Friday, January 2, 2009

Prevention First in 2009

For a good long time medicine was concerned with just that -- medicine. I am talking about the new pills, technology, and techniques that have served to prolong life and cure disease. I believe that health, however, is about 10% medicine (maybe 20% if you include vaccination...) and 90% disease prevention. 

I was attempting to look up Boston health statistics when I came across a posting of "10 New Year's Resolutions for Good Health" on the Boston Public Health Commission website. These 10 tips were written by Dr. Harvey B. Simon, an affiliate with Harvard Medical School. As a physician, I expected his resolutions to encourage getting mammograms, taking an aspirin a day for those over 50, and focusing on the medical and health services aspects of health. I was so wrong! A full NINE of the resolutions were specifically preventive behaviors aimed at reducing one's risk of getting disease in the first place. This included suggestions such as:
  • avoid tobacco
  • eat right
  • protect yourself from infection (using vaccinations and preventing STD transmission)
  • wear bike helmets, seat belts, and install child safety seats
  • reduce stress
Now, I can appreciate the openness of his resolutions, which allows people to adapt them to their own circumstances (in fact, a more detailed list can be found at the Aetna website). However, to incorporate these into our lives would definitely require more specific, measurable goals. For instance, rather than "avoid environmental hazards" I would suggest a resolution that says "Have home tested for lead paint and other toxins by April 1 , if found replace with hazard-free alternatives by August 1." That way you have a specific action to take and a deadline to achieve it by. 

What can you do to most improve your health this coming year? Is it to cut back on smoking or alcohol consumption? Drink more tea and less coffee? Go for a 2-3 mile walk or a long bike ride a few times a week? Wear a condom or use another form of STD protection every time you have sex? Go to the doctor for an annual check-up (even though you may feel perfectly fine!)? 

We all can do more for our physical and mental health. Now is the time.

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