A lot of health and wellness articles you see online or in magazines can reel you in with a headline promising the “Top 10 things you didn’t know” -- only to deliver “9 things you already knew”. This is an especially common experience for those of you who pay attention to your health, generally eat well and make time for the gym. If that sounds like you, and you’re interested taking your health and wellness to the next level, this article won’t disappoint.
Stress + Mental Health
Overall healthy individuals often overlook their mental wellbeing. Most likely, this is because generalized stress is so common that we don’t even notice how much we are carrying around. Right now, it might be just be a feeling of sluggishness or tight shoulders, but over time, the steady pressure of stress wears down the body and the mind.
Start with these questions.
- How’s your mental health? Take a few breaths before you answer to really consider this question.
- Do you feel stressed? If so, how much? How often?
- Are you feeling depressed or anxious on a regular basis?
- How are your close relationships with family, partner, or spouse?
- Are you getting enough social activity?
- Are you making time for quiet, contemplation and creativity?
If you notice a negative trend, it’s time to take action. There are about as many ways of managing stress as there are people. Finding the right solution for you is key, and working with your physician and a health coach are a great way to start. Avoid the temptation to do nothing, make a plan to manage stress, then check in regularly with yourself to see how you’re doing.
More and more studies are confirming the negative consequence of poor sleep habits. Like stress, poor sleep quantity and/or quality can manifest in all sorts of ailments from general sleepiness to reduced immunity, cognitive impairment, sexual dysfunction, increased incidence heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and more.
There are three aspects to consider for sleeping well.
- The physical environment. This includes everything from going to bed early to kicking your pets out of bed and limiting screen time.
- Your physical state. Some people have sleep apnea or suffer from disorders that require treatment from a physician.
- Your mental state. Many people can avoid medication by addressing their mental state. Managing stress can help, as can working with a specialist to develop the tools to calm the mind, go to sleep faster, stay asleep, and reach the deep sleep required for rejuvenation.
Getting a good night’s sleep is understandably undervalued by my overall healthy patients. These folks are usually juggling a fully scheduled lifestyle. Sleep is often the easiest place to add a few more hours in the day, but getting enough good sleep is critical to adding a few more quality years to your life.
Habits + Behaviors
It’s no fun, but when we are talking about what kills generally healthy people, poor habits and risky behavior need to be included. This covers habits like smoking and tobacco products, which by now we all agree is not a great idea. We can also include following common sense rules for driving. Stop speeding, wear your seat belt, stay off your phone, and avoid driving if you’re tired.
And that brings us to the part of the conversation that makes everyone groan: alcohol.
No one likes to hear this. Sorry, but … Drinking is not good for you. If you’re not planning to give up your craft beers for good (see: “stress” section above), cut back. No more than one drink per session for women and two for men. Alcohol wreaks havoc on your body from your skin and liver, to other major organs. Alcohol obviously impairs brain function and also impacts memory and the ability to achieve deep sleep. By the time we are seeing the symptoms of alcohol-related ailments, it’s mostly too late.
But there is some good news! Researchers can’t seem to find anything wrong with caffeine. If you’re consuming caffeine in normal quantities, you can keep this habit and enjoy it.
(Picking up on any themes ... ?)
At this point, you might be picking up on a theme. For many people, unhealthy habits, poor sleep quality, and mental health concerns tie directly to stress and ineffective reduction or coping mechanisms. If you’re chronically oversleeping then drinking caffeine all day to compensate, as just one example, stress might be the underlying culprit. In these instances, it makes sense for the doctor, individual, and health coach to work together to develop a plan to better manage stress for long term health.
Age-Related Screening + Vaccinations
Sometimes dismissed as unnecessary by healthy people are preventive screening and routine vaccinations. Based on your age and family history, your doctor will recommend tests, screenings, and diagnostics. As you age, your risk for certain ailments such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes increases. Other common tests include vision, hearing, and cognitive function. Routine vaccinations also become an important factor to avoiding communicable diseases, such as pneumonia and shingles.
Staying ahead of these concerns allows you to catch issues early, when they are most treatable or better yet, prevent them altogether.
Certain advanced tests, screening, and diagnostics dig deeper into your current state of health and allow for corrective or preventive treatment plans. Because these tests are proactive in nature for a healthy person without symptoms, the cost is often not covered by insurance and paid out-of-pocket by the individual. It’s important to talk with your doctor about your personal medical history, your family, and your concerns in order to ensure that you’re paying for only the tests you really need. Some examples of advanced diagnostics could include:
- ApoE genetic marker evaluation for cardiovascular risk and medication sensitivity
- MTHFR genetic markers evaluation stroke and ischemic heart disease
- CT heart scan (calcium scoring)
- Memory and mental acuity
- Screening for vascular disease
- Advanced cardiac profile and cholesterol / lipids
You can get many of these on your own, but to get the most value from them, be sure your doctor has received training on how to interpret the results. PartnerMD offers a variety of packaged Advanced Physicals that are custom to each individual, coordinated into a single day of appointments, and include consultation with a physician who can explain not just the results, but what they mean to your current and future health.
PartnerMD + Aging Well
These are the areas of exploration and the advice I share with overall healthy patients to help improve not just longevity, but quality of life as they age. And, it helps that I have the time built into my practice to really listen to each patient and think about how what they are telling me fits into the “bigger picture” of their health and wellness.
It’s a common misconception that concierge medicine is just for the elderly or chronically ill. I work with many PartnerMD members who consider managing their health to be a serious responsibility and seek out a preventive approach to aging well.