For years, the world pulled the wool over our eyes. U.S. men and women held common misconceptions about physical activity, nutrition, debt, healthcare, and mental health for decades.

Finally, that is changing. As a nation, we are wizening up. A growing number of Americans are prioritizing their physical and mental health more than ever before — and taking the time to learn exactly how it is done.

If you want to put your health first in 2020 but you don’t know how to begin, start here. Start with the tips that follow.

1. Exercise

Study after study proves that exercise is absolutely essential to your physical and emotional well-being. Take a look at just a few of the most compelling statistics:

  • Exercise decreases your risk of heart disease. According to Healthline and a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Higher levels of physical activity were associated with a 21% reduction in coronary heart disease (CHD) events for men and a 29% reduction of CHD events in women.”
  • Regular exercise keeps inflammation at bay. Neglecting your diet and failing to exercise can lead to increases in inflammation. By contrast, participants in a study who walked or jogged for just 20 minutes subsequently reduced their inflammation by a minimum of 5%.
  • It is possible to grow new brain cells with aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise promotes brain cell growth and neuroplasticity. Plus, it reduces the likelihood of age-related brain disease, like Alzheimer’s.

To enjoy the full benefits of exercise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend “at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity” and “muscle-strengthening activities two or more days a week that work for all major muscle groups.” Don’t cheat yourself here. Cleaning the house typically doesn’t work up enough of a sweat to constitute moderate-intensity exercise. Go for a walk, run, go on a bike ride, or swim to reliably get your heart rate up.

2. Go To The Doctor

Unfortunately, too many Americans neglect going to the doctor year after year. It is important to go in for your annual check-up and to pay a visit to your doctor whenever you have persistent or unusual symptoms. For example, if flu symptoms persist for two weeks or more, go to the doctor. Don’t make excuses. Even if it is a weekend, there are resources available to you. Many urgent care centers are open seven days per week. These clinics are open a minimum of four hours per day, even on Saturday and Sunday.

Doing these things is an important part of proactive and/or preventative healthcare. It is much easier to manage your health and make appropriate changes if and when your doctor recommends them than it is to reverse poor health after months or years of dismissing serious illness or injury.

3. Know Your Rights

Of course, if you are going to take a renewed interest in your health and spend more time at the doctor — remember, this is a good thing! — it is important to know about your rights and understand them.

There have been several changes over the years. Many of them are in favor of patients and the average person. For example, new laws make it possible for doctors to share the results of some tests with you over a secure website and/or secure online server. Similarly, telehealth makes it possible for doctors to prescribe necessary medications without an in-person visit. This is essential for elderly patients, patients without reliable transportation, and/or patients who are feeling unwell during the global pandemic.

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) extended HIPAA protections to marketers and call tracking providers starting in 2009. While this potentially gives some marketers access to your health-related information, it also enables you to discuss health insurance and life insurance confidentially over-the-phone with your preferred provider.

4. Mind Your Financial Health As Well

It is becoming all-but-impossible for Americans to continue to ignore their physical health. With stressors all around us, mental health is increasingly becoming part of the mainstream discussion. Even so, many people still fail to understand that financial health should be a priority, too.

Across nearly all generations — millennials, baby boomers, and Gen Xers — 79% to 82% are currently in debt.

The good news is that relatively simple changes around your home or apartment can lead to significant savings and go a long way to help you get your finances back on track. Energy-efficient fixes, like window film, low emission windows, low-flow faucets and showerheads, programmable thermometers, energy-efficient appliances, increased insulation, and draft stoppers can all reduce your monthly heating and cooling bills. Stay on top of critical maintenance, like replacing AC filters, to further drive down your energy bills.

Getting your finances under control significantly reduces stress, which ultimately improves your mental and physical health.

5. Build Your Support System

All of us need a support system, no matter what phase of life we are in, and what challenges we are currently doing our best to overcome. Whether you face challenges at work, in romantic relationships, while parenting, with your mental health or with your physical health, having mentors, friends, and family on your side can make all the difference.

A strong support system or social circle helps fight depression, reduce blood pressure, and increase the overall quality of life.

6. Take Time Off

Whether you are taking time off from work or taking a few hours or day-long break from caring from an aging parent or child with autism, the fact remains that taking time off is critically important.

No matter who you are, no one can possibly do it all. Everyone needs help. Everyone needs a break. Take time off work for sickness. Use your vacation days. Caretakers and/or those in care-taking professions should prioritize self-care and take time to themselves from time to time. Minding your own health and practicing self-care ultimately makes you better able to help others.

7. Trust Your Gut

Finally, trust your gut! Taking on your health can feel like a daunting task. Do whatever feels best for you. If you endeavor to exercise more but hate even minutes on the elliptical, try running outside on trails or dancing instead. The best exercise is the one you will stick to.

If you visit the doctor and he or she dismisses one of your main concerns, do not hesitate to get a second opinion. Doctors themselves often appreciate a second pair of eyes, and they do not take patients seeking a second opinion personally. Don’t assume you’re stuck with unpleasant symptoms like chronic fatigue.

Trust your gut. If something does not feel normal to you, get the answers you need. Obviously, doing this is often best for your physical health. Plus, it is beneficial to your mental health as well. A second opinion can improve your confidence and empower you to stand up for yourself and your health.

Contrary to popular belief, 2020 can absolutely be your year! Make it the year you turn things around by prioritizing your health. Focus on all aspects of your health, including your mental, emotional, financial, and physical well-being.