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Susan Blumenthal, M.D. Headshot

Prescription For A Healthier Future

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In 2008, thanks to the triumph of public health and medical interventions, Americans will live 30 years longer, on average, than they did a century ago. These advances have resulted in a shift in the threats to Americans' health. In the early 1900s, the leading killers were infectious diseases like smallpox, tuberculosis and diphtheria, but today the major killers are chronic illnesses, including heart and lung disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes, as well as injuries. Moreover, well over one-third of all deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to behavioral and environmental factors including tobacco use, poor diet, physical inactivity, and alcohol and drug use. Additionally, a recent report suggests that 100,000 lives could be saved each year through increased use of just five preventive health services such as taking a low dose of aspirin daily, bolstering efforts to prevent tobacco use and help people quit smoking, screening regularly for colorectal and breast cancer, and obtaining a yearly flu shot. Developing and implementing ways to reduce health damaging behaviors and injuries has the potential to cut annual deaths in the U.S. in half as well as dramatically cut health care costs.

Each year, millions of Americans make resolutions related to improving their health. Listed below are some key ingredients of a prescription for a healthier future in 2008.

Find a doctor with whom you feel comfortable -- Enter into a partnership with your doctor for your health. If you ever have doubts about a physician's recommendation, get a second opinion.

Know and keep a record of your family health history -- Some diseases run in families. Share information with your doctor. Learn about signs and symptoms of these illnesses so that you can detect them early.

If you smoke, STOP! -- If you don't, please don't start. Smoking is the #1 preventable cause of death and disability.

Eat smart -- Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber, vitamins, folate, and calcium and limit portion sizes. Limit your fat intake to 20-30% of daily calories. Check www.nutrition.gov and www.mpyramid.gov for more information.

Physical activity -- It is one of the very best things you can do to improve your health. Aim for 30 -- 60 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. Pick activities you like -- take stairs instead of elevators, take a power walk instead of a power lunch. Try a pedometer -- and aim for 10,000 steps every day! Visit www.fitness.gov to learn more.

Exercise your mind as well -- Do crossword puzzles or sudoko. Take a class. Join a bookclub. Mental exercises, an activity rich environment and socializing, help to keep your mind alert and will make your life more enjoyable as well.

Alcohol -- If you drink, limit your intake. 1-2 drinks a day might help prevent heart disease but serious health issues are associated with its use including car crashes, alcohol abuse, and an increased risk of liver disease and some cancers. Avoid alcohol totally if you are pregnant. And drugs? Don't, unless they're prescribed for you and then be sure to take them for the recommended period of time.

Clinical exams -- Obtain routine doctor's checkups with lifesaving early detection screening exams (cholesterol, blood pressure, pap smears, mammograms, prostate checks and colonoscopies depending on your age). Keep your immunizations current including pneumonia and seasonal flu vaccinations. Early detection and regular preventive care reduces the risk of disease and disability, save lives and billions of dollars in health care costs for our nation.

Skin exams -- Skin cancer is on the rise. Perform self-exams looking for growths with irregular shapes and colors. Have your skin checked annually. Above all, practice preventive medicine. Use sunscreens and be a shade worshiper.

Be safe -- In your home, in your work place, on your bike, in your car, and in your sexual practices.

Be ready in case of an emergency -- Be prepared in the event of a natural disaster such as a tornado, hurricane, a possible terrorist attack.. Develop a family plan and communication strategy. For more information, call 1-800-Be-Ready, or log onto www.ready.gov or www.fema.gov. Know what you can do to keep safe in the event of a pandemic flu: practice good hygiene, wash hands, cover coughs, and avoid infected people. Stay informed by visiting www.pandemicflu.gov.

Find your own stress buster -- Find time in the day that's just for you. Take a walk, read a book, practice yoga. Family and friends are critical to disease prevention. It's also more fun and easier to engage in healthy behaviors if others join you.

Be a savvy health consumer -- Read as much as you can and use trustworthy Internet sites (see list below) for reliable health information. Know your health plan. Be informed. Advocate for access to quality health care for all in our country. Knowledge is power when it comes to your health and the health of your family, business and community.

Recommended Websites:

www.healthfinder.gov
www.4woman.gov
www.medline.gov
www.pandemicflu.gov
www.cdc.gov
www.healthierus.gov
www.nutrition.gov
www.fluwikie.com
www.kff.org
www.globalhealth.gov
www.fitness.gov
www.ready.gov

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