By Barbara Floria, Pure Matters
Medical advances and technology can detect diseases earlier than ever before and save lives, but making prevention a part of your everyday life is just as important.
"Practicing prevention can lower your risk for developing the most deadly chronic diseases -- heart disease, diabetes and cancer," says Tricia Trinité, MSPH, APRN, director of prevention dissemination and implementation for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). "There's nothing mysterious about taking preventive action; it's really just a matter of making healthy choices on a daily basis."
Eating healthy foods in the right amounts can help you live a longer, healthier life.
Many illnesses and conditions, such as heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, can be prevented or controlled by eating a healthy, low-calorie, low-fat diet that includes at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, says Ms. Trinité.
Other dietary recommendations include eating more fiber and lean protein, such as chicken and fish, and less sodium, red meat and sugar.
For specific information on how to improve your diet, ask your doctor and visit the National Cancer Institute's website, the American Heart Association's website or the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans website.
Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure. To stay at a healthy weight, you need to balance the number of calories you eat with the number you burn off in physical activity. You can reach a healthy weight and stay there by eating right and being physically active. Your health care provider can tell you what you should weigh for your height. Or you can calculate your body mass index (BMI), which should be 18.5 to 24.9 for optimal health. To calculate your BMI, first multiply your height in inches by your height in inches; use this result to divide your weight in pounds. Multiply this number by 703.
Exercise most days
Physical activity can help prevent heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, some cancers, and mental health problems, such as depression.
"All kinds of physical activity, whether it's moderate or vigorous, will help you stay healthy," say Ms. Trinité. "It's a good idea to aim for at least moderate activity, such as brisk walking, bike riding, housecleaning, or playing with your children, for 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week. Generally, the more active you are, the better you'll feel today and the healthier you'll become tomorrow."
If you've been sedentary, smoke or have a chronic health condition, ask your health care provider how you should get started with an exercise program.
More than 440,000 Americans die each year from smoking and smoking-related causes. Smoking causes illnesses such as cancer, heart and lung disease, stroke and problems with pregnancy.
"Quitting is hard, and most people try several times before they quit for good," says Ms. Trinité. "But when you're ready to quit, ask your doctor for advice on the best way for you."
Take medicines correctly
Always be sure you know important information about a medicine before you take it. This will help you get the full benefit of the drug. It also will help you avoid taking too much or too little, which can be dangerous.
Each prescription medication comes with an information sheet. Be sure to carefully read this sheet. If you have questions or aren't clear about anything on the sheet, check with your health care provider, nurse or pharmacist.
Get your shots
You can prevent several serious diseases by getting immunized. Check with your health care provider to be sure you've had immunization for measles-mumps-rubella, tetanus-diphtheria, whooping cough, and influenza. If you are at risk for hepatitis A or B, you should be immunized against them. People older than 65 should be immunized against pneumococcal pneumonia.
Because of a resurgence of whooping cough (pertussis) in adults, a booster shot in combination with diphtheria and tetanus is now available for teens and adults. In 2005, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved two new vaccines as adult boosters for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. These vaccines are designated as Tdap and are recommended at 10-year intervals for people up to the age of 64. Current recommendations for adults 65 and older are to get boosters of tetanus and diphtheria only, every 10 years.
In 2006, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended a second varicella (chicken pox) vaccine immunization for adults previously immunized against chicken pox. All adults not previously immunized and who have not had chicken pox should talk to their doctor about immunization.
For people older than 60, the vaccine Zostavax was licensed by the FDA in 2006 to prevent shingles. Shingles is a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chicken pox. After an attack of chicken pox, the virus lies dormant in certain nerve tissue. As people age, it is possible for the virus to reappear in the form of shingles, which is estimated to affect two in every 10 people in their lifetime. Shingles is characterized by clusters of blisters, which develop on one side of the body. The blisters can cause severe pain that may last for weeks, months or years after the virus reappears. Studies showed that the vaccine reduced the occurrence of shingles between 50 and 64 percent.