Taking Control of Your Health
Wellness is about living healthy and strengthening yourself so you can enjoy the things you love most -- family, friends, hobbies, work. To achieve your health care goals, you need to make long term commitments to your own health and in acknowledging yourself as a whole person. Practicing healthy behaviors not only improves your health in the short term, but it can lower your risks of illness in the future. When thinking about how you can maintain or improve your overall health, consider: healthy eating, sleep and restfulness, exercise and activity, work/life balance, socialization, faith and intellectual growth and challenge.
We can't always prevent the injuries or illnesses that befall us, but we do have choices we can make everyday to protect our health. The most important part of developing healthy habits is not only gaining knowledge about what to do, but is actually doing them. As we all know, that’s the tough part. Your health goals should be an important focus in your life and NOW is the best time to begin.
These are some helpful reminders:
Schedule an annual visit with your primary care provider and have check-ups when things "just don’t feel right." Communicate openly about how your feel, any changes you notice in both your physical and mental health, your daily routine or habits and your medications and supplements.
Be sure your doctor watches your blood pressure and does comprehensive blood work including blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Monitoring your blood pressure and, if it is elevated, treating it, is likely the biggest difference you can make in your vascular health. Maintaining a blood pressure of less than 135/85 is ideal according to the American Heart Association (AHA). If you ever have symptoms such as heart palpitations or shortness of breath, be sure to consult with your doctor. Having high blood sugar can damage blood vessels and make clots more likely to form, but diet, exercise and medicines (if necessary) can help keep your blood sugar within the recommended range. The American Diabetes Association advises keeping blood sugar levels before meals between 80–130 mg/dl and your levels one to two hours after meals under 180. According to the AHA desirable total cholesterol level for adults without heart disease is less than 200 mg/dL. An HDL cholesterol level of 60 mg/dL and above is considered protective against heart disease. LDL cholesterol levels should be less than 100 mg/dL. (Levels of 100 to 129 mg/dL are acceptable for people with no health issues, but may be of concern for those at risk for heart disease).
Make sure you are current on your immunizations and any recommended cancer screenings. (Mammograms, Pap and HPV tests, colonoscopies, prostate exams, mole and skin checks…Remember, it is best to get your annual flu shot early in the fall.
Visit your dentist every six months. Maintaining tooth and gum health is important to your overall health (and especially your heart health) so don’t just visit the dentist when there is a tooth emergency. Be sure to have a thorough dental exam and cleaning appointment every 6-12 months.
Get your eyes checked at least every two years. A comprehensive eye exam including dilating your pupils can determine your risk for major eye diseases, some which have no early warning signs or symptoms. An eye exam also can ensure that your prescription for contacts or eyeglasses is up to date. Protect your eyes by wearing polarized sunglasses that block harmful UV rays.
Eat healthy and exercise -- Balanced nutrition and exercise can help prevent and treat some conditions including heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol and diabetes. Consider your intake of salt, fats and sugar, watch portion sizes and concentrate your diet on fruits, lean proteins and vegetables. Exercise can also help treat depression, osteoporosis and high blood pressure. People who exercise also get injured less often. The AHA recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes or rigorous exercise per week. The easiest way to get some exercise is to walk 30 minutes a day/5 days a week.
Protect your joints -- Weight training exercises help build muscle and keep your muscles and surrounding ligaments strong so that your joints will not have to do all the work. Exercises that strengthen your core (chest, back and abdomen) can help you keep your balance and prevent falls.
Protect your skin -- Sun exposure is linked to skin cancer, the most common type of cancer in the US so limit your time in the sun and be sure to wear protective clothing, hats and sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or higher. Polarized sunglasses can protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. And be sure to stay away from tanning booths! It is important to visit your dermatologist annually for a skin cancer check.
Get Proper Sleep – Lack of sleep affects your mood, stress level, memory and ability to focus. Growing evidence shows lack of sleep can increase risk of infections, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. If you are not sleeping well or wake up often during the night, do not ignore the symptoms, set up an appointment with your physician to discuss how to improve your sleep and to rule out serious conditions such as sleep apnea.
Don’t smoke and limit your alcohol -- Men should have no more than 2 drinks a day. Women should have no more than 1 drink a day (one drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor.) Moderation is Key and Smoking Kills.
Complete your Advance Directive and Health Care Proxy documents – It’s never too early to be prepared. An Advance Directive is a legal document that enables you to establish your wishes for medical treatment. This is critical if you are too ill to vocalize your preferences concerning treatments such as resuscitation, tube feeding or breathing machines…or even your desire to donate your organs. A Health Care Proxy is a document that names the person whom you trust to make decisions for you, in the event you are unable to do so. Please be sure these important documents are completed and shared with your physician and loved ones.
To truly take control of your health, it is important to:
- Consider all the dimensions of your life: physical, intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual
Own your risky behaviors
Determine how you can make improvements
Set specific and accountable goals with time frames
Ask others to support you
Setting your Goals and Aligning your Resources
It can be confusing to sort through the information that bombards us daily about wellness. And yet, by listening to our bodies, speaking with our friends, family and medical providers, it becomes possible to determine our priorities and set specific goals and time frames. It is always wise to discuss these goals with your primary care physician requesting input and feedback. Also, ask those around you including your physician, family and friends to help support you in your wellness efforts. Wellness is a lifelong commitment and takes intention and commitment.
Setting good health as a personal priority may require a change in long term habits, attitude and mindset. It is important to be realistic and ask yourself what you can commit to doing in order to achieve a more healthy lifestyle. If you have what seems to be a monumental goal, try breaking it down into smaller, more attainable ones over a period of time. Instead of being discouraged, remember the Chinese proverb, “The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” The important thing is to begin: you are worth it.
There are many qualified resources on the Internet to learn about topics encouraging healthy lifestyle choices such as exercise, nutrition, stress reduction, smoking cessation, drug, opioid or alcohol abuse, sun safety, sleep, relaxation, meditation and coping skills as well as how to create a wellness plan. Often small changes to your daily habits can mean substantial improvements to your overall health and quality of life. Armed with the right knowledge, attitude and tools anything is possible; even so, proactively improving and maintaining your health requires an open mind, patience, commitment and conviction. Remember, as Dr. Florence Gelo, Drexel University Professor of Medicine tells us, "What matters to people is having a doctor who cares and who treats them as a whole person." It is our job to use this whole person construct to help our providers help us in maximizing our personal health care journey. The Health-E³ Wellness Plan Worksheet that follows is a tool to help you assess your current status as well as identify areas that would benefit from attention.
Issues to consider as you develop a wellness plan:
How healthy and strong do you feel?
What are your behaviors in terms of exercise, nutrition/diet, sleep, stress reduction, social interaction?
Are you making exercise a habit by setting up a time each day to be active, whether that be going to the gym for a strenuous workout or simply taking a walk with a family member or friend at lunch, after dinner or early in the morning? (Often it helps to exercise with someone to stay motivated.)
Are you maintaining a healthy weight? Can you reduce your portions? Is your diet rich in fruits and vegetables? Can you cut back on processed foods and those high in salt, fat and sugar? Are you getting enough vitamins through your diet— as examples, Calcium and Vitamin D?
Are you getting proper sleep?
Are you taking the medications recommended by your doctor?
Are you tobacco-free? Drug-free?
Do you have the right team and health care resources? Do you respect and have confidence in your health care team?
Are you knowledgeable about your family’s medical history? Have you documented as much as you know? Are there family members you could ask for more information? Have you found reliable information on how to reduce your risks of illness or prevent conditions that run in your family?
Are you trying to educate yourself and learn about ways you can practice more healthy living?
Are you being honest about and confronting your smoking habit, use of alcohol or drugs? Do you need to seek help?
Are you stimulating your mind and trying to learn new things?
Are you experiencing memory loss or concerned about cognitive function?
Do you have a strong circle of loved ones and friends who encourage and support you?
Do you visit with your friends frequently?
How do you like to spend your time? What activities make you happy? What could you change to make time for these activities?
Are you actively engaged in activities with your family—Children? Partner? Parents?
What family pressures do you face?
If you were to be suddenly ill and unable to speak for yourself, do you have advocates who would step in? Have you designated a medical proxy?
Are you concerned about your home, family, work, or financial situation?
Do you feel alone or isolated?
Are you familiar with integrative therapies (acupuncture, therapeutic massage, guided imagery, etc) that may contribute to your quality of life
Are there personal, family, or work issues that you should discuss with a counselor or psychotherapist?
Would you like the guidance of a social worker?
If you are facing a health care, family or work challenge, are you able to recognize, confront and deal with natural feelings you are experiencing -- such as fear, anger, depression, anxiety?
What are your primary concerns? What do you lose sleep over?
Do you feel optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
Are you being abused, hurt or threatened in any way?
Do you wish to try individual psychotherapy?
Would a support group be of value?
Where can you go/who can you speak with to regain your confidence or to find hope and inspiration?
Do you believe prayer would be helpful to you as it is often used to: create calmness; ask for blessings or help; ask for protection from harm; find strength to cope; seek wisdom; and express gratitude?
Do you have a spiritual community? Would you like assistance in finding one?
How do you find meaning in your life?