MACON – Making preventive health care a priority in 2005 may be easier said than done, but faculty in the School of Medicine at Mercer University are offering several suggestions on how to achieve this goal.
Dona Harris, Ph.D., professor of family medicine and associate dean for faculty development at Mercer's School of Medicine, said that the holiday season is the best time to give yourself the gift of wellness. She offered several tips on staying healthy during this season of gluttony.
"During the holidays, try to get some kind of exercise five days a week for 30 minutes a day. This can even include walking while you're doing your shopping," she noted. "And when you're at parties with all of that good holiday food, remember that the first bite tastes the same as the last, it's what's in between that gets us in trouble. Nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels."
Harris also suggested that the New Year is an opportunity to break bad habits, but recommended focusing on one achievable goal at a time. She said that people are more successful if they have a support system where they can share difficulties, successes and ideas.
Alice House, M.D., assistant professor of family medicine and medical director of student health and wellness, said patients should have a checklist of what medical tests and screenings to have and how often to have them.
"Trying to prevent disease and health problems is always easier than trying to correct them," House said. "When making New Year's resolutions, keep the following tips and recommendations – based on the recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society – in mind."
- Check cholesterol. It is recommended that everyone without risk factors for heart disease have a complete lipid panel done as a baseline. For men, this would begin at age 35, and for women, at age 45. Men at risk for heart disease (high blood pressure or family history) should start this screening between ages 20 and 35, and women, between ages 20 and 45. If the lab results are normal, then the screening should be repeated every five years.
- Check your blood pressure. Even if your blood pressure has always been normal (135/85 or less), you should still have your blood pressure checked once a year, beginning at age 18. Some sources recommend having it checked every year from 3 years of age due to the increase in childhood hypertension.
- Get a mammogram. At age 35, women should have a baseline mammogram, and between the ages of 40 and 50, they should have mammograms every two years. At age 50, it is recommended that women have an annual mammogram to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages. Women should also do a breast self exam every month to help detect cancer.
- Get a PAP smear. This is recommended for every woman within three years of becoming sexually active, or at age 21, whichever comes first. It is then recommended every year after that to help detect cervical cancer in its earliest stages. If you are over 65 years of age, have had a hysterectomy for non-cancerous reasons or have always had a normal PAP smear, then see your doctor as you may not need a PAP smear every year.
- Get PSA tests. The American Cancer Society recommends that males age 50 years and older have a PSA test annually to detect prostate cancer. If you are at high risk for this cancer, the screening should begin earlier. Some sources recommend a monthly self testicular exam to help detect testicular cancer earlier.
- Get a stool for occult blood test. This is recommended to screen for colon cancer and is a test to check for blood in the stool, an early sign of colon cancer. It is recommended to begin this annual test at age 50 for both men and women.
- Get a physical examination. This should include having a visual check of the mouth for oral cancers and obvious tooth decay, listening to the neck for signs of "clogged" arteries, and completing a breast exam for women and a prostate exam for men. Everyone 50 years and older should have a rectal examination. You may have your thyroid, lymph nodes and skin checked for signs of cancer as well. If you are a smoker or have risk factors for heart disease, you should get a baseline chest x-ray and consider repeating it every five years if it is normal. Everyone 45 years and older should have a baseline EKG if needed in the future for comparison.
House added, "Quit smoking, lose weight, exercise five times a week, and use alcohol in moderation only. Wear your seatbelt, drive the speed limit and never drink and drive or ride with those who do. Above all, find time to relax, have fun and enjoy life in the upcoming new and healthier year!"
About Mercer University
Founded in 1833, Mercer University has campuses in Macon and Atlanta as well as three regional academic centers. With 10 schools and colleges, the University offers programs in liberal arts, business, engineering, education, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, law and theology. For 15 consecutive years, U.S. News & World Report has named Mercer University as one of the leading universities in the South.