Ask the Expert: What steps can I take to improve my health in 2019?

Health advice from Ascension Michigan.

The New Year is the perfect time to resolve to take steps toward healthier living. Your motivation may be a desire to lose weight or simply a desire to feel better and stronger. Victoria Dooley, M.D., notes that whatever the driving force, the first step to wellness is acknowledging the need for attention to self. "I like to use the acronym of 'STEPS' when counseling patients," notes Dr. Dooley, a family physician with Northville-Novi Family Medicine. "The 'S' is for stress management. The 'T' is for think. The 'E' is for exercise. The 'P' is for partner up, and the 'S' is for see a doctor you trust."

When it comes to the first point of managing stress, Dr. Dooley maintains that women are often the worst offenders. "We take care of everyone except ourselves," she says. "People think they are too busy to exercise, eat healthy and get a good night's sleep. These excuses are harmful to our health, causing many to overeat, drink too much or get sick." Dr. Dooley offers a simple suggestion to combat stress: find something to do that makes you laugh. "When you're happy, your body releases endorphins," she explains. "Those are good for you."

As for her advice to "Think mind, body and spirit," Dr. Dooley stresses that you can't achieve overall wellness by addressing one area of your health while neglecting others. For her part, Dr. Dooley made the decision years ago to prioritize time for prayer and meditation. She is adamant she's a better mother and physician for it. "People tell me all the time that they don't know how to meditate," she says. "My response is 'you know how to close your eyes and focus on breathing in and out, so you know how to meditate.'" Related to exercise, Dr. Dooley stresses that expensive gym memberships are not a necessity. "Doing laundry, walking and taking the stairs all count as exercise," she says. "Just get moving."

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As for "partnering up," Dr. Dooley advises her patients to find a buddy to hold them accountable for their health commitment. "Be careful who you choose, though," she cautions. "You don't want someone negative on your team." And finally, Dr. Dooley strongly encourages people to see a doctor they trust. "So many diseases are preventable with regular doctor's visits," she notes. "Cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure can be prevented. See a doctor when you're healthy, not just when you feel sick." She acknowledges that patients don't always look forward to procedures like colonoscopies, but that the alternative can be so much worse if screenings are skipped and the disease is allowed to progress unchecked.

Dr. Dooley acknowledges the trust factor can be particularly challenging for black men and women who tend to have more trust in physicians who look like them and live in their communities. "Your doctor should know what you are most at risk for given your race," she says, citing higher death rates from all types of cancer among African Americans. "While breast cancer is more common among white women, more black women are likely to die from it. Similarly, black males are more likely to die from prostate cancer. This doesn't have to be the case. See a doctor every year. It's a necessity."

Get more health information and find a doctor near you by visiting Ascension.org/Michigan or calling 866-501-DOCS (3627).

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