You must take charge of your health by adopting healthful behaviors and practicing prevention.
In today's climate of medical cost-cutting and managed care, the watchword in health care is prevention. Health planners, analysts, and health-care professionals know that the financial and human costs associated with preventing illness are far less than the costs of treating illness. For this reason, many managed-care programs strongly emphasize preventive care.
You must take charge of your health with your doctor as a partner by practicing preventive health maintenance in your daily life. You can adopt behaviors that maintain or improve good health while rejecting those that may harm your health. If you belong to a managed-care health plan, such as an HMO, the task is made a little easier, because some programs provide incentives and opportunities for prevention and health maintenance.
Statistically, people who eat right, stay fit, and avoid smoking live longer, healthier lives than people who do not do these things. Although good health habits do not guarantee a long, healthy life, and bad habits do not ensure that you die young, you can stack the odds on your side by practicing healthy behaviors.
Hazards of Smoking to Health
The one action that will benefit health most is to refrain from smoking. A large body of scientific research well documents the hazards of smoking that smokers are about ten times more likely to catch lung cancer. They are at least ten times more likely to develop emphysema (a disabling chronic lung disease) than nonsmokers. Smokers are also more likely to die from cancers of the lung, throat, and mouth. They have significantly higher rates of heart disease than nonsmokers as well. Moreover, researchers have documented the dangers of second-hand smoke (smoke breathed in by nonsmokers). More and more evidence shows that second-hand smoke increases the risk of heart and lung disease and cancer for people exposed to smokers' smoke.
Quitting smoking will benefit a person no matter how long they have been a smoker, and it will contribute to the health of those around them. Smokers often find, however, that they need help in quitting the habit. Fortunately, many managed-care health plans offer programs that help people quit smoking. Employers may also offer such programs or some reimbursement for them.
Benefits of a Balanced Diet
Another important way to reduce the chance of illness is to pay attention to diet. Healthy eating dramatically reduces the risk of heart disease, the number-one killer in the United States. The most important contributing factor to most heart disease is the buildup of cholesterol in the bloodstream. Deposits of cholesterol in arteries can reduce blood flow to the heart and cause a heart attack. Because diet affects the cholesterol level in the bloodstream, the best way to lower cholesterol is to avoid or reduce saturated fats in your diet. Saturated fats are the fats in meat, dairy products, and tropical oils, such as coconut or palm oil.
It is not a good idea to eliminate dietary fat completely, however. Fat produces energy and is an essential part of cells. Some fat acts as high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, a substance that helps rid the blood of harmful cholesterol.
A healthy diet consists of several fruits, vegetables, grains, and small quantities of meat and dairy products. The U.S. Department of Agriculture gives a food pyramid as a guide for eating healthy. The items at the pyramid's narrow top—fats and sugars—are to be used sparingly, while those at the broad base—whole grains—should be eaten in larger quantities. The food pyramid also contains information about the number of daily servings that nutritionists recommend eating from each group. Your doctor, a nurse, or a nutritionist can help you understand and use the food pyramid to guide a healthy diet.
For good health, eating plenty of fiber is also important. Fiber is the portion of some vegetables, fruits, and grains that pass through the body undigested. Some studies have shown that fiber reduce cholesterol and prevent high blood pressure. A high-fiber diet helps protect against colon cancer and possibly other kinds of cancer, too. Nutritionists recommend eating 20 to 35 grams of fiber daily. High-fiber foods include fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains such as whole-wheat bread and brown rice.
Nutritionists also recommend a diet rich in antioxidants (nutrients that may protect against cancer). An antioxidant diet should include foods rich in vitamins C and E and beta-carotene. Some examples of such foods are broccoli, carrots, and tomatoes.
Maintaining a healthy weight is another way to reduce the risk of illness. There is a high risk of heart disease if you are overweight. It can also cause many other health problems, including a higher risk for diabetes and some types of cancer.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, about one-fourth of all Americans are overweight. Overweight is loosely defined as being heavier than the recommended weight for your height. Other factors affect an evaluation of appropriate weight, however. A muscular, big-boned individual, for example, can weigh more than the recommended weight for his or her height and still not be considered overweight. A doctor can help you calculate your ideal weight and plan a diet that will allow you to lose weight effectively and safely.
Exercises for Healthy Lifestyle
Regular exercise is another component of a healthy lifestyle. Many studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise (which increases the use of oxygen by the body) can prevent high blood pressure and heart disease or reduce the severity of these life-threatening problems. Cycling, jogging, skating, swimming, and fast walking are forms of aerobic exercise.
Aerobic exercise may not be strenuous or complicated. Simple exercises such as walking for 20 minutes, three times a week, may benefit health. In fact, studies have shown that a little exercise is almost as beneficial to the heart as strenuous exercise. Your physician can help you choose a regular aerobic activity routine that is appropriate for your age, weight, and fitness.
The Sun is a Danger
The sun is another threat to maintaining good health. The sun's ultraviolet rays are a significant cause of skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 800,000 Americans are diagnosed with some form of skin cancer each year. Although most skin cancers are not life-threatening, a few types are fatal. Melanoma (cancer of dark-pigmented cells) is one of the most dangerous types of cancer.
The best protection against all forms of skin cancer is to avoid direct sun exposure or to cover exposed skin with sunscreen. This protection is especially crucial to fair-skinned or red-headed people, who have a higher risk of skin cancer.
Regular Checkups and Screenings to Stay Healthy
No matter how much you cultivate healthy habits, you still need regular checkups by a physician. Moreover, as people age, they should have standard screening tests for common killers such as cancer, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Early detection of disease is often the best defense against serious illness.
In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, early detection of breast, tongue, mouth, colon, rectum, cervix, prostate, testis, and melanoma cancers would save about 115,000 lives annually. About 67 percent of people with these forms of cancer survive at least five years after diagnosis. However, the survival rate jumps to 95 percent for diagnosed and treated people during the earliest stages of illness.
Most managed-care plans promote regular checkups and screenings by offering these services at little or no out-of-pocket cost. This emphasis on keeping costs low through prevention is one of the great strengths of managed care. If you belong to a managed-care health plan, you can use this strength to stay in charge of your health and well-being.