A new year is an opportunity for a fresh start.

As the calendar flips to 2016, we can examine our lifestyles and make a few simple commitments to better dieting, exercise, and stress management.
Fad diets come and go. This week’s bestseller is next week’s table prop.

Wellness and healthy living boil down to a few timeless truths—good nutrition, exercise and avoiding unhealthy habits. Here are five steps to a healthier you:
1. Eat the right things.
Start by making sure half of your dinner plate is filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. Fill one quarter with whole grains (try brown rice or corn). Leave the other quarter for a healthy protein like fish or chicken. Be sure to have a daily dairy serving (skim milk, almond milk, or yogurt). Drink five to eight glasses of water daily.

Make fruits and vegetables a mainstay of your diet. Eat one fruit or vegetable of each color of the rainbow. The old adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” is true. In addition to being a healthy food, the skin of a red apple contains 10,000 cancer-fighting phytochemicals. Berries help lower cholesterol and eating in-season fruit provides powerful antioxidants.

2. Avoid the junk food.
Common food pitfalls are often avoided by preparing fresh foods at home and not eating out so much. It takes a little time, but you will save money and improve your health at the same time. Instead of a sugary snack, eat fresh fruit. Steer clear of trans fats, often found in bought baked goods. Processed foods designed for a long shelf life have unhealthy preservatives.

3. Exercise daily.
Some statistics show 60 percent of the country lives a sedentary lifestyle, meaning they take fewer than 4,000 steps a day. Walking 4,000 to 9,000 steps bumps you into the moderately active category, but ideally, we want to hit 10,000 steps a day. This will not happen by accident. Logging 10,000 steps is the equivalent of walking five miles a day. To reach this mark, you must devote one hour each day to planned exercise.
Maybe it’s the convenient technology, but our society has grown far too comfortable with the couch or desk chair. Some studies show a sedentary lifestyle can be just as dangerous for your heart as smoking. The weather is getting warmer and there’s never a better time to get into a daily habit of walking, jogging or swimming.

4. Kick harmful habits.
It’s no secret that smoking is dangerous. Cigarette manufacturers have been forced to print the health risks on packs for years. While smoking not only opens the door for cancer bouts, it causes unnecessary heart strain and greatly boosts the likelihood of heart disease. Consider taking a smoking cessation class. Kicking your tobacco habit will greatly enhance your health.

5. Manage your stress.
Don’t skip this last one. Managing stress is pivotal for ideal health. With technology at our fingertips, stress seems inescapable, but we have to
find time to relax. The first step is identifying your stress. Once you’ve identified it, indulge yourself in something that removes your mind from the stress.

I enjoy hunkering down with a good book. My husband likes to laugh at funny television shows. Whatever your calming method, carve out time each day to relax.

Exercise is the best stress-management technique. Working out kills two birds with one stone —you can burn calories and work off some frustration.
When it comes to health, exercise is the nearest we have to a magic bullet. Increasing your exercise also requires letting your body rest. A good eight hours of sleep a night does wonders for the body.

Whether you are a long-time fitness advocate or just trying to shed a few pounds, making some simple changes can radically improve your short- and long-term health. Eating right, avoiding junk food, exercising daily, quitting dangerous habits and managing stress will make you feel better.

By Beckie Hunt, RN,
Centra Medical Group Stroobants Cardiovascular Center