The start of a new year is the ideal time to take an audit of your health.
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“The start of the new year is perfect because it’s a forward looking time,” says Chandra Torgerson, senior vice president for quality improvement at UnitedHealthcare. “Individuals are looking to make changes in their life.”
Health-care experts advise making 2014 the year you take a preventive approach to health care instead of being reactive. After all, the most common causes of chronic diseases and death can be prevented, says Michael Smith, chief medical editor for WebMd.com.
“Prevention is what everyone should focus on,” says Smith. “Incorporating a healthy diet and regular exercise into our lives isn’t easy, but it’s a must if you want to not only live a long life, but a healthy, thriving life.”
But being proactive doesn’t mean hitting the gym five days a week or dropping 30 pounds in six month, Smith recommends making short-term reachable goals like adding one day of exercise to your weekly routine.
Another idea: eat a salad in place of your normal dinner for one meal a week. “These are tangible goals that feel reachable. The chance for success is high,” he says. “As you reach that goal, you can step it up a bit--baby steps.”
Experts also suggest making sleep a top priority in the new year.
Getting age-appropriate screenings should also be on your schedule in 2014, and here’s some good news: many of the preventive screenings will be free under the health-care reform act, says Torgerson. She suggests asking your doctor which screenings and tests you need and to start making the appointments.
While your age and health will dictate what screenings and tests are needed, even adults in their 20s should look into the preventive screenings for their age group. “We’re seeing more health problems often due to lifestyle issues, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes in young adults,” says Smith. If these issues go undetected they can cause long-term damage. “We often call high blood pressure the silent killer but that name could apply to any of these conditions…that’s why simple tests are so important.”
Smith says starting at 18, people need their blood pressure checked every two years and that at age 20, cholesterol blood tests should be added at least every five years. At age 45, he suggests people get a fasting blood sugar test to detect diabetes.
“Early, aggressive treatment is key to preventing the potentially devastating complications from diabetes.” Once you hit 50, Smith says everyone needs to start getting screened for colon cancer and mammograms should start for women at age 40 or 50 and then every year or two after that.
In addition to lining up your screenings and committing to a healthier lifestyle, medical experts say the beginning of the year is an ideal time to get your medical documents in order to make sure you haven’t missed any important tests or screenings.
Chief Medical Officer of Vitals.com, Dr. Todd Rosengart, recommends making a list of each family member’s doctor along with their insurance and contact information.
You also want to review your plan to see if there are any changes to your deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance in the new year. Rosengart says it’s also a good idea to jot down all the medications each family member is taking including the name and dosage in case you need to reference it in an emergency.