Top 10 health tips for 2012

Consumer Reports Magazine: January 2012

Med check
Ring in the new year by safely discarding old drugs you have around your home.
Photo: Getty Images

If the three most popular New Year's resolutions were carried out, we'd all be thin nonsmokers running marathons. But obesity is an epidemic, most Americans don't exercise, and more than 320 billion cigarettes were sold in 2008, the most recent year tracked. But just because bad habits are so hard to overcome doesn't mean we should stop trying. And if the big three have you stymied (or better yet, if you already eat well, exercise, and don't smoke), put these 10 less-daunting tips on your agenda.

1. Review and update your immunizations with your doctor
Adults should be protected against tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, and probably hepatitis A and B. Young men and women should consider immunization against human papillomavirus (HPV). All adults over 60 should be vaccinated against shingles and pneumonia, and everyone should have an annual flu shot.

2. Create or update your living will and name a health-care proxy
You can't predict when you might become incapacitated by an illness or accident. A living will can be instrumental not only in limiting invasive steps that aren't likely to improve your outcome but also in preventing arguments among those close to you about what you would have wanted.

3. Review your medications with your doctor regularly
That includes nonprescription drugs and supplements, too. Such discussions can help ensure you're taking your medications properly and that all of them are listed in your medical record. They can also help identify drugs that you no longer need and that you can stop or take in lower doses.

4. Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or update your training
Knowing what to do until the ambulance arrives can make the difference between life and death for someone close—or a stranger. And approved techniques have become simpler over the years. You can find a class through the American Red Cross or by contacting your local hospital.

5. Donate blood
It's always in short supply, and if you're healthy and not taking a lot of medications, you can donate a pint every two months from age 17 until well up into your 70s. Each pint can save as many as three lives. And don't think that just because you have a common blood type, it's not needed; common types are as essential as rare ones.

6. Support your local volunteer ambulance corps
I have observed the efforts of those valiant men and women many times. Their on-the-scene judgments have been superb, and their use of emergency interventions on the way to the hospital has saved the life of many an otherwise doomed patient. Help them do their good work by volunteering or making a donation.

7. Discard outdated medications
Except for tetracycline, expired drugs generally don't appear to cause harm. But they do become less potent. In particular, throw out any drug more than a year past its expiration date. For tips on how to safely dispose of drugs, go to

8. Carry a medical ID at all times
It can be a medallion or bracelet or just a card in your wallet. Include your doctor's name, an emergency contact, and your medical conditions, medications, and drug allergies.

9. Check batteries in fire, smoke, and carbon-monoxide alarms
And make sure home fire extinguishers are full.

10. View drug ads with skepticism
That goes even more so for dietary supplements. Remember, the sole purpose of any ad is to sell a product. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Marvin Lipman, M.D.

Chief Medical Adviser and Medical Editor

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