In our hustle and bustle lives, it can be tricky to find time for preventive care. We tend to power through until something inevitably—and often avoidably—breaks down. All too often the warning light on your car’s dashboard could have been prevented through regular oil changes. Our bodies give us warning lights as well, but they tend to be much more subtle. Miss the cues and next thing you know you’re stuck in bed with the flu, laid up by surgery or living with chronic pain. Take a few minutes with your doctor to chat about questions, worries, and what’s on the horizon…your health will thank you.
Many of us only go to the doctor when there’s a specific reason. Illness or injury, we’re in/out/on our way. However, a majority of insurance plans, like those under the federal Affordable Care Act, cover preventive care for all ages. Many included services are free of charge for members and include “screenings, vaccinations, and counseling.”
This care typically covers well-child visits to age 21, screenings (mammograms, colonoscopies, cancer), blood tests (diabetes, cholesterol), immunizations (vaccines, flu, and pneumonia shots), and counseling (weight loss, depression, alcohol and smoking cessation).
During a doctor visit, it’s also encouraged to ask about other issues on your mind. The National Institute on Aging explains that “Asking questions is key to good communication with your doctor. If you don’t ask questions, he or she may assume you already know the answer or that you don’t want more information. Don’t wait for the doctor to raise a specific question or subject; he or she may not know it’s important to you. Be proactive. Ask questions when you don’t know the meaning of a word (like an aneurysm, hypertension, or infarct) or when instructions aren’t clear (for example, does taking medicine with food mean before, during, or after a meal?).”
Write down any concerns beforehand or ask that test results and visit summaries to read thoroughly afterward. Always tell your doctor about any medications you take as well as vitamins, supplements, or probiotics. Industry experts with the AARP explain that “Nearly half of all older adults use herbal and dietary supplements regularly, yet most fail to share that information with their doctors… Popular herbal and dietary supplements can interact with…medications and alter the way they work in the body, making the drugs either more or less effective or increasing certain side effects.”
And remember that there’s no such thing as a dumb question when it comes to your health. Have a weird freckle? Strange ache? Popping noise when you stand? Ask. If you feel the doctor isn’t taking you seriously or listening fully, ask someone else on the health team or shop around. You’re the only one who knows what’s going on inside but none of us are given a guidebook to life and aging. Opening a dialog allows your doctor to set your mind at ease, take notes for follow-up, or schedule diagnostic work if needed.
If you’re lucky enough to be healthy, it may sound obvious but: stay that way! As we age, it’s all too easy to sit more and move less. The CDC reports that “Older adults, both male, and female, can benefit from regular physical activity. Physical activity need not be strenuous to achieve health benefits.” Doing so “Reduces the risk of dying from coronary heart disease and of developing high blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes… Helps people with chronic, disabling conditions improve their stamina and muscle strength. Reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression and fosters improvements in mood and feelings of well-being. It helps maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints. Helps control joint swelling and pain associated with arthritis.”
When the weather keeps you indoors, don’t despair. You can keep the mood bright all winter long. Doctors suggest sticking to a sleep routine, treating yourself to small delights like cocoa and a comedic movie, setting manageable goals, and booking a vacation or staycation to get away from it all. Ideally somewhere sunny to get that Vitamin D fix.
Stewardship is defined as ‘the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.’ We are a complex system that requires constant maintenance through diet, exercise, relationships, interactions, and medical care. Being a proactive advocate for yourself isn’t selfish. In fact, it shows you’re listening to what your body, mind, and spirit have to say. That’s the very definition of good stewardship towards the body you’ve been entrusted with. No matter what the previous years have held, let the New Year ring in a healthy new outlook.