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17 Health Tips for 2017

Written by  Rick Piester

Every new year is a new beginning, a chance to make positive changes in our behavior, lifestyle, choices and health. Making significant changes, though, is a big undertaking. It’s best to start small, and we all need help. So in that spirit, we’ve assembled 17 quick tips that we hope will make the job a little easier. These tips are not meant to be all-inclusive, obviously, but think of them as a tasting menu on your trip to good health.  

Varicose veins

Those twisty, big, dark blue veins on your legs are unsightly, to be sure, but they can also be painful. One cause is increased pressure on the veins, causing them to enlarge and become misshapen. So if you’re prone to varicose veins, it’s a good idea to avoid strenuous exercise — weightlifting, for example — that will put extra pressure on your legs. You can still exercise in moderation, however, to keep fit and to improve blood circulation. Daily walks are a good idea, along with flexing your ankles and calf muscles. Just stay away from high-impact exercise, such as running or intense jumping.
Sub-Head: Skin care

You’ve heard that it’s wise to avoid overexposure to the sun. But you should remember that when it’s sunny outside, it’s also sunny inside, and staying out of direct sunlight doesn’t fully protect you. Damaging UVA rays travel through the windows of your home, your workplace and your car. UVA rays weren’t considered a problem until recently, because UVB light causes the most damaging sunburns. But scientists have determined that UVA light is carcinogenic. UVA light is what causes the grayish-yellow cast on the skin of older people. The lesson: Unless you spend all your time deep in a cave, wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen all year, rain or shine.

Dental care

Since childhood, we’ve been told to brush our teeth after every meal, at least three times a day. But now dentists know that that’s not quite right. Don’t brush your teeth immediately after every meal, especially if your food or drink was acidic. High-acid foods such as citrus fruits and tomatoes, as well as sports drinks and soft drinks, soften tooth enamel. Brushing your teeth when the enamel is slightly softened can speed up the effects of acid, eroding both the enamel and the layer under it. Better to wait 30 to 60 minutes after eating to brush.

Hair and scalp

You know that gently brushing your hair is a good thing, but giving your hair a light brushing just before you step into the shower can be a big help. It will remove dead skin cells so that they can’t clog hair follicles and interfere with the growth of new hair. Brushing the hair stimulates circulation of the scalp, and it spreads natural oils down the shaft of hairs to moisturize dry ends. But plastic bristle brushes can’t distribute those oils. Invest in a natural bristle brush for best results.

Heart and lungs

You’ve doubtless heard it before, but it’s well worth repeating: If you are a smoker, stop. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. It causes heart disease, stroke, lung disease, osteoporosis, and cataracts, among other ailments. But don’t try to quit “cold turkey.” Smoking is an addiction, so take a little time to prepare. Research methods, such as classes, counseling, medication or hypnosis, that will help you quit successfully. But determine that you are going to quit, and get to work on it.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Healthy heart habits can improve longevity.”

Dave Varma, MD
Augusta Health Cardiology
Fishersville | 540.332.4278

Diet and nutrition

A good general rule to follow when plating food is to fill half of a dinner plate with vegetables (non-starchy veggies such as carrots, Brussels sprouts or asparagus). About a quarter of your plate should be reserved for starchy foods (potatoes, corn, rice or peas), and the remaining quarter should be filled with protein (preferably chicken, fish or beans). Use caution with baked goods and pasta, especially if you have high blood sugar.

  1. Avoid the appeal of ‘fad diets’. Try to focus on sustainable diet modifications and lifestyle changes.
  2. Don’t start “tomorrow” when you can start right now!  Avoid making excuses to start a change later when you can start making changes immediately.
  3. Weight as a number is not always the best representation of your progress toward weight loss goals. Instead, focus on how your clothes fit, your mood and your energy level.
  4. Don’t be bogged down by a few setbacks; remember to keep moving forward.

Katherine Shook, RD
Augusta Health
Fishersville | 540.213.2537

Instead of getting overwhelmed by changing your lifestyle all at once, make one small change each month of the year--such as increasing your servings of vegetables each day in January and walking 10,000 steps each day in May. Keep them up all year, and by the end of the year, you’ll have a brand new you with a brand new lifestyle.

Jane Blosser, MS, RD, CED
Augusta Health
Fishersville | 540.213.2537

“Anyone can lose weight…learning how to keep the excess pounds off after dieting should be your ultimate goal.”

Christina Bove, MD, FACC
Blue Ridge Medical Weight Loss Clinic
Charlottesville | 434.962.2533

Eye care

The hours we spend staring at computer screens can seriously strain our eyes, disturb sleep patterns, and wipe out concentration. Heavy computer use doesn’t damage long-range vision; the eye strain comes from constantly focusing on something that’s about 18 inches away, rather than switching your gaze between objects of varying distances from your eyes, say by looking around a room. So follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, focus on something that is 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

“For the New Year, take special care of your eyes when viewing digital devices, such as your computer, tablet and smartphone by wearing specialized digital contact lenses and eyeglasses that can prevent digital eye syndrome. Also, be sure to wear sunglasses that will protect you from harmful UV rays, especially on ski and snowboarding trips.”

Joseph DiGirolamo, OD
Primary Eyecare
Charlottesville | 434.977.2020


About 15 percent of Americans have hearing loss that is induced by loud work or leisure environments. Any place that is noisy enough to force you to shout so that the person next to you can hear you is an area with a dangerous level of sound. To conserve your hearing, try using earplugs. They are easy to obtain, and you can have them custom made by a local hearing care provider. Otherwise, give yourself about 16 hours of quiet for your ears to recover from about six hours of loud noise.

“You go to the doctor for your yearly physical, the eye doctor for your yearly eye exam. It is also important to get your yearly hearing test.  At Virginia Hearing Group, it's free.”

Karen Klotz
Virginia Hearing Group
Verona | 540.248.1670

Bone and joint care

Your joints may be painful, but don’t be inactive. Sitting at a desk all day or refusing to move around can cause joint pain or make it worse. You need to vary your routine, giving your body and your joints rest as well as activity. If you have to sit for long periods of time, try to remember to get up and move around every couple of hours.


The American Diabetes Association maintains a handy list of ten “superfoods” that are less likely to affect your blood sugar than other foods. The list includes beans, leafy dark green vegetables, citrus, sweet potatoes, berries, tomatoes, fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, nuts and fat-free milk and yogurt. Post a copy of this list on your refrigerator and refer to it when you plan your meals or reach for a snack. Find it at

Mental health

Get a hug and give a hug. It’s fun, and science has learned that hugging releases oxytocin, the hormone that makes us feel good, as well as reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol.


To be sure you remember something important, break the routine around it. For example, if you constantly forget to turn the heat down at night, make a small sign to remind you (write “HEAT” on it) and post it where you are bound to see it — on the steps going upstairs, or on the bathroom counter. Or if you normally keep your car keys in your right-hand pocket, put them in your left-hand pocket to trigger a reminder of something that must be done during the day.

Stomach and digestion

Chewing your food is the first step in proper digestion, so do it thoroughly. Chewing breaks your food down into smaller pieces, allowing saliva and enzymes in your mouth to act on the surface of food to chemically break it down. More chewing creates more surface areas, better enzyme action and better digestion.

“When it comes to colon cancer screening, we often say that no one should die of embarrassment. Colon cancer is both preventable and treatable, if caught early. If you are over age 50 and have not yet had a colonoscopy, discuss your screening options with your doctor.”

David Balaban, MD
Charlottesville Gastroenterology Associates
Charlottesville | 434.817.8484


A constant demolisher of good sleep is losing all of your covers to your bed partner. If that happens to you a lot, or if one of you shivers while the other one sweats, try this: Make the bed with separate sets of sheets. Use one fitted sheet to start. Then top it off with twin-size flat sheets and blankets to match each person’s comfort needs. Don’t worry that it might look weird. You can top the whole thing off with a single comforter when making the bed each morning.

“Make it your New Year's resolution to spend at least eight hours in bed every night. Don't worry if it takes a little time to fall asleep or if you wake up at night. Rest can be almost as beneficial to the body as sleep!”

W. Christopher Winter, MD
Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine
Charlottesville | 434.293.9149


Experts say that it’s important to get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, but what if you’re too busy to find a half-hour? You can break it up into two or three shorter periods of exercise. For example, do ten minutes of strength training in the morning. At lunchtime, take a brisk ten-minute walk. And then after work in the evening, take the dog for a walk, or do another brisk stroll. The combination can help a lot in keeping up your health.

“Replace screen time with green time…Go out for a walk—your heart will thank you!”

Arun Prahash, MD
Augusta Health Cardiology
Fishersville | 540.332.4278


For many years, it was almost standard practice to give babies a dose of acetaminophen (Tylenol, for example) when it was time for their first vaccinations. But now pediatricians are warning against it since research has shown that the medication causes babies’ bodies to produce fewer disease-fighting antibodies, which reduces the effectiveness of the vaccinations. It’s best to give fever-reducing medicine only if a child’s fever is dangerously high, or if doing so has been recommended by your physician.  

Sports physicals

Participating in school or community sports teams is a great way for children to stay in shape, but it’s important that they see a healthcare provider for a sports physical to make sure that their bodies are ready for the season ahead. Most experts say that six to eight weeks ahead of the sports season is the best time to schedule a physical. That way, if the child has a condition that needs treatment, needs to see a specialist or needs any follow-up care, there will be enough time before play starts.

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