable dermal fillers. COST: $550-$1,645
>> Skin resurfacing treatments. COST: $1,575 – $3,275
>> Microneedling. COST: $200-$700
>> Laser hair removal. COST: $283
>> Hair transplantation. COST: $4,000-$15,000