Did you ever wonder why healthcare is called healthcare, and not “sickcare”? Ideally, we strive to take care of, and maintain, our health. Unfortunately, we live in a society that tends to react when things go wrong, instead of behaving proactively while things are going well. Even if you’re feeling great, it’s always a good time to take certain preventive health measures.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Increasing the focus on prevention in our communities will help improve America’s health, quality of life and prosperity. For example, almost one out of every two adults has at least one chronic illness, many of which are preventable.” By taking preventive health action now, you’ll save time, money, suffering, and maybe even your life.
Health Factors You Should Know
It’s important to learn as much about your present health as possible. Visiting a doctor regularly is the first step. Don’t wait until you’re not feeling well. The better you know your own health, and the more detailed your medical records, the easier it will be to prevent and treat future ailments.
The “Big Numbers”
Your doctor can perform certain key tests with clear, quantifiable results. The American Heart Association launched its “Know Your Numbers” campaign to encourage individuals to learn four things: Their blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and body weight or body mass index (BMI).
You should start finding out all of these numbers in your 20s and re-check them regularly. Many people put them off far too long. For example, some believe that they don’t have to worry about cholesterol until they’re middle aged. It’s best to know your baseline numbers when you’re young and healthy, in order to know where you stand. Based on these numbers, you’ll have a better grip on how your current lifestyle may affect your long-term health.
Get these four numbers checked regularly and you’ll take a big step in the right direction. But these are just the beginning.
Allergies, Deficiencies and More
It’s also important to learn whether you have any allergies, sensitivities or deficiencies. Many people go for decades without realizing that they are allergic, for example, to a certain type of food. Then they look back and realize how much that knowledge could have improved their quality of life, had they only found out earlier! Common food allergies or sensitivities include dairy, gluten, yeast, and soy. These common ingredients are found in numerous products within our modern diet, so you could be harming your body almost constantly.
You’ll also want to know whether your body lacks any specific vitamins or minerals. It’s quite common, for example, to lack vitamin D3 or magnesium. Again, you may never know that you aren’t feeling as good as you could until you learn what your body is missing.
In addition to what you lack, you should know what’s there that shouldn’t be. Your body could contain heavy metals like lead, cadmium, or mercury. These toxins show up in items as seemingly harmless as lipstick, and can seriously impact your health.
Medical Tests by Age
There are a number of tests and screenings everyone should get, and some people should have them done earlier than others due to certain risk factors such as family history and symptoms. It’s easy to become confused about what to get at what age. So, this list helps to break it down.
As mentioned above, this is the time to start tracking your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and BMI. You’ll start out with cholesterol checks every four to six years, but should increase that frequency in future decades.
Make sure you are up-to-date on vaccinations too. Many people mistakenly believe that adults don’t need vaccinations, except perhaps a flu shot. Talk to your doctor about what you need and how often. By their 20s, women should also be getting regular pelvic exams, breast exams and Pap smears. Men should get screened for testicular cancer. Ask your family physician about these tests and get them scheduled.
All of the tests listed above should continue, and perhaps more frequently as you age. Your doctor can help you decide how often to get them done. If you have a family history of heart disease, for example, or a predisposition for being overweight, you may need to monitor things more closely. Also, this is when healthcare professionals advise getting a skin exam to check for any irregular moles that could signal skin cancer.
Your 30s are also time for your first thyroid test to determine if you have hypothyroidism (too low) or hyperthyroidism (too high). I recommend a complete screening thyroid profile every 1-2 years as part of a complete physical examination.
I also recommend a screening EKG and chest x-ray for my patients when they turn 30, or soon thereafter.
Over age 40, mammograms are indispensable for women’s health. Frequency may be recommended based on risk factors. After age 45, diabetes screenings are recommended every 3 years for both men and women. Finally, don’t neglect your eyes! Even if you don’t wear corrective lenses, screen for diseases of the eye such as glaucoma.
Now is the time to get a colonoscopy. It’s nobody’s favorite activity, but it does save lives. It’s your best bet for preventing colon cancer. How often you should have them after age 50 depends on findings from your first one and family history.
Women at this age should begin having bone density screenings, especially if they are Caucasian or Southeast Asian or have a family history of osteoporosis. At this point, you’ll want to increase cholesterol screenings and diabetes to as often as every year, depending on your risk factors. If you’re not already having regular vision and hearing tests, it’s a good idea to start those, too.
60s and up
Everything above should continue, and frequency may increase for some things depending on past results, family history, and other individual factors. Your doctor may also begin screening for things like depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Men and women should have a fecal occult blood test, which screens for blood in the feces; this could signal colitis, Crohn’s disease, diverticular disease, polyps, cancer, and several other conditions.
The CDC recommends some specific vaccines for this age group, too. They recommend a shingles vaccine if you’re over 60 and a pneumonia vaccine if you’re over 65. Each is only needed once.
Seize the Day
If you’re feeling well, that’s great! There’s never been a better time to take charge of your life by taking preventive health measures. Learn what you can now about your own body and its needs, as well as your family medical history. Don’t wait until you’re sick to see a doctor and take important steps toward living life to the fullest.
Photo credit: Rido81 / BigStock.com