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Published on December 28, 2015

Dr. Katie’s Top 5 Tips for a Healthier New Year

By Katherine Takayasu, MD

Dr. Katie TakayasuBreast health starts with a healthy lifestyle. In fact, an Italian study of 5,000 women showed approximately 1/3 of all breast cancers were attributed to modifiable risk factors – meaning things we can control! Many people utilize the New Year to start (or restart!) healthy habits. Why wait until January? Here are a few easy steps you can start today to work toward better breast health.

1) Shop the perimeter of the grocery store

Ever notice what’s in the aisles of the grocery store? Processed foods! I advise patients to shop on the perimeter of the grocery store – fresh vegetables, colorful fruits, organic whole grains, wild fish and free-range protein, high-quality organic dairy, organic whole soy, pasture-raised eggs – this is what we should be eating. Multiple studies show that consuming monounsaturated fats like those in extra virgin olive oil, expeller pressed canola oil, avocados, nuts and seeds specifically decrease our risk of breast cancer. Likewise, eat cruciferous vegetables rich in indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphanes – kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bokchoy — because they are anti-cancer too. Think back to what your ancestors ate years and years ago – it wasn’t toaster pastries and cereals! Watch out for foods that come in plastic and cardboard packaging!

2) Don’t drink your calories

Examine your diet for anything you drink that tastes sweet, and then eliminate it. A cup or two of coffee, a glass of milk, a glass of wine, a cup of green tea – all of these are healthy things to drink in moderation. Water is, of course, the most important, and unless our doctor gives you a restriction, most of us need about 2 liters per day. Some of us, however, drink our calories in the form of juice, soda, sports drinks and specialty coffee drinks. Those café mochas taste amazing, but the sugar in them can make our energy plummet quickly and trick our brains into craving more sweetness. Overindulgence in alcohol is also troublesome this time of year, but there is concrete evidence that more than one alcoholic beverage per day increases risk of breast cancer. As my favorite cardiologist says, “It’s one glass a day, ladies, and you can’t save it up!”

3) Move every day

The three most important things we do every day are move, eat and rest. If we don’t do those things well, our health suffers. Our bodies are made to be active, and we feel better when we move. Studies show maintenance of lean body mass and cutting down the abdominal fat decrease our risk of breast cancer. This happens because abdominal fat increases insulin resistance, which indirectly increases free estrogen. Finding the right exercise can be tricky, however. If you can’t get to a gym or take a walk outside, use your daily life to challenge yourself. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park a little further away from the entrance to the store, get off the bus one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way home – these are all easy ways to build in a few extra minutes of movement into your day. It doesn’t matter how we get our daily movement in – in pieces, or all at one time – but it is important that we get our booties moving!

4) Prioritize your sleep

The holidays are an exciting time of year, and there is a lot to get done! Don’t let your sleep suffer. Take at least 30 minutes at the end of the day to begin your relaxation before bed. It’s unrealistic to think you can go-go-go all day long and then just magically fall asleep at 10:30pm. Aim for 7 to 8 hours, and try to keep your sleep cycle consistent. Try to work a “normal” day schedule; studies show an increased risk of disease when we disrupt our circadian rhythms. And it’s okay to take a short rest during the day for 15 minutes as long as it doesn’t impact your ability to fall asleep at night.

5) A little dark chocolate every day is healthy

My favorite chocolate is 85% dark made by Green & Black’s (you can find it at Whole Foods, Fairway, and even Walgreens!). Coupled with a bit of hot green tea, it’s a delightful treat in the mid afternoon. Dark chocolate is primarily made of saturated fat, and that saturated fat is needed in our bodies for proper cell metabolism and lipid production. Many of us who are health conscious actually under-consume saturated fat. What’s great about dark chocolate is that the saturated fat – made of stearic acid – is processed in the body differently than saturated fat found in things like red meat. Find yourself a quiet space, have a few squares of chocolate and sip your anti-oxidant green tea – you’ll be in heaven!

Dr. Katie practices Integrative Medicine at Stamford Health's Center for Integrative Medicine and Wellness.

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