Senior with Dumbbells

Alexander Raths

When it comes to health, action is key. But maintaining health and wellness isn’t just about reacting when things go wrong. People need to take concrete steps every day to build the foundation for a healthy life.

When asked for their opinions on the most important proactive health strategies, area physicians offered specific tips, some of which overlapped and are familiar medical refrains. Yet physicians continue to emphasize the importance of these healthy living fundamentals because many people still disregard the advice or have trouble succeeding at creating new, healthier habits.

For instance, the most important health strategy every expert queried for this article identified is smoking cessation. America is making progress on this front. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that “since 2002, the number of former U.S. smokers has exceeded the number of current smokers.”

“Not only will (smoking cessation) save you thousands of dollars a year, but it can save your life,” emphasizes Dr. Keya Hindia, a physician with Mercy Clinic Internal Medicine. “Smoking is linked with an increased risk of cancers, heart problems, lung problems—even skin problems. With the new year here, make a pact with friends or family members to quit smoking by setting a ‘quit date.’ If you need help, there are many resources in the area.” Hindia is referring to the many smoking cessation support groups and programs offered through area hospitals. Primary-care physicians can help smokers identify these resources and plan to quit with the aid of medications, if needed.

Being smoke-free and breathing better as a result makes the next proactive health strategy easier: regular exercise. “The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week. If you are not already exercising, start! Begin with at least 10 minutes,five days a week, then work your way up,” advises Dr. Sonia Chacko, a SLUCare physician specializing in internal medicine.

Dr. James Loomis, a physician specializing in internal medicine at St. Luke’s Hospital, adds that both cardiovascular exercise on most days and strength training a couple of times per week combine to create the most complete range of benefits. They include lower blood pressure, healthy weight maintenance, diabetes prevention, lower cholesterol, lower risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers, stronger bones and improved mood. Who wouldn’t want all that?

You can probably guess what the third most commonly mentioned health strategy is: eating a healthy diet. “Obesity-related complications are a leading killer of Americans. Eating well-balanced meals with limited trans-fats, saturated fats and cholesterol, and including fruits and vegetables, can decrease your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, bone or joint diseases, and even some cancers,” Hindia says. “Keep in mind, if you are on certain medications, then ask your doctor to make sure there aren’t interactions between these and otherwise ‘healthy’ foods.”

Physicians also agreed that getting an annual physical exam, having the health screenings recommended by your doctor and getting adequate sleep also are important to long-term health.

And don’t tackle everything at once, or you could end up overwhelmed and defeated. “Developing a healthy lifestyle is a process and doesn’t happen overnight, so be patient,” Loomis says. Talk to your physician and come up with a plan based on your health needs and priorities. As Loomis concludes, “Understanding what choices you make and why you make them can help you make better ones.”