Preventive Health Steps with the Highest Return on Investment
When it comes to aging, we can’t always avoid major health issues. But even if our genetics set us up for type 2 diabetes, for example, there are plenty of steps we can take to reduce our risk. Which preventive steps provide the biggest return on our effort?
Here’s where science suggests your investment will get you the furthest in lowering your risk.
No surprise here — smoking causes a variety of health problems including lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease and stroke. It’s also the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.
Putting cigarettes down has immediate impacts. In just a few months after quitting, smokers experience lower blood pressure, healed lungs and more energy. Within one year of quitting smoking, your heart disease risk is cut in half — within five, your blood vessels and arteries will widen, reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Quitting isn’t easy, but your primary care physician can help get you on a smoking cessation plan. This may include nicotine-replacement therapy—using nicotine patches, gum or lozenges; prescription nicotine in an inhaler or nasal spray; or nicotine-free prescription medication such as varenicline and bupropion.
Cut back on alcohol
While alcohol is sometimes tied to health benefits (especially wine), new science is emerging. And it suggests that there is no health benefit and only risk to drinking alcohol. Alcohol is responsible for a surprising number of cancer, heart disease and liver disease deaths.
But it’s not just alcohol’s impact on our body – though that’s important if you drink a lot. Alcohol has a major impact on our decision making and drinking increases the risk of death or injury from car accidents and falls.
We also make other poor decisions while drinking, like overeating. Alcohol can also disrupt our plans to stay healthy like going to the gym in the morning.
Maintain a healthy weight
Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, as well as some types of cancer. Losing even a small amount of weight can help towards reducing your risk of these and other diseases. The best way to keep your weight in check is a combination of eating a healthy diet and staying fit with regular physical activity.
If you’re overweight, work with your doctor on a plan to achieve a healthy weight.
Eat a healthy diet
Eating a healthy diet is, of course, key in managing your weight within a healthy range for your age and height. This means cutting out or heavily reducing your intake of saturated and trans fats, refined sugars and sodium. Instead, eat a balanced diet that is heavy in vegetables, fruits, lean protein and whole grains.
Diet plays an outsized role in longevity and disease prevention. Eating healthier foods may cost a little bit more, but your health will benefit substantially. The earlier you start eating healthier, the better. But even making changes later in life can help you live healthier and longer.
Regular physical activity is a must at any age. It’s also an investment that can pay off in reduced disease risk, better mobility and better mental health.
Even as you age, exercise remains a pillar of prevention with a good ROI. In your 50s, that may mean a daily run, working out at the gym, cycling or swimming laps several times a week. As you age beyond your 60s, you may need to temper the stress level and duration of your exercise routine with the advice of your doctor. But whether you take a daily walk or switch to senior water aerobics, every step and stroke counts.
Being active also stimulates endorphins and can help reduce stress and improve your mood, which can help you stave off or prevent chronic diseases and debilitating health issues.
Commit to getting regular checkups
It’s important to develop a relationship with a primary care physician that includes regular checkups. These checkups can help you establish a benchmark for health issues and concerns and develop a plan to help prevent chronic diseases, catch red-flag indicators early and keep you on a path to staying healthy.
When it comes to healthcare costs, primary care visits are a cheap investment – especially if they keep you out of the hospital and the emergency room.