MANY FACTORS AFFECT YOUR HEALTH. Some you cannot control, such as age and genetic makeup. But you can make changes to your lifestyle to reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke and other serious diseases, even when traveling.
Get exercise and control your weight. Exercise, a key factor in staying healthy, strengthens your bones, heart and lungs; tones muscles; improves vitality; relieves depression; and helps you sleep better. Talk to your health care provider before starting an exercise program if you have conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure or diabetes.
Do not smoke. Cigarette smoking is the main preventable cause of death in the United States. One out of every five deaths each year is directly or indirectly caused by smoking. It is never too late to quit; talk to your provider about smoking cessation programs and medications.
Secondhand cigarette smoke can cause heart disease, lung cancer and other pulmonary diseases in nonsmokers. Thirdhand smoke — residual nicotine and chemicals left on indoor surfaces by tobacco smoke — is a relatively new concept, and researchers are still studying its dangers. People, especially children, are exposed to these chemicals by touching contaminated surfaces or breathing in the off-gassing from these surfaces. This residue is thought to react with common indoor pollutants to create a toxic mix. People are likely at risk of tobacco-related health problems when they come in contact with thirdhand smoke. Infants and young children might have increased exposure due to their tendency to mouth objects and touch surfaces. The only protection from thirdhand smoke is a smoke-free environment.
Limit alcohol intake. Drinking alcoholic beverages changes brain functions, affecting emotions, thinking and judgment. Continued drinking affects motor control, causing slurred speech, slower reactions and poor balance. Having a higher amount of body fat and drinking on an empty stomach can speed the effects of alcohol. Alcoholism can lead to diseases of the liver, pancreas, esophagus and digestive tract; heart muscle damage; cancer; and brain damage. Talk with your children about the dangers of alcohol. Talk with your provider if you or someone you love has a problem with alcohol. Alcoholics Anonymous offers good support programs for family members.
Medications affect people in different ways, and drug interactions can be dangerous. Older people need to be careful of interactions when taking many medications. Inform all your providers, including the dentist, of the medications you take, especially over-the-counter medicines and vitamins. Always take medications as prescribed. Avoid drinking alcohol while taking them since it can cause serious problems. The combination of alcohol and tranquilizers or pain killers can be deadly.
See your health care provider at least yearly, and more often if you have a health issue. Know your family medical history. Be involved in your health care and know your numbers: blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and weight. Stay up to date on vaccinations. Get a flu shot every September/October. Get recommended screenings and examinations. See your eye doctor regularly; if you experience vision problems, make an appointment as soon as possible.
Stress is normal. It can be a great motivator and help in some cases. Too much stress, however, can cause health problems such as insomnia, stomachache, anxiety, mood changes and high blood pressure. You may not be able to avoid all stress, but knowing the source can help you feel in control. The more control you feel over your life, the less damaging the stress. It helps to talk with friends or your provider about stress. Exercise also provides a healthy outlet for stress.
Obesity is a serious health concern. Excess body fat can overwork the heart, bones and muscles and increase your risk for high blood pressure, stroke, varicose veins, breast cancer and gall bladder disease. Obesity can be caused by eating too much and eating unhealthy foods. Lack of exercise plays a part, along with family history.
A balanced diet is important to good health. Choose foods low in cholesterol and saturated and trans fat. Limit your intake of sugar, salt and alcohol. Stay away from processed foods. Eat more fiber, found in fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grain products and nuts. Consider following a Mediterranean diet.
Good dental care and hygiene keep your teeth and gums healthy for a lifetime. Limit sugar intake. Brush your teeth twice a day using fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled or electric toothbrush. Replace your toothbrush when the bristles are bent. Get regular dental check-ups, and ask your hygienist to demonstrate proper brushing and flossing.
Visit the “Five Minutes or Less for Health” widget/website/blog from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for quick steps you can take to be safe and healthy. Follow the links for additional steps that take longer but are worth the time. New tips are uploaded weekly.
You are never too out of shape, too overweight or too old to make healthy changes. Find strategies that work for you. Change is a process and takes time. Know your habits, make a plan, stay on track, think about the future and be patient. Take care of yourself for you because you are worth it.
The content of this article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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