It's Not All In Your Head:
What To Do About Subtle Changes As You Age
How can we change this cycle and actually have a really healthy New Year?
- First, adopt a healthy attitude. Start by taking an inventory of your behaviors that need to change-that you want to change-and take simple steps towards that goal. I call these Little Life Changes ® --LLC's. Think of good health as being the seat of a four-legged chair supported by proper nutrition, sufficient exercise, adequate sleep, and coping mechanisms.
- Whether you think something is "really" wrong with you or not, the best next step is to your physician for a complete physical exam with age appropriate screening and diagnostic testing. For women, make sure that includes an internal gynecologic exam with a Pap smear, breast exam, and mammogram if you're due for one. For men and women, make sure that it includes a digital rectal exam, one of the most often neglected parts of a routine physical. Discuss with your doctor behavioral issues that you've identified and ASK FOR HELP if you need it. Key areas for discussion are:
- Smoking. You must stop.
- Alcohol. Most people should drink in moderation only. Many others (including those with a history of alcoholism, those who are pregnant, those with certain medical conditions, those on certain medications, etc.), however, must stop entirely.
- Diet: It's not effective to say "I want to lose 20# this year"-instead, aim to lose one half pound per week with specific strategies like not snacking between meals or by cutting out specific challenging items like cake, cookies or candy. Short term dieting is not a long-term solution. The key is to make those LLC's that will change your dietary habits for the long term, i.e. for life. For people who complain of low energy, the first thing we need to evaluate is not only their total intake but when they're eating it; most people try dieting by eliminating breakfast, the most important meal of the day.
- Vitamins: Some of the best fed-and overfed-Americans are actually undernourished! While most American adults do not get the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) of all vitamins, these values do not always reflect the ODI (Optimal Daily Intake). Ask your doctor or a dietician-not the health food store clerk-to recommend what you need as an individual. Get on a routine and stick to it.
- Medicines: Review all your medicines-including prescriptions, non-prescription medicines, herbal or naturopathic remedies, and vitamins-with your doctor. Are some of your symptoms side effects or drug interactions? Are there changes that can/should be made in dosage or medicine selection? Each time you go to see a physician, it's a good idea to bring all of your medicines with you.
- Sleep: The most common symptom most adults-especially women-complain of is fatigue and yet they can't answer how much sleep they are actually getting. Getting good quality, uninterrupted sleep is just as important as getting enough hours of sleep. If your sleep is inadequate, ask yourself why? If you have insomnia, your physician may be able to help, but can't do much to intervene if the reason is that you have children that keep you up at night and a spouse who gets up at dawn.
- Exercise: This is another popular New Year's Resolution headliner that often gets broken after a week or two because people overdo it and lose interest or get injured. It's actually better for most individuals to do 20 minutes of exercise daily than 2 hours, three times per week. This doesn't mean you have to join a health club either; for most people, the best exercise is to walk, walk, walk!
- Fluids: What you are drinking is as important as what you are eating. Just as most children and adolescents no longer drink enough milk, most adults simply do not drink enough water. And what about caffeine? Diet soda is a bigger offender than coffee with respect to caffeine content. Caffeine can cause all kinds of metabolic effects including speeding up your heart rate, interacting with certain medications, causing dehydration, and causing your body to lose calcium. It can also increase your appetite and stimulate salt and sugar cravings in many women.
Whether you think something is “really” wrong with you or not, the best next step is to see your physician for a complete physical exam with age appropriate screening and diagnostic testing.