Nutrition-wise blog

Make prevention a habit

By Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. April 25, 2014

All this year we've been talking about "12 Habits of Highly Healthy People." The healthy habit this month is getting recommended preventive care, including health screenings and tests.

Regular physical exams and health screening tests are an important part of your health care. Test results provide a snapshot of your current health and reveal opportunities to make healthy changes. Screening tests can also help detect problems early, when symptoms are not yet present, which is often the key to successful treatment.

High blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol can lead to heart disease and stroke. Combined these represent the most common causes of death in the U.S. When high blood pressure, pre-diabetes and high cholesterol are detected in time, in many instances they can be initially treated with lifestyle changes. Keeping these risk factors and your body weight in check, staying away from tobacco and being active, are the most important steps to prevent heart disease and stroke.

The screening for high blood pressure takes about 5 minutes, and checking cholesterol and blood sugar levels are simple blood tests. Screenings can detect cancer at early stages and save lives. Talk to your doctor about whether the following screening recommendations apply to you:

  • Hypertension. After age 18 adults should have their blood pressure measured every 2 years. If it is above normal (120/80 mm Hg), it should be monitored more frequently.
  • Diabetes. Adults age 45 and older or any adults with hypertension or a body mass index (BMI) above 25 should have their fasting blood glucose level checked.
  • Cholesterol. Total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels should be tested every 5 years after the age of 20. If any values are elevated, more frequent monitoring is appropriate.
  • Colorectal cancer. At age 50, adults should talk to their doctor about testing for colorectal cancer.

Immunizations are not screenings, but they are an important part of preventive services. Check with your health care provider to ensure you're up to date on all recommended immunizations.

Opportunities to practice this healthy habit include:

  • Practice prevention with healthy lifestyle practices — eat better, move more and quit tobacco.
  • Inquire with your insurance plan about reduced cost or free coverage for preventive services.
  • Check with community and senior centers or local free clinics to see if they offer preventive screenings and tests.
  • Eat fiber-rich whole foods, such as vegetables, fruits, grains, beans and legumes. Fiber helps with weight management, cholesterol and blood glucose control, and contributes to digestive health.

Keep in mind that unnecessary screenings can lead to expensive tests and anxiety. So talk with your health care provider about what screenings you need based on your age, health history and risks factors.

Apr. 25, 2014