Take Time Now to Take Care of Yourself

January 19, 2011

Doctor advising patient on their medical history

You've probably heard the old saying, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." And when it comes to your health, that's more important than ever. Taking just a few steps in preventive care now can help avoid big problems in the future. It's well worth your time.

Step 1: Make the lifestyle changes that will make your life healthier

Let's start with things you can do to make every day a healthier one.
  • Eat healthful foods
  • Don't smoke
  • Exercise regularly
  • Wash your hands often and well
  • Reduce your stress and get the restful sleep you need
  • Get to, or keep yourself at, a healthy weight

Step 2: Get the health screenings, tests, and checkups adults need

The next step is finding out what health screenings, tests, or checkups you need and making sure you get them.

Screenings are important because they can spot problems or diseases early, when they may be easier to treat. Talk with your doctor about what is best for you, since earlier or added screenings may be needed based on your health, age, race, gender, family history, and lifestyle.

Most screenings or tests can be done at your doctor's office. But for some, you may need to go elsewhere for special equipment. For a few, you may need to do something like fasting to get ready for the test. Talk with your doctor before the test about what to expect and how to prepare. After the test, talk about the results and any follow-up your doctor may advise.

Below is a guide that shows how often and at what ages most healthy adults should have screenings, tests, and checkups. You can use this guide to help talk with your doctor what is best for you. People with a family history of certain diseases and those with other risk factors may need more screenings or tests or have them done more often. Also check your Certificate of Coverage for questions about what your plan will cover.

  • Physical exam – Regularly, as your doctor advises. This exam should include measuring your weight, height, and body mass index (BMI). It's also a good time to talk to your doctor about ways to get more exercise, and about your mental well-being.
  • Cholesterol/lipid screening – Every five years, or more often if you are at risk or have above-normal levels of these fats in your blood. You need to fast for 9 to 12 hours before this screening. If you have heart problems or diabetes, you may need to be screened every year.
  • Diabetes screening and tests – About every three years depending on your age and risk factors. If you have diabetes, you should have the following tests every year: A1c test, LDL cholesterol, kidney test, and retinal or dilated eye exam. Ask your doctor to explain the reasons for the tests.
  • Blood pressure screening – Have your blood pressure checked regularly at least every one to two years if your blood pressure is normal (less than 120/80), more often if you have high blood pressure or diabetes.
  • Bone density test – As your doctor says, usually around age 65. Some people may need this test more often after a bone fracture or if they are at high risk for osteoporosis, a condition where bones become weak.
  • Eye exam – Every two to four years up to age 64, and then every one to two years. Eyes are tested for two common, age- related conditions: glaucoma and macular degeneration. A retinal eye exam also is needed each year if you have diabetes
  • Colorectal cancer screenings – Talk to your doctor about your risks and which screening and schedule are best for you. For people ages 50 and up, most doctors say patients need a fecal occult blood test every year, a flexible sigmoidoscopy every years five years, or a colonoscopy every 10 years. You doctor can explain the tests to you.
  • Mammogram – Every one to two years for women ages 40 and up. Younger women should follow their doctor's advice. Also talk to your doctor about breast exams in the office.
  • Pap smear and pelvic exam – At least every one to three years for women, depending on your age, history of a hysterectomy and past Pap testing results.
  • Talk to your doctor about your risks and which schedule is best.

Prostate exam for men – Talk with your doctor about your risks and what test and schedule are best for you.

Exams include a digital rectal exam and prostate specific antigen (PSA) test.

Step 3: Keep your immunizations up to date

Immunizations, also called vaccinations, help make your immune system stronger and protect your body from certain diseases. They are often given in the form of shots. The protection you get from some shots lasts a lifetime. But the protection you get from others may fade over time, which means you will need a booster.

Some immunizations may be needed because of age, gender, medical conditions, your job, travel, and other factors. Your doctor can tell you if you are up to date or need any new shots or boosters. You can find out more about immunizations by referencing the Immunization Action Coalition PDF. http://www.immunize.org/catg.d/p4030.pdf

Step 4: Keep a record

Keep track of what screenings, tests, checkups and vaccinations you have and the dates that you had them. Share the list with all your healthcare providers. Know your numbers and don't be afraid to ask questions.

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