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This week I decided to discuss something I am infinitely passionate about as a physician – health prevention. When I started this journey toward wellness, personal development and blogging a few years ago, it was spurned from my interest in preventive medicine. From there, I became more interested in lifestyle medicine and exploring the concept of true wellness.
Although certain aspects of our health such as hereditary factors, genetic diseases and environmental exposures are beyond our control, we do have some level of control over other aspects of our health that fall in line with prevention. Having said this, despite our best preventive efforts, certain illnesses such as cancer can afflict even the healthiest of people.
In the end, by taking prevention into our own hands, we will not only improve our quality of life but also improve our chances of more positive outcomes in the fight against certain chronic diseases.
What prevention strategies should you focus on?
By no means is this a comprehensive list, but rather my top 6 prevention strategies:
1) Diet: Harvard School of Public Health has created some very useful resources around dietary guidelines. In general, some of the principles I emphasize include moderation, variety and more whole foods. Other specific considerations include calcium and fibre intake.
Calcium – an important factor contributing to bone health and osteoporosis prevention. Osteoporosis Canada has created a useful resource for calcium requirements. In general, 1000mg/day from ages 18-50 and 1200mg/day over age 50.
Fibre – according to the Canadian Cancer Society, a diet high in fibre (fruits, veggies, whole grain and legumes) can be protective against colorectal cancer.
2) Physical activity: Without question, exercise can lower your risk of many chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, as well as lower your risk of certain cancers. It is also very beneficial for your mental health.
For most adults, the current Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity and strengthening exercises twice a week. Recently, awareness has grown around the dangers of sitting disease and the value of incorporating 30 minutes a day of walking.
3) Lifestyle choices: Our lifestyle choices can significantly contribute to our overall health and prevention efforts. Some of the more important ones include the following:
Limit alcohol intake – in general, one drink/day for women and two drinks/day for men.
Avoid illicit drug use – can increase risky behaviours & impair your immune system.
Avoid risky sexual behaviour – increases your risk for sexually transmitted infections including lifelong ones such as Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) & Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which is linked to certain cancers.
Use protective safety gear – whether for work or play, it will reduce the risk of serious injuries (i.e. concussions).
Apply sunscreen – long-term ultraviolet (UV) ray exposure can increase your risk of skin cancer.
4) Smoking: I could have put this under lifestyle choices, but I believe that it is so important that it deserves attention in isolation. Throughout medical training, one of the most glaring risk factors for almost any health problem is smoking. Fortunately, if you do smoke and want to quit, many resources exist to help with smoking cessation.
5) Screening: Although the recommendations for age, timing and interventions may have fluctuated over the course of time, the types of cancer we routinely screen for remain constant – breast, colon and cervical cancer. Be aware of the types of cancer you should be screened for based on age, gender and other risk factors such as family history.
6) Stress & sleep management: In our face-paced world, we cannot overlook the importance of emotional stress, physical stress and sleep deprivation on our health and well-being. Many great resources and tips on stress management exist including those through the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine. As a general rule, most adults should aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep a day.
What prevention strategy would you put at the top of your list?