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Action Plan for 2017 — and the Rest of Your Life

Story at-a-glance -

  • Most New Year’s resolutions fail. Instead, make a commitment to make healthier choices and live better this year
  • I propose 10 healthy lifestyle changes that can improve your health, including eating an avocado each day, giving up soda, making fermented vegetables and getting three important health tests done
  • Other healthy strategies to incorporate this year include sitting less and moving more, eating more fish, going grass-fed, Peak Fasting, getting eight hours of sleep each night and eating more fiber

By Dr. Mercola

Happy New Year! Have you made any New Year's resolutions yet? About half of Americans make them, but by the time February or March rolls around, many have already abandoned their efforts.

Overall, it's estimated that 92 percent of Americans fail to achieve the goals they commit to on New Year's Day.1 For this reason, I propose making a commitment to simply make healthier choices and live better this year.

Changing your lifestyle is an ongoing process, and not something you can achieve overnight or even in a few weeks. Rather, it's a lifetime plan that you stick with over the long haul.

10 Healthy Lifestyle Strategies to Implement in 2017

Are you ready to start fresh in 2017? Then read on. The 10 positive changes that follow are the crème de la crème of lifestyle strategies that will allow you to live a longer, healthier life, boosting your happiness and well-being all the while.

1. Give up soda

Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, liver damage, osteoporosis and acid reflux are just some of the health conditions linked to soda consumption.

If you're still drinking soda on a regular basis, committing to swapping it for healthier beverages like water, sparkling water and the occasional cup of tea and/or organic black coffee could be one of the most health-promoting decisions of your life.

When you consume soda your body increases dopamine production, which stimulates the pleasure centers of your brain — a physically identical response to that of heroin, by the way. This explains why so many find it difficult to give up their daily soda fix. It can be done though, and you'll feel better for it.

If you struggle with soda or sugar addiction, try Turbo Tapping. Don't make the mistake of switching to "diet" sodas and other artificially sweetened drinks. Research shows these actually wreak the same or worse havoc on your metabolism and health as sugar-sweetened sodas.

Give Up Soda

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2. Eat an avocado every day

Avocados are a rich source of monounsaturated fat your body can easily burn for energy. Because they are so rich in healthy fats, avocados also help your body absorb fat-soluble nutrients from other foods.

Research2 has shown that adding avocado to salad allows your body to absorb three to five times more carotenoids, antioxidants that help protect your body against free radical damage.

Avocados also provide close to 20 essential health-boosting nutrients, including potassium and vitamins E and B (including folate). Avocados have a long list of potential health benefits.

Besides its anti-inflammatory properties, research suggests it can help improve your lipid profile, protect against liver damage and inhibit oral cancer cells. I personally have two avocados a day as they fit in perfectly with optimizing mitochondrial health.

Benefits of Avocado

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3. Make fermented vegetables with family or friends

Fermented foods are potent chelators (detoxifiers) and contain much higher levels of beneficial bacteria than probiotic supplements, making them ideal for optimizing your gut microbiome.

In addition to cutting back on sugar and antibiotics, consuming fermented foods will give your gut health a complete overhaul, helping to clear out harmful microbes and promoting the spread of healing, nourishing microorganisms instead. In so doing, fermented foods may help:

  • Prevent obesity and diabetes
  • Prevent gut and bowel disorders and related diseases
  • Lower your risk for cancer
  • Improve your mood and mental health
  • Prevent acne and reduce dental plaque that can lead to cavities

Just one-quarter to one-half cup of fermented vegetables per day can have a dramatically beneficial impact on your health. You can even start a new tradition by getting together with friends and family to make big batches of fermented vegetables together.

Learn More About Making Fermented Veggies

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4. Donate blood and test your vitamin D and Omega-3 levels

These three may be among the most important yet most frequently overlooked health tests out there, and I recommend doing all of them at least once a year.

Donate blood while anemia is a concern for some, a far greater yet less-recognized health hazard is iron overload. In fact, most adult men and non-menstruating women have damaging levels of iron that, if left untreated, can damage your organs and contribute to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases and many other disorders.

The serum ferritin test measures your stored iron. I recommend adults get a serum ferritin test on an annual basis. Ideally, your serum ferritin should be somewhere between 20 and 80 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL), definitely no higher than 80 ng/mL. As a general rule, somewhere between 40 and 60 ng/mL is the sweet spot for adult men and non-menstruating women.

When you get your results, be sure to check the actual level as most labs use "normal" levels that are FAR too high for good health. If your iron level is above 80 ng/mL, the solution is to donate blood. Once your levels are normal (and you're not a menstruating woman), continue donating blood two to three times a year.

If ferritin levels are over 200 ng/mL, a more aggressive phlebotomy schedule is recommended. Although your local blood bank may not realize this, recent U.S. legislation allows all blood banks to perform therapeutic phlebotomy for hemochromatosis or iron overload. All you need is a doctor's order.

Vitamin D deficiency increases your risk of a wide variety of ailments and chronic diseases, from cold and flu to diabetes, multiple sclerosis, depression and dementia.

The vitamin D test you're looking for is called 25(OH)D or 25-hydroxyvitamin D. This is the officially recognized marker of overall D status and is most strongly associated with overall health. An optimal range is between 40 to 60 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL).

If you live in the U.S., January and February are ideal months to find out if your vitamin D levels are low. As for raising your levels, sensible sun exposure is the ideal way. However, winter and indoor work prevent most people from achieving ideal levels from sunlight alone.

In that case, make sure to supplement with vitamin D3 (not synthetic D2), and increase your vitamin K2 as well, either from food or supplementation.

Omega-3 fats are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) your body needs for digestion, muscle activity, blood clotting, visual acuity, memory and much more. They're particularly important for proper cell division and function of cell receptors.

Low concentrations of the marine animal-based omega-3 fats EPA and DHA have been shown to accelerate cognitive decline and increase your risk of death from all causes. Omega-3 deficiency is thought to be an underlying factor of about 100,000 premature deaths each year.

While there is no set recommended standard dose of omega-3 fats, some health organizations recommend a daily dose of 250 to 500 milligrams (mg) of EPA and DHA for healthy adults.

This is where testing comes in handy. Getting your level tested is the best way to customize your dosage to ensure sufficiency, because requirements for omega-3 vary depending on your lifestyle, such as your intake of fatty fish and level of physical activity.

The test you're looking for is the Omega-3 Index Test,3 which is commercially available from several labs. Your index should ideally be above 8 percent.

If you find yourself lacking, boost your level by eating more cold-water fatty fish that are low in mercury and other pollutants, such as wild-caught Alaskan salmon and smaller fish like sardines, anchovies and herring. If opting for a supplement, krill oil has a number of benefits over fish oil.

Learn More About Optimizing Nutrients

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5. Get more consistent and regular movement into your life

More than 10,000 published studies confirm that sitting is an independent risk factor for illness and premature death. In fact, inactivity carries a mortality risk similar to that of smoking. It's important to realize that your body is designed for near-continuous movement during the day.   

Setting a goal of taking 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day (which is just over 3 to 5 miles, or 6 to 9 kilometers) can go a long way toward getting more movement and less sitting into your life. This should be over and above any exercise regimen you may have. In addition, consider a stand-up desk rather than a regular one if you have an office job.

Learn the Benefits of Walking

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6. Eat more fish

Protein is essential for your health as it's a structural component of enzymes, cellular receptors, signaling molecules and a main building block for muscles and bones. That said, eating excessive amounts of protein could actually be worse than eating too many carbs.

Excessive protein can stimulate biochemical pathways that accelerate aging and cancer growth. For optimal health, I believe most adults need about 1 gram of protein per kilogram of lean body mass (not total body weight), or 0.5 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass.

One way to reduce your protein consumption is to trade out some of your beef for fish. Cold-water fish such as Alaskan salmon and sardines also provide healthy fats, including omega-3. Just be sure the fish is responsibly harvested, wild-caught and not farmed, and is low in mercury and other pollutants.

No matter what type of fish you're considering, look for those that have received Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. This certification assures that every component of the manufacturing process has been scrutinized by MSC and has been independently audited to ensure it meets sustainable standards.

Other labels that signify more sustainable products include Fishwise, which identifies how the fish was caught, where it came from and whether the fish is sustainable or environmentally threatened, and the Seafood Safe label, which involves independent testing of fish for contaminants, including mercury and PCBs, and recommendations for consumption based upon the findings.

Seafood Watch has a searchable database that can help you find sustainable seafood options, and they even offer a Sustainable Seafood app for your smartphone.

Max Omega 3

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7. Go American grass-fed certified

When buying beef, dairy, poultry and pork, make sure it's grass-fed or pastured in accordance to organic standards. Recent research4,5,6 published in the British Journal of Nutrition found clear differences between organic versus conventional milk7 and meat.8 Said to be the largest study of its kind, the researchers analyzed 196 and 67 studies on milk and meat respectively.

Echoing previous studies, the largest difference in nutritional content was its fatty acid composition, certain essential minerals and antioxidants. Organic grass-fed and grass-finished meats are also free of antibiotics and other drugs used in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). With antibiotic-resistant disease being a major public health hazard, buying organic meats is an important consideration.

The Grassfed Exchange has a listing of producers selling organic and grass-fed meats across the U.S., and the Cornucopia Institute's egg report and organic egg scorecard ranks 136 egg producers according to 28 organic criteria. Organic raw dairy sources can be found on Certification by the American Grassfed Association is the highest assurance you can have that the food is authentically raised to the highest standards.

Learn More Grass-Fed Benefits

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8. Start Peak Fasting

One lifestyle factor that appears to be driving not only obesity but also many chronic disease processes is the fact that we eat too frequently. Our ancestors didn't have access to food 24/7, and biologically your body simply isn't designed to run optimally when continuously fed. If you eat throughout the day and never skip a meal, your body adapts to burning sugar as its primary fuel, which downregulates enzymes that utilize and burn stored fat.

Moreover, research has confirmed that many biological repair and rejuvenation processes take place in the absence of food, and this is another reason why all-day grazing triggers disease. In a nutshell, your body was designed to a) run on fat as its primary fuel, and b) cycle through periods of feast and famine. Today, most people do the complete opposite.

Intermittent fasting is a term that covers an array of different meal timing schedules. As a general rule, it involves cutting calories in whole or in part, either a couple of days a week, every other day, or even daily. The key is the cycling of feasting/feeding and famine/fasting. By mimicking the eating habits of our ancestors, who did not have access to food around the clock, you restore your body to a more natural state that allows a whole host of biochemical benefits to occur. 

"Peak fasting" involves fasting for 13 to 18 hours each day and eating all of your meals within the remaining window of six to 11 hours. To make this schedule work, you need to skip either breakfast or dinner. Which one to omit is up to you. However, if you chose to eat dinner, be sure to do so at least three hours before bedtime.

When you're sleeping, your body needs the least amount of energy, and if you feed it at a time when energy is not needed, you end up creating a situation in which your mitochondria create excessive amounts of damaging free radicals. This is another important factor that can help optimize your mitochondrial function and prevent cellular damage from occurring.

Learn More About Peak Fasting

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9. Get eight hours of sleep every night

Sleep deprivation has the same effect on your immune system as physical stress or illness, which helps explain why lack of sleep is tied to an increased risk of numerous chronic diseases.

Sleep is also intricately tied to important hormone levels, including melatonin — a potent antioxidant with powerful anti-cancer activity — which is diminished by lack of sleep. Small adjustments to your daily routine and sleeping area can go a long way to ensure uninterrupted, restful sleep and, thereby, better health. For example, one important factor is to sleep in total darkness.

Recent research reveals being exposed to even dim light during sleep can have adverse effects on brain function and cognition, even after a single night. If you're not sure how much sleep you're getting, a fitness tracker can be beneficial for helping you keep track of the actual time you're asleep (as opposed to the time spent in bed). If you need more sleep, read through my full set of 33 healthy sleep guidelines for details on proper sleep hygiene.

Learn More About Sleep

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10. Eat more fiber

Most Americans need to eat more fiber. A high-fiber diet can help reduce your risk of premature death from any cause, likely because it helps to reduce your risk of some of the most common chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Researchers have also found that short-chain fatty acids produced by bacteria that feed on plant fiber are major epigenetic communicators. In other words, they actually communicate with your DNA, thereby providing protection against disease. 9,10,11

When it comes to boosting your fiber intake, be sure to focus on eating more vegetables, nuts and seeds (not grains). Recent research confirms that in order to work, the fiber must be unprocessed.12,13 Processed supplement fiber such as inulin powder does not provide gut bacteria with what they need.

Organic whole husk psyllium is a great fiber source, as are sunflower sprouts and fermented vegetables, the latter of which are essentially fiber preloaded with beneficial bacteria. Flax, hemp and chia seeds are other excellent fiber sources.

Learn More About Fiber Benefits

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Making a Plan for Life

Remember, most New Year's resolutions fail for one reason or another. So, this year, try making a simple commitment to live healthier from here on out. Start small and go slow, as little changes can make a big overall difference in your health. And, when you commit to a lifestyle, it's no longer about meeting a particular goal, like losing 10 pounds. It's about living a little bit differently, a little bit better, so that ultimately you're happier and healthier for it.