Understanding & Practising Preventive Health Care

Preventive medicine is based on a simple idea: It’s wise to seek treatment when you’re ill, but you’re better off if you don’t get sick in the first place. By following preventive care guidelines—heeding expert recommendations on diet and exercise, getting regular screenings for common diseases, and so on—you can enjoy a healthier and longer life. The following information is based on the recommendations of preventive medicine experts.

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The basics of healthy living

 Some aspects of health are beyond your control because of genetics and environmental factors, but your diet and lifestyle have a big effect on your health. Preventive care experts agree that the following can help ward off disease:

Eat a healthy diet. Having a healthy diet is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Conditions such as heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and gallbladder disease can be prevented or controlled by eating well. A healthy diet also provides essential vitamins and minerals. Eat a balanced diet overall. While you need foods from all food groups, the proportion of each food group matters. Your diet should include lots of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. It should be low in saturated fat, trans-fat, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars, with most fats coming from sources such as fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.

If you have a chronic health condition, talk to your doctor about an appropriate dietary plan that may benefit your health. Also make sure you are getting calcium and vitamin D daily, aiming for 600 units of vitamin D each day to help with bone health. Ask your health care provider if you need to take a supplement, as many people do not get enough vitamin D from their diet alone. Women who are planning to become pregnant should take a daily multivitamin with folic acid to prevent some birth defects.

Stay physically active. Regular exercise is key in achieving good health. Physical activity helps prevent heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and osteoporosis. It reduces the chances of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression and improves psychological wellbeing. It also enables you to stay at a healthy weight, reduce stress, sleep better, and feel better overall. So, aim to get 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on most days of the week, through activities such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, bicycle riding, tennis, or any other physical activity you enjoy. Ideally, you should also incorporate strength training (to build muscle) twice a week and do stretching exercises to improve flexibility. If it’s difficult to find a 30-minute block of time in your day, try short bursts of exercise instead. Three 10-minute sessions may give you the same benefits as one 30-minute session.

It is never too late to start an active lifestyle. No matter how old you are or how unfit you feel, research shows that starting a more active lifestyle can make you healthier and improve your quality of life. If you have a medical condition, discuss with your GP the type and level of exercise appropriate for you.

Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, and breathing problems. Use BMI (body mass index) calculator to find the ideal weight for your height and age. To stay at a healthy weight, you need to balance the number of calories you eat with the number you burn off by your activities. The key to maintaining a healthy weight is to engage in physical activity and keep an eye on the type of food you eat and your portion sizes, especially if you eat out a lot.

Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It also raises your chances of getting into a car accident. Most people need at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep to function at their best. Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and comfortable, and set aside enough time to get the rest you need. Keep your television and computer out of your bedroom to avoid “gearing up” before you fall asleep. Turn off your mobile phone at bedtime, or use the “do not disturb” mode if you use your phone as an alarm clock.

Don’t smoke or use other tobacco products. Smoking causes illnesses such as cancer, heart and lung disease, stroke, and problems with pregnancy. Stopping smoking lowers your chances of getting ill. In addition, second-hand smoke is a health hazard to those around you, even if you smoke outside. If you smoke, talk to your GP about medications and counselling that can make it easier to stop. Also, tell your family and friends that you are going to stop, and ask for their support.

Don’t drink alcohol excessively. Alcohol abuse can cause liver disease, heart problems, and several kinds of cancer, as well as lead to accidents, depression, and problems with friends, family, and work. The Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) guideline for both men and women states that it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. That’s 6 pints of 4% beer, or 6 glasses of 13% wine, or 14 25 ml glasses of 40% spirits in a week.

Follow safety procedures. Basic safety rules can prevent many serious injuries. At home, use smoke detectors, keep hallways and stairs well lit, and remove or repair things someone could trip on. Outside the home, use seat belts on the road; never drive after drinking alcohol or using cannabis; wear a safety helmet while riding a motorcycle, skateboard, or bicycle; and follow workplace safety rules.

Take proper doses of medications. Always be sure that you know everything about a medication before you take it. Taking too little of a medication can prolong illness, while taking too much unnecessarily exposes you to side effects. Follow the instructions of your pharmacist or GP. Never use a medication that has been prescribed for someone else, even if you have exactly the same symptoms. If you are taking an antibiotic, be sure to take all of the doses unless instructed otherwise by your health care provider.

Limit sun exposure. Overexposure to ultraviolet radiation can cause sunburn and skin cancers. You can lower your risk for skin cancer by limiting the time you spend in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.; wearing sunglasses and clothing that protects against the sun, including a wide-brimmed hat; and using sunscreen. Sunglasses also protect against macular degeneration, age-related vision loss. Don’t stay in the sun longer just because you are wearing sunscreen. And be sure to use a sunscreen that provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays, and reapply sunscreen frequently.

Choose a GP before you get ill. This way you can find someone you’re comfortable with, develop a relationship, and get care that takes into account your lifelong health history. Research shows that adults who regularly visit the same doctor get better preventive medicine.

Get regular check-ups. How often you need to see your doctor depends on your age, health and sex. You can also arrange health checks privately at your own expense or if covered with your health insurance plans. Women under 40 may need more frequent visits to the doctor for cervical screening tests mammography and advice on pregnancy, birth control and other women’s health concerns. The most important thing is to get all the screening tests you need.

Screening tests

Screening tests can find diseases early, when they are easier to treat. The tests you get and how often you should get them depend on your age, health history and risk factors such as family history and lifestyle. Talk with your doctor about the tests that are right for you, when you should have them and how often. The following are general guidelines:

Blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. High blood pressure is more common in people older than 45. Starting at age 18, have your blood pressure checked at least every two years.

Cholesterol. Too much cholesterol can clog your blood vessels and cause heart disease. Men should have their cholesterol checked at least every five years, starting at age 35, and women should begin by age 45, if they have no risk factors for heart disease. If you smoke or have diabetes, or if heart disease or cholesterol problems run in your family, start having your cholesterol checked at age 20.

DiabetesDiabetes, or high blood sugar, is a major cause of blindness, kidney disease, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and amputation of the lower legs and feet. Almost all adults who have diabetes have Type 2 diabetes, which usually appears in middle age. You should have a test to screen for diabetes if you are 45 years of age or older and overweight. If you are under the age of 45, or over 45 and at a healthy weight, you may need a test if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol or belong to a high-risk group, including family members with diabetes. Talk to your doctor to determine if you belong to a high-risk group.

Depression. If you’ve felt sad or hopeless and have felt little interest or pleasure in doing things for two weeks straight, talk to your doctor. Many people don’t recognise the signs of depression, so your doctor may screen you for it as part of a routine check-up. Depression may also be a sign of other diseases (such as low thyroid), so don’t ignore these symptoms.

Colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer after lung cancer. You should be tested for colorectal cancer starting at age 55 and continuing until age 75. Tell your doctor if you have a history of polyps or a family history of cancer of the colon, ovaries, or uterus, in which case you may need to be screened earlier.

Prostate cancer. Most men talk to their doctors about getting screened for prostate cancer when they reach age 50. If the disease runs in the family, earlier screening may be advisable.

Cervical cancer. Women in their reproductive years (25 to 44 years old) should have regular pap smear tests. The recommended interval to perform a new pap spear is 3 years until 44 years old and 5 years from 45 to 65 years old. After that, pap smear tests are not usually done, unless your doctor says otherwise.

Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis, or thinning bones, makes your bones break easily. This condition is more common in women especially postmenopausal, than in men. A bone density test can help determine whether your bones are prone to breaking. Women should have a bone density test at age 65 and at younger ages if they have a higher-than-usual risk of bone fracture.

Skin cancer. There is currently no official screening programme for skin cancer so it is important that you make a habit of checking your own skin for any changes. This is especially important if you have other risk factors for skin cancer, such as a family history, multiple sunburns when younger, or excessive sun exposure through working outdoors.

Other ways to stay healthy

Here are some other steps that are part of good preventive care:

Stay up-to-date with your immunisations. An annual flu vaccination is available free to certain groups or can be arranged privately for a small charge. If you travel abroad, other vaccines may be needed. Check with your doctor before you travel.

Dental care. Visit your dentist once or twice a year for check-ups, and follow good oral hygiene. Brush after meals, use toothpaste with fluoride, use dental floss, eat sweets in moderation and avoid smoking.

Vision and hearing care. Have at least one eye exam with an optician between the ages of 20 and 29 and two screenings between the ages of 30 and 39. Between 40 and 65, arrange an eye exam every two to four years. People at higher risk for eye diseases – people with diabetes, and those with a family history of eye problems – should go more often. At age 65, have your hearing checked. Also starting at age 65, get tested every one to two years for cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration and other eye conditions. More frequent screening may be needed if you have diabetes or high blood pressure.

Consider taking aspirin if you’re a man at risk of heart disease or a woman at risk of strokeTaking one aspirin (65 mg) every day or every other day can help reduce the risk of heart disease in men between the ages of 45 and 79 and stroke in women ages 55-79. Before you start taking aspirin, talk to your doctor. You may need to start sooner if you are older than 40; if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes; or if you smoke. Aspirin therapy also has risks, so your doctor should decide if this is good for you. Similarly, if you are at high risk for stroke, your doctor may prescribe other blood thinners.

Discuss hormone therapy with your doctorDuring and after menopause, hormone therapy with oestrogen or progesterone may reduce women’s risk for osteoporosis and colorectal cancer. However, some evidence suggests that hormone therapy may increase the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, blood clots and stroke. Your doctor can help you evaluate how these risks and benefits apply to you specifically.

The future of prevention

It is clear that preventive health care is important. To start your own “good health” practices, there are few things you can do immediately without any medical knowledge:

Don’t smoke or use other tobacco products; Drink only in moderation -Eat a proper, balanced diet to get the correct amount of nutrients and calories daily -Exercise at least three days per week -See your doctor regularly for check-ups. The UAE law mandates that “high risk” individuals who are residents of Dubai (Basmah Scheme) are afforded the basic periodic preventative check-ups by law as would be the case in most developed nations such as in Europe. Take the time to learn more and educate yourself. Most importantly, start working on your healthy habits today. A habit is something you do without thinking about it, and building good habits doesn’t take that long. We guarantee that you will thank yourself later by being healthier, having more energy and enjoying life to its fullest.

Source: LifeWorks by Morneau Shepell, www.lifeworks.com.