1. Take responsibility for your health and fitness. This sounds basic, but many of my patients don’t know all the meds they’re taking, or even what some of their meds are for! You need to realize that YOU are your health care advocate, as well as the biggest hurdle you may have to overcome. Being unhealthy has long-term effects on your finances, free time, even your career and family! Getting healthy NOW will make your coming years more enjoyable.
2. Get organized. Keep a file (I like this one) for storing your health insurance information, bills, copies of your medical records, immunization records, medication sheets (that come attached to prescriptions from the pharmacy), a living will (if applicable), and any other related paperwork. Having things organized and in a central location will make it easy for you to coordinate your care. It will also help your family members in the unfortunate event that they have to take over as your health care proxy.
3. Choose your care providers. A PCP is your primary care provider—typically a doctor or nurse practitioner. Most health insurance plans require you to choose one. Many companies have a website where you can browse the “in-network” doctors near you, and some sites even have reviews! If yours doesn’t, you can always plug a provider’s name into a search engine like Google and see what comes up (usually their bio and some reviews). While finding the perfect PCP is the dream, no one is truly perfect. Find a provider who has mostly good reviews, is accepting new patients, is near your home or work, and commit! You need a doctor, even if you’re healthy now. You can always change providers, if necessary. Please don’t use the ER as your doctor’s office. This creates both financial and staffing burdens for the entire system, and doesn’t provide you with good continuity of care in the long run.
4. Make those appointments! This includes your PCP, dentist, and mental health providers. Ideally you should see your PCP once a year for a check up, including any routine tests or immunizations. You should see your dentist every 6 months, but certainly at least once a year, for a complete cleaning and evaluation. Oral health affects your overall health, since the human mouth is an ideal growing ground for infections (that can travel and become systemic). Bad teeth can also lead to and be good indicators of poor eating habits and nutrition. Please, please, please do not neglect your mental health, either. Talking to a trained clinician does not make you crazy or weak. Everyone has issues, and everyone can benefit from an objective listener. Bottom line: suck it up, and make these appointments for your head to toe health.
5. Listen to your PCP. If you’re honest, uncomfortably honest, with your PCP, their advice is warranted, based upon the history you provided. Remember that even healthy people get sick. Lance Armstrong, a man in peak physical condition, couldn’t avoid cancer, and he manned up and sought treatment. If you disagree with your PCP’s advice, you can always ask for a referral to a specialist or seek a second opinion. Remember, you are your own advocate! But you’re not objective, so give your PCP the benefit of the doubt. If she says you need a biopsy, a colonoscopy, eat more vegetables, or need to cut down on something, deal with the discomfort. It might save your life.
6. Evaluate your habits. Everyone has at least one vice, so ‘fess up to yourself. Many care givers suggest keeping a journal for a month to help you honestly asses your lifestyle habits. Do you smoke or drink? How much and how often? Under what circumstances? What triggers the craving? Do you use recreational/illegal drugs? Do you overindulge in food, or severely limit your caloric intake? Does the person at the ice cream store know you by name? How much do you exercise? Do you get winded going up and down stairs? Do you work out until you are sick? You KNOW the questions to ask. If you want an objective eye, show your journal to your PCP.
7. Commit to change. Once you’ve done all of the above, you will, undoubtedly, be faced with the choice: do you stay the course, or do you make some positive (and often difficult) changes in your life to become healthier? Sometimes it’s something small like cutting down on soda and sweets, and sometimes it’s major, like quitting smoking, or agreeing to a drastic course of action like surgery or chemotherapy. Talk to someone who’s successfully taken that road, for encouragement and advice.
8. Don’t be stupid. I can’t stress this enough. (See previous post.) Stupidity comes in all forms. Smoking when you know it will kill you. Ignoring your high cholesterol or diabetes. Avoiding getting that mammogram or prostate exam when you have a family history of breast or prostate cancer. But don’t forget things that can lead to traumatic injuries, like not wearing a seatbelt or a bike helmet. Driving batshit crazy on rainy or icy roads with your lights off. Attempting anything you’ve seen on “Jackass.” Doing any kind of drug that is not specifically prescribed for you.
9. Love your body. Eat things grown from the ground, not made, processed, or flavored in factories. Find an activity like running, rock climbing, dancing, yoga, swimming, martial arts, pogo-sticking, or playing a sport, and DO IT! Take care what you put into your body (see #7). If you get sick, get treated. If you’re stressed, try to reduce it at the source and find an outlet. If you’re depressed, talk to someone trained to help you. If you’re struggling, find a support group—they’re out there, whether it’s unemployment, addiction, depression, grief, etc. Many health insurance plans can help with one or all of these, including fitness incentives, stress hotlines, coverage for counseling sessions, and discounts on nutritionist visits.
10. Talk to your family and make a plan. Even if you’re in the prime of your life, your family should know what you want, in the case of your injury or death. Are you an organ donor? (I hope so!) Do you want all life-saving measures performed? Talk to your family, friends, or support system and let them know your wishes. Write them down. Investigate getting a living will. If you don’t want some life-saving procedures tried, you need to have the proper legal documentation. Many of my elderly sick patients have a standing DNR/DNI order (do not resuscitate, do not intubate) on file at the nursing home. Who do you want to be your health care proxy (medical decision maker in the event you become incapacitated)? Do you want your body to be buried, cremated, or donated to science? All of these things should be discussed so that all parties are comfortable with the decisions.
You only get one life and one body, so take care of it. Start today.
What are some ways you’ve chosen to get healthy? What’s missing from this list? Comment below.