Many years ago, I put together a talk to give patients in the emergency department. My goal was to educate people about how, if they followed some pretty basic steps, they'd be well on their way to maintaining long and healthy lifestyles. The ER may seem an unlikely place to discuss preventive medicine, but I've learned that it happens to be one of the few places where people are willing to listen to health advice.
Because we're bombarded constantly with the latest diet fads, exercise regimens, and general dos and don'ts, the last thing most of us want is another lecture about how we are misbehaving. So my list, which agrees with findings by the American College of Preventive Medicine and beyond, is short and manageable; these are, quite simply, the most important steps you can take to prevent or delay the most common killers:
1 If you smoke, quit.
2 If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
3 If you're in a car, buckle your seatbelt.
4 Monitor your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
5 Watch your weight.
Of course, some of these steps might be difficult. Smoking and drinking may be incredibly challenging to quit for some. Keeping excess weight off can be a lifelong battle for many. Others still have the bad luck of inheriting a propensity for high cholesterol, blood pressure, and/or blood sugar levels. If you fit into any of these categories, my advice is start at the top of the list and do your best to tackle one at a time. Doing a little research on how to stay motivated goes a long way as well.
Beyond these essential five steps, a myriad of others are likely to improve health outcomes--i.e. being active, sleeping eight hours a night, and eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet. Some specialized advice may depend on your genes, age, hobbies, etc. A primary physician can provide more personalized preventive advice.
At First Stop Health, we work to keep you up-to-date on the latest developments in preventive care without bombarding you with fads and wonder remedies. And of course, you can always call our doctors to ask how to prevent whatever conditions may be of concern to you.
Mark L. Friedman MD FACEP FACP is an emergency physician working to revolutionize the delivery of health care.