Prioritizing Your Health Resolutions: What Should You Do First?

New Life vs Old Life decision

We get advice constantly on what to do to improve health. Often, it’s based on a new study making headlines, sometimes it’s from a new book that has come out. Friends and family share what has worked for them, and what hasn’t. Worst of all, the advice is sometimes contradictory – even from the recent studies.

Knowing whom to believe is tough enough. But even when the advice is consistent and comes from respected sources, it’s difficult to know how important it is to follow the advice you hear.

Making changes in behaviors is hard, and it would be helpful to be able to prioritize the changes you want to make. One way to prioritize is by how hard something is to do – but that’s an individual assessment. Another way of doing so is by how much benefit you can get by making the change. This is where the RealAge Test can be helpful. 

After you take the RealAge Test, you will get a set of recommendations about what behaviors are helping you, and about behaviors that you can change that can help you more. Your results are listed so you can immediately see what you can change that can make a benefit in your health – then come back after making the change to see how it has affected your RealAge.

As an associate professor of medicine, I often discuss with the students and residents I work the expected benefits of the treatments we recommend. They are usually as surprised as I was to see the enormous benefits from lifestyle. I noted in an earlier blog that smoking can make your RealAge up to 8 or 10 years younger, and regular exercise can also improve make RealAge years younger as well.

How does this compare to standard recommendations about screening tests? How much younger do you get from getting regular mammograms? From a Pap smear? From a colonoscopy? The research done by me and the RealAge science team confirmed the estimates published in the literature. The answers surprised us – it’s between one and a few months, depending on how old you are and how much risk you have. (PSA testing has almost no measurable benefit of RealAge, since the effect of PSA testing in men has only a very small benefit at the population level. With screening tests, most people get no benefit, but one person out of hundreds or thousands screened will have a big benefit.

In contrast, the changes you make from improving your health choices can have big benefits for you – and they begin immediately. Finding the easiest change psychologically for you can be a great way to start, because good behaviors tend to reinforce each other. Make a commitment to 10 minutes of weight lifting a day, or 30 minutes two or three times a week, and you may find it a lot easier to eat better, and then the weight and waist size come down. All of those can bring down blood pressure and cholesterol, and every one of these changes makes your RealAge younger.

Next week, I’ll finish up this set of blogs by discussing how you can use the RealAge Test – and the great content you find on DoctorOz.com and Sharecare – as a way of improving communication about these issues with your medical provider. And take the test, if you haven’t already.