A lot of factors play a role in staying healthy. In turn, good health can decrease your risk of developing certain diseases or conditions. These include heart disease, stroke, some cancers, and injuries. Learn what you can do to maintain your and your family’s health.
Path to improved health
What you eat is closely linked to your health. Balanced nutrition has many benefits. By making healthier food choices, you can prevent or treat some conditions. These include heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. A healthy diet can help you lose weight and lower your cholesterol, as well.
Get regular exercise
Exercise can help prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and colon cancer. It can help treat depression, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure. People who exercise also get injured less often. Routine exercise can make you feel better and keep your weight under control. Try to be active for 30 to 60 minutes about 5 times a week. Remember, any amount of exercise is better than none.
Lose weight if you’re overweight
Many Americans are overweight. Carrying too much weight increases your risk for several health conditions. These include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Some cancers
- Gallbladder disease
Being overweight also can lead to weight-related injuries. A common problem is arthritis in the weight-bearing joints, such as your spine, hips, or knees. There are several things you can try to help you lose weight and keep it off.
Protect your skin
Sun exposure is linked to skin cancer. This is the most common type of cancer in the United States. It’s best to limit your time spent in the sun. Be sure to wear protective clothing and hats when you are outside. Use sunscreen year-round on exposed skin, like your face and hands. It protects your skin and helps prevent skin cancer. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. It should be at least an SPF 15. Do not sunbathe or use tanning booths.
Practice safe sex
Safe sex is good for your emotional and physical health. The safest form of sex is between 2 people who only have sex with each other. Use protection to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Condoms are the most effective form of prevention. Talk to your doctor if you need to be tested for STIs.
Don’t smoke or use tobacco
Smoking and tobacco use are harmful habits. They can cause heart disease and mouth, throat, or lung cancer. They also are leading factors of emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The sooner you quit, the better.
Limit how much alcohol you drink
Men should have no more than 2 drinks a day. Women should have no more than 1 drink a day. One drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. Too much alcohol can damage your liver. It can cause some cancers, such as throat, liver, or pancreas cancer. Alcohol abuse also contributes to deaths from car wrecks, murders, and suicides.
Things to consider
In addition to the factors listed above, you should make time for whole body health. Visit your doctors for regular checkups. This includes your primary doctor as well as your dentist and eye doctor. Let your health benefits and preventive care services work for you. Make sure you know what your health insurance plan involves. Preventive care can detect disease or prevent illness before they start. This includes certain doctor visits and screenings.
You need to make time for breast health. Breast cancer is a leading cause of death for women. Men can get breast cancer, too. Talk to your doctor about when you should start getting mammograms. You may need to start screening early if you have risk factors, such as family history. One way to detect breast cancer is to do a monthly self-exam.
Women should get routine pap smears as well. Women ages 21 to 65 should get tested every 3 years. This may differ if you have certain conditions or have had your cervix removed.
Ask your doctor about other cancer screenings. Adults should get screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 45. Your doctor may want to check for other types of cancer. This will depend on your risk factors and family history.
If you smoke more than 30 packs a year (or vape the equivalent), your doctor may recommend a low-dose CT scan (a type of X-ray) to check for cancer.
Your doctor also may recommend a total body skin exam if you are out in the sun a great deal or have a family history of skin cancer.
Keep a list of current medicines you take. You also should stay up to date on shots, including getting an annual flu shot. Adults need a Td booster every 10 years. Your doctor may substitute it with Tdap. This also protects against whooping cough (pertussis). Women who are pregnant need the Tdap vaccine. People who are in close contact with babies should get it as well.
Questions to ask your doctor
- How many calories should I eat and how often should I exercise to maintain my current weight?
- Should I have a yearly physical exam?
- What types of preventive care does my insurance cover?
- When should I start getting screened for certain cancers and conditions?
- Which healthy choice is the most important for me?
American Cancer Society: Cancer Risk, Screening, and Prevention
National Institute on Aging: Health and Aging
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.