New Year's resolutions are typically so singular, self-focused and private. How about making a resolution or two this year that has benefits beyond yourself? Here are some suggestions with lots of links to get you started.
You can help stop the spread of disease. Resolve to get up-to-date on your vaccines. While children have a full slate of vaccines, many adults don't realize they have regular immunization obligations, too. Getting flu, pertussis, human papillomavirus and other vaccines can protect you and help stop the spread of diseases that harm others. Here's a great guide to adult immunizations from the federal government. If the cost of vaccines is an issue, check into free or low-cost immunizations through your county's public health department. Here's a guide to finding your local office. Volunteer with an organization that needs your help. A group called Catchafire matches professionals who wish to volunteer their skills to organizations that need the help — including many important health organizations. The idea is to give great organizations access to top talent while respecting the professionals' schedules and making their volunteer work meaningful. Here's the link. Influence a healthier food climate. Americans spend about half of their food budgets eating out. So we had better demand thorough nutritional information about what we're getting. Under healthcare reform, many restaurant chains will soon carry nutritional information. But the law has loopholes. If you don't see the information you're looking for on salt, fat, calories or other nutrients, ask the restaurant's manager where you can find it. Nutritional information should be easy to access. Until it is, speak up and ask for it. Do your part to keep down healthcare costs. The Affordable Care Act will bring many consumers into the insurance healthcare system for the first time. But that doesn't mean we can ignore the cost of care. Rising healthcare costs remain a huge issue that could drag down the economy and bedevil some reform efforts. You can help by being a wise healthcare consumer. Read your insurance policy and know what it does and doesn't cover. Take advantage of free preventive care services and screening tests under the ACA. Shop around for prescriptions to find the cheapest prices. Ask your doctor for generic equivalents. Finally, use your health savings account if your employer offers one. These accounts provide incentives for using your money wisely, shopping around to find the best healthcare prices and weighing the costs and benefits of certain drugs, tests or procedures. Here's a guide to understanding how HSAs work. Be responsible about the prescription drugs you store at home. You can reduce your own risk of addiction and lower the risk for others, too, if you are careful about medications kept in your home. This year marked a turning point in the nation's epidemic of prescription-drug abuse and addiction. Admissions to addiction treatment centers for use of narcotic painkillers rose 569 percent in the past decade, according to the federal government. More people now die from drug overdoses than from traffic accidents. More than six million Americans abuse prescription drugs, and more than 70 percent of addicts get their drugs through family or friends or by raiding a home medicine cabinet. Dispose of unused medications. The Drug Enforcement Agency operates a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day a few times a year (the next one is in April), that makes it easy to dispose of dangerous substance. Go through your home today and collect unused medications. You can take them to a pharmacy for disposal or even flush them down the toilet. Some drugs carry disposal instructions on the label. Here's information on how to dispose of prescription medications. Be a safe driver. One of the biggest safety issues on the nation's roads these days is driver distraction. A large share of the distractions come from talking on a hand-held cell phone or text messaging while driving. You're 23 times more likely to crash if you text while driving. Most states now prohibit texting while driving, but there are still many people who do it while knowing it's unsafe. Break yourself of this terrible habit. The federal government has a website that provides people with information and tools to discourage distracted driving. Included in this package is a simple pledge sheet you can print out, sign and post on your refrigerator door or bathroom to help you make the commitment. There are a couple of other things you can do, too. Speak out if the driver you're riding with is distracted. Encourage family and friends to drive phone-free. Run a race for the greater good. Who doesn't love a good 5K walk or run? You benefit from the exercise and, if you choose a charity race, others reap rewards, too. There are thousands of charity races each year. Pick one and invite your friends to participate with you. Here's a website to help you find a race. Apply for a grant. There's money out there for doing good. Saucony's Run for Good Foundation aims at preventing child obesity by promoting running as part of a healthy lifestyle for kids. The foundation issues grant money to organizations that want to organize a kids' running group. You can find information on how to apply at the foundation website. Sign a petition. Concerned about flame retardants in consumer products? Gun safety? Funding for research to fight a particular disease? There's probably a petition for that. It's an easy way to make your voice heard. Both change.org and thepetitionsite.com are good places to look to find a petition close to your heart.
Question: What resolutions can you make to help others? Tell us what you think in the comments.
Shari Roan is an award-winning health writer based in Southern California. She is the author of three books on health and science subjects.