If you haven’t had a medical checkup in the past year, midyear is a good time to check in on your health.
Making an appointment now for preventive screenings can help avoid the hustle and bustle of the hectic fall and holiday seasons.
And it is one step at forging a lifestyle aimed at preventing cardiovascular disease and promoting brain health that can lead to more years of happiness, said Dr. Emelia Benjamin, professor of cardiovascular medicine and epidemiology at Boston University’s schools of Medicine and Public Health.
“A lot of things we can control. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Benjamin, a clinical cardiologist at Boston Medical Center.
Cardiovascular disease is largely preventable. Reducing the risk can lower health care costs over a lifetime. Overall, cardiovascular disease cost the United States $555 billion in 2016, and it’s expected to jump to $1.1 trillion by 2035.
Some cardiovascular disease risk factors are usually monitored or discussed at every annual checkup and are “low-hanging fruit” that you can measure and control on your own, Benjamin said.
“It’s so important to stay smoke-free,” she said. That means not lighting up – whether through traditional means or with e-cigarettes, known as vaping – and avoiding secondhand smoke.
To maintain a healthy weight and a heart-healthy diet, people should focus on eating skinless fish and poultry, legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Cut back on foods containing saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium. Portion control can help prevent overeating.
Getting physically active is another healthy action, and it doesn’t have to mean running a marathon. Even a little exercise that boosts activity and reduces sedentary time can help.
For example: A neighborhood walk or even a jaunt up and down the aisles in a supermarket; taking the stairs at work instead of an elevator; parking farther away from a destination so you’ll have to walk a bit more.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Physical activity also helps to control weight, prevent diabetes and improve brain health, Benjamin said.
Certain preventive health screenings are more complex and may need the assistance of a health care provider.
Measuring blood pressure is one of the most crucial screenings because high blood pressure has no symptoms, but it can dramatically increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Because it’s easy to check, and not costly, it makes sense to have a blood pressure reading at annual medical checkups.
Measuring it more frequently with an at-home monitor may be recommended for the diagnosis and treatment of high blood pressure, Benjamin said.
If your blood pressure is above 130/80, your health care provider may want to treat the condition with lifestyle changes such as weight loss, increased physical activity and reduction of alcohol consumption or – depending on how high the reading is and other individual factors – with medication, Benjamin said.
Cholesterol screening is recommended every four to six years for normal-risk adults, but more often if you have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. “Bad” cholesterol, or LDL cholesterol, can clog your arteries and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. HDL, or “good” cholesterol, can help eliminate the bad and can be elevated by more regular exercise.
Blood glucose screening for the risk of prediabetes and future diabetes is recommended for everyone beginning at age 45 and then, if tests are normal, at least at three-year intervals, according to the American Diabetes Association. Individual risk factors may also affect frequency of testing, Benjamin said.
In all cases, “shared decision making” with a health care provider is important, Benjamin said.
“It’s really important to pay attention to your risk factors and try to prevent, not treat, disease.”
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