Whether or not you ever really get around to goals like “Learn fluent Cantonese” and “Spend more time with the wife,” commit yourself to this 2007 task: Focus on your health.
Prevention is still the prevailing message in medicine today. If you’re over 30, get one complete physical to establish a baseline medical profile, and thereafter consider certain selective screenings to nip trouble in the bud. To help you do that, we asked local physicians to put together an easy 12-step plan for optimal health. (Ask your doc what other tests she recommends, knowing your health history.) Happy New Year — and cheers, to your health!
Do the Math
Get your cholesterol checked, and pay attention to the breakdown of the numbers, not the total, advises Daniel Rader, director of preventive cardiology at Presbyterian Medical Center. Ideally, you’ll want your LDL (“bad cholesterol”) to be below 100 and your HDL (“good cholesterol”) to be above 40. Premenopausal women and men under 40 should have their cholesterol checked every three years and annually thereafter.
Take Your Best Shot
Vaccines aren’t just for little ones — immunities fade over time, and childhood diseases don’t only strike children. Vaccine specialist Paul Offit, chief of infectious disease at CHOP, recommends that adults get a tetanus/diphtheria booster every 10 years (ask for the new Tdap, which wards off whooping cough), a three-in-one vaccine that covers measles, mumps and rubella if you were born before 1969 and never had any of those diseases, and a vaccine for chicken pox if you never had that as a kid. To ward off shingles, which comes from the same herpes virus as chicken pox, docs recommend the newly approved shingles vaccine for people over 60. Everyone over 65 should have a pneumonia inoculation. And if you’re over 50, get that flu shot!
Mind Your ABCs
Medicine is full of confusing acronyms, but Michael Cirigliano, a Penn internist, says it’s important to get bloodwork done that includes an HIV screening and a CBC, which looks for anemia and checks your white blood cell count, for indications of infection or possibly cancer. He also suggests asking for the more clunkily named metabolic panel (which checks kidney and liver function, blood sugar levels and electrolytes); postmenopausal women should examine their thyroid levels as well.
Listen to ophthalmologist Michael Naidoff, and have a routine eye exam every two years. Diabetics and people with a family history of glaucoma should see the eye doc annually after age 35.
Stop putting off the dentist already! The latest research shows a strong link between oral health and the rest of your body. Ardmore dentist Joseph Greenberg also warns that people over 60 are more susceptible to cavities, since they produce less saliva.
Head to your local drug store to check your blood pressure at one of those medieval-looking machines, or ask your physician to give you a reading. The ideal, according to Harry Chaikin, a South Jersey internist specializing in blood pressure, is 120/80.
Show Some Skin
To your dermatologist, that is. Stuart Lessin, director of dermatology at Fox Chase Cancer Center, suggests an annual exam for people who are blue-eyed, fair-haired, fair-complexioned or freckly, or who suffered severe sunburns as kids. Every other year is fine for those who tan without burning. At home, look for freckles or brown spots with ABCD characteristics — asymmetry, border irregularity, color variation, and diameter larger than a pencil eraser.
Have a Heart
If you’re a man over 30 or a woman over 40, get screened for heart disease with Presbyterian Medical Center’s American Heart Association-endorsed HeartCam (215-662-LIFE). This quick, painless test uses an electron beam to measure calcium in your coronary arteries — a marker for the plaque that causes heart attacks and strokes.
Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths — but can be prevented with screenings. Craig Aronchick, a Pennsylvania Hospital gastroenterologist, recommends an initial colonoscopy for all men and women over 50, and then at 10-year intervals if there are no problems. (It’s not as awful as it seems — promise.)
Embrace Your XX
Women need to be proactive about breast and cervical cancer and osteoporosis. Marie Savard, a women’s health expert and author of How to Save Your Own Life, says that for breast health before age 40, women should do a monthly self-exam after their period. And most gynecologists agree that starting at age 40, you should have a mammogram every year. Cervical cancer becomes a concern at age 30, and Savard insists that you request a human papillomavirus (HPV) test in addition to your yearly Pap smear — it will tell you if you have the virus that can be a precursor to cervical cancer.
As for osteoporosis, bone loss in women accelerates after menopause due to estrogen depletion. By 65, every woman needs bone scans at five-year intervals (and more often if your score is in the danger zone). To ward off future bone loss, start taking a daily dose of 1,200 mgs. of calcium, plus 1,000 units of vitamin D3, to help your body absorb it.
Accept Your XY
Jefferson urologist Kenneth Brownstein is convinced that especially for men in their 50s and 60s, annual prostate screenings save lives.
Call Your Mother
Seriously. Stress reduction is something we all need, and if you call your mother more often, she’ll be happier and will annoy you less. That, in turn, will lower your stress. Everyone wins!