Small Steps to Take Control of Your Health
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Beginning a new year and setting new goals can be refreshing, yet challenging. When it comes to setting health-related goals, it is important to first get organized. “Sometimes 90 percent of the battle is sorting out the goals you want to achieve and why they are important,” says Emily Hebert, MD, Cooper Clinic Platinum Physician. “The key is to first write down your goals, and the next step is to visit your physician for a physical exam.”
Dr. Hebert notes that you should visit your physician with a list in hand–the health issues you want to tackle, your goals and questions about how you can achieve them. If you’re looking to make health-related changes this year, the following advice from Dr. Hebert can help you accomplish your goals.
Blood Pressure and Cholesterol
High blood pressure and high cholesterol levels are both contributing factors to heart disease. When it comes to lowering blood pressure, Dr. Hebert notes that weight loss, monitoring sodium intake and exercise can help reduce one’s blood pressure, perhaps even to the point of no longer needing to take certain medications. Of course, you should always consult your physician concerning medications, and ask for his or her guidance along the way.
Cholesterol levels are sometimes controlled by genetics, but high cholesterol is often caused by modifiable lifestyle factors such as weight and diet. Dr. Hebert recommends before beginning a change in diet to help with cholesterol levels, you should journal everything you eat for a few days in order to see where your calories are going and what your pitfalls are. This way, you can adjust your diet gradually and within the areas that need most improvement, instead of jumping in to a total diet overhaul at the first of the year, which often results in failure.
Sleep and Mental Capacity
Achieving the right amount of sleep can be difficult for many people, but lack of sleep can cause exhaustion and, in effect, a lower mental capacity. “It’s important to try and go to bed at an appropriate time, and keep cell phones, laptops and TV screens off,” says Dr. Hebert. “Additionally, allowing children and pets to sleep in the bed might seem nice, but they can actually be distracting and can cause you to get less sleep than you think.”
Hydration also ties into mental capacity. When you are dehydrated, your body becomes sluggish and your thought processes become slower. Many people find it difficult to hydrate at work, but substituting unhealthier beverages with water throughout the day can help. “I love La Croix water,” says Dr. Hebert. “It has no calories or additives, and is a simple carbonated water with natural flavoring. It keeps me on the straight and narrow with my water intake.”
Smoking is an independent factor for heart disease. Dr. Hebert tells her patients the number one area where they can affect the most change on their long-term health is to make the decision to stop smoking. Though it can be difficult to break the habit, many people find success through a variety of ways. Some can handle quitting cold-turkey, others use nicotine bridges such as gum or patches, and still others rely on medication. Talk to your physician to decide the best course of action.
Start the new year by scheduling appointments for regular cancer screenings, based on your age and family history. Dr. Hebert recommends the following:
- Women age 40 and over, without genetic predispostion: Annual mammogram
- Women: PAP smear every three years, if your paps have been normal. Consult with a physician about frequency.
- Men: Annual PSA and prostate exam. Though this has been a controversial topic over the years, Dr. Hebert notes that the more information you have from screening, the better.
- Men and women
- Colonoscopy beginning between ages 45-50. If you have family history of colon cancer, screening should be performed earlier.
- Annual full body skin cancer screening.
- Eye exam every three years. This should be reduced to annually if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or other serious eye problems such as glaucoma. This checks your quality of vision as well as eye pressure, lenses and retina health.
From a health standpoint, Dr. Hebert says it is important for older patients to visit a physician before beginning a new, rigorous exercise routine to make sure the heart and lungs are healthy enough to withstand it. “If you’re new to exercising, your goal shouldn’t be to run a marathon,” explains Dr. Hebert. “Instead, focus on being active and getting your heart rate up three to five days a week for 30-45 minutes.” A heart rate monitor can help you determine how much you’re exerting yourself during the course of exercise.
Additionally, strength training is important as you age, especially for women due to its impact on bone density. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so building muscle is great for weight maintenance. Starting out with a personal trainer is helpful because he or she can offer guidance on how to exercise properly and without injury, especially if you’re new to an exercise routine.
For more information about services and screenings offered at Cooper Clinic, visit cooper-clinic.com or call 972.560.2667.