Guys understand cars. That's why I use the analogy of cars when discussing health care maintenance. Just as a vehicle needs ongoing care and scheduled maintenance, your body needs to be well maintained and checked every so often to run better and last longer.
A patient I'll call Harry was 48, drank too much alcohol (more than four drinks a day), and was finally driven to the doctor when he developed some vision problems and a gnawing left arm "ache" when walking uphill. It turns out his blood pressure was 160 over 110 (140 over 90 is considered high, and worrisome). His cholesterol was 280, with high "bad" LDL cholesterol, and he wasn't getting any regular exercise. The good news is Harry isn't like 50% of people (mostly men) whose first sign of heart disease is sudden death.
More frequently than men, women see their family doctors regularly for things like pap smears and "well women checks." Ideally at these visits, they get their blood pressure checked, have their body mass index calculated for obesity, and are counseled about regular exercise, a balanced diet and other healthy behaviors (like avoiding tobacco and other harmful drugs, reducing stress, getting good sleep). These are all part of the preventive stance that medicine is increasingly adopting. In the old model, we often waited until there was a problem—and then performed the expensive fix. We have known for many years that preventing a problem is cheaper, but prior to the new wave of thinking currently happening in medicine, doctors were unable to bill for "routine health care." Now we can, and behaviors should slowly change.
How you use your "vehicle" matters. Maintenance and care for your body will give you a healthier, stronger life; just as it does your for your car. Do you exercise regularly (five times a week for at least 30 minutes)? Do you warm up (or start slow) before exercise? Do you stretch afterwards? Do you have a good community, family and support network? Do you laugh and find enjoyment on a weekly basis? Eat healthy foods? Avoid fat, grease, sugar and other "junk food"?
Many of us ignore our bodies until we start getting older—and experience health problems. Just as the list of things on a vehicle's checkup increases with miles, the list of preventive recommendations increases for people as we age.
- cholesterol checks by 40
- mammograms by 50
- vaccinations (shingles, flu shots, pneumovax)
- depression screening
- colon cancer screening (fecal blood tests or endoscopies)
And this is just a partial list for people without symptoms.
So what about when problems occur? Do you listen to the motor for abnormalities when your car acts up? If you hear a rubbing sound, do you look under the hood? Take it to a mechanic? Do the same thing with your body. If something doesn't sound or feel right, you're probably right.
Harry did come to the doctor. I put him on medications to lower his blood pressure, a regular aspirin and an exercise routine. He was counseled on reducing or eliminating alcohol, and given tips for a healthier diet.
We only get one "vehicle." Taking good care of it will ensure a smoother, safer and longer ride.
Dr. Pepper practices family medicine at the Martinez Health Center.
Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.