10 Experts: Best Ways to Improve Your Health Now

It’s the time of year for a shift, even a small one. We asked 10 experts to give us their advice about the most important changes people can make to get healthier. Many of them offered their own takes on similar tips. Work on making one small change each month, and by next year you’ll be well on your way to feeling better all around.
Illustrations by Pete Ryan


Michael L. Chang, family medicine physician with MemorialCare Medical Group in Laguna Hills

“Heart disease or heart ailments are what we pass away from most in America. So the biggest way to prevent that, in my opinion, is a healthy diet. And I hate to say the word ‘diet,’ but it’s all about a change in their food lifestyle. … I do like the Mediterranean diet. It includes lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, a handful of nuts. These types of choices can reduce high blood pressure and reduce the risk of strokes, cancer, even the risk of dementia. It doesn’t have to be one big step. Just start increasing fruits and veggies. Decrease sugars and processed foods. The trick is to slowly start incorporating things that will benefit you. I do think it’s OK to cheat maybe once a week or every other week, but everything has to be in moderation. You know, I like In ‘N Out every now and then, too! But for regular meals, I’d say ¼ cup of whole grains, a single small portion of lean meat, and then half your meal should be fruits and veggies. This is the thing I try to emphasize because it’s probably the strongest medication that (people) will ever get—if they’re going to follow it.”

Photograph by Monika Grabkowska

Karen Lindsay, registered dietician nutritionist UC Irvine’s Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute

“Nutrition is really important not just for physical health, but also for mental health. There is this movement for nutritional psychology, which explains how the food that we eat helps regulate our emotions and mental health and might be able to help mitigate mental health diseases as well. I think that connecting to our food and the true origins of it—how it’s grown and the whole process of getting from the land to your plate—helps us connect to nature. I’m a big proponent of farmers markets and getting to know the farmers. You really get to appreciate the journey of the food getting to your plate. Having gratitude for the food and all the steps that brought it to you helps nourish our bodies and also our mind and our soul. We’re learning a lot more now about the nutrients that are deficient in many people that might (be a cause of) mental health disorders and how nutrition can help cure or support them. Magnesium is usually a big one that many of us are deficient in, and it’s really important for stress regulation. Many B vitamins as well and then also the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E. They can help reduce inflammation in the body and oxidative stress, which in some cases might be involved in depression.”



Diana Sutcliff, physical therapist and co-owner of Impact Rehabilitation Center in Orange

“The goal is to get your heart rate going at a moderate pace for 30 minutes at least three to four times a week. Walk, swim, go for a bike ride; do whatever motivates you—but be careful not to do anything too heavy or repetitive. Too much weight or doing the same move over and over again can cause problems. More is not necessarily better. Whatever activity you choose, start slow and work your way up if you haven’t previously exercised. It’s important not to go to the extreme because then you have to come see us. … Most people don’t stretch enough. It’s really a good idea to stretch daily, each part of your body to stay flexible. They say sitting is the new smoking. But don’t stretch when you’re cold. Better to do it after you’ve warmed up.”


Andrew Watson, fitness manager, 24 Hour Fitness in Costa Mesa

“A big change someone can do right away to make an impact on their health and fitness is just moving every day and making a habit of it—even if it’s five minutes. Think of movement and exercise like brushing your teeth. It would be weird if you went four or five days without brushing your teeth, right? Exercise should be the same. As you get comfortable doing five minutes, you can build up to 10 minutes, then up to 30, then up to an hour. Taking a walk, doing a few pushups against the counter in the kitchen, maybe a few squats—anything just to get you moving.”

Photograph by Nathan Cowley

Dipti Itchhaporia, interventional cardiologist and director of disease management at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach

“I think that the most important thing is to develop an attitude of good health and say that you’re going to be as healthy as possible. If you develop that mindset, then there are three things that come from that: exercise; eat healthy; and sleep. It is very basic. Exercise, that is probably the biggest (thing). One, it is a great stress release. Two, there is significant data that if you do 30 minutes of cardio exercise five days a week, you cut your cardiac mortality by 15 percent, and that is better than any pill anybody could ever give you. It is the consistency of exercise that makes the difference. So just exercising regularly, daily, will make a big difference. The most common reason people don’t exercise is they say they don’t have time. The reason is because activities of daily living get in the way. But if you get up in the morning and the first thing you do is exercise, well then, it is much easier to do. Kind of like us getting up in the morning and saying we’ve got to shower. You get it done, and you’re done with it.”



Alan Gonzalez, dentist at Newport Beach Dental Associates

“As much as I know people don’t look forward to visiting their dentist, prevention and checkups are less costly and invasive than treating problems that can arise later. Be sure to floss every day, because that’s where we see the cavities, between the teeth. When people have chronic dental issues, it lowers their immune system. Now is the worst time to have immune system problems. I’ve had patients where we fix their mouths—they had infections or inflammation and low-grade fevers—and then they feel better all around and have more energy.”


Bruce Tammelin, director of at Mission Sleep Disorders Institute at Providence Heritage Medical Group

“When we see patients who have difficulty sleeping, we educate them about sleep hygiene; the bedroom needs to be dedicated to sleeping—not eating, not watching TV—so that from a Pavlovian point-of-view, when you enter the bedroom, you always feel sleepy. Avoidance of light is a big issue. Bright light lowers your melatonin levels. There was a study where blind people could be awakened by shining a bright light on their legs or arms. Other things that can disturb sleep include certain medications, alcohol, caffeine, sleeping with a pet, and if your partner has a sleep disorder. My biggest tips would be to eat dinner at least four hours before bed, and to always go to sleep and wake up at the same times every day. We refer people to the sleep center when we think they have a significant sleep disorder like restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea. Something that a lot of people might not know is that getting up at night to urinate more than twice is also an indicator of sleep apnea. Because when you stop breathing, you get a discharge of adrenaline, which is a natural diuretic.”


Surdarsan Kollimuttathuillam, medical oncologist and hematologist at City of Hope Huntington Beach and City of Hope Irvine Sand Canyon

Photographs by Gary Barnes

“Protecting your skin from the sun begins before you even step outside. When getting dressed, choose a dark, tightly woven fabric instead of a lighter color fabric. The sun’s UV rays increase the risk of skin cancer, and they easily penetrate an ordinary white cotton T-shirt, and even more so if it’s wet. Wearing sun protective clothing when you are going to be outdoors is essential, and some hats or shirts even have a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating. Garments with a UPF rating of 25 or more block around 96 percent of the sun’s rays; and unlike sunscreen, you don’t have to reapply!”



Charles Golden, vice president and executive medical director of CHOC’s Primary Care Network

Photograph by Ron Lach

“Obviously, over the last few years, we’ve had one of the most traumatic experiences that we’ve gone through as a population, in the form of a pandemic. And the world has just been kind of crazy, whether it’s politics or social discourse or the way people treat each other on social media. It’s been a pretty hard place for kids, particularly teenagers. Adolescence is always a difficult time from a mental health perspective. There’s a lot of growth during that time, and mental health disorders tend to be prevalent in adolescents, but they are only diagnosed about a third of the time. As a result, we’re seeing awful suicide rates in that age group. Now, more than ever, it’s very important for parents and families to have open lines of communication, established family time, and rules around social media use and screen time. We need an open dialogue around mental health because the stigma is a major problem. Every outpatient clinic at CHOC is moving to a place where we’re going to be screening our patients for depression at least once a year because early intervention is so important.”


Matthew Reed, psychiatrist at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach

“(It’s important for people to) reconnect. That’s one thing the pandemic really did was limit people’s ability to connect to their support systems and loved ones. When the pandemic hit, we saw an increase in relapses from a wide range of substance abuse disorders. We saw a spike in depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation as well. When you’re isolated and alone, you’re stuck in your own thoughts. You’re not able to get the support and the reality check that things are OK. Without that, it can be a spiral downward. We’re social creatures; we’re not really meant to be isolated from one another. When you look at teens, that’s where we really see increased rates of suicidal thinking, depression, and anxiety. So getting back into the groups, sports, and activities that they typically had done on a social level (is important). Some of that is just coming back online by itself, and some of it needs a bit of a nudge. (For adults), joining any kind of group that brings them joy in their life—if it’s outdoors, sports, exercise groups—those things that people previously did or hadn’t done but now they’re feeling down and need to start reengaging with others.”

Facebook Comments