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Concerned with health costs? Take this 5-day health challenge

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The top Democratic presidential candidates continue to include health-care concerns for Americans as a priority, while recent research shows most Americans, or 69 percent, are also concerned about health-care costs. 

Yet, many Americans do not see the connection between health and weight or other factors they can control. A 2019 Cleveland Clinic survey shows 88 percent of those surveyed understand the link between healthy weight and heart health, yet 43 percent of Americans have tried to make dietary changes. to lose weight and 40 percent of those who describe themselves as overweight or obese say they aren’t careful about which foods they eat. 

As a family physician and obesity medicine specialist, here’s my recommended five-day challenge to learn about your own health and take steps to care for yourself. 

While social media is bombarding us with reminders of counting down to the holidays, perhaps it is time for every American to take five days to count up to better health.   

Day 1

Schedule your physical with your primary care provider or find one if you do not already have one. Your primary care provider gets to know you over time and can help make sure you are up to date on your vaccines and screening tests or you can check this page. 

Your primary care provider is there to get to know you over time and to help you in health and in sickness. Find out if there are choices you can make to improve or treat your personal medical concerns and health risks. 

Day 2

Learn what your weight means. Recognize this is a simple way to check if you are at higher risk of health problems. This means you need to know your BMI (body mass index) and notice if your waist size has been growing larger. You can measure your height and weight to calculate your BMI. [Use this page if calculating BMI for someone under 20 years old.] 

For instance, in adults, a BMI of 25 or more is a diagnosis of overweight and a BMI of 30 or more, is a diagnosis of obesity. In the United States, more than two out of every three adults are diagnosed with overweight or obesity.

Know that as BMI increases, there are increased risks of health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, fatty liver, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, depression, infertility, as well as many cancers. There is also increased risk of dying younger. In 2017, the Cleveland Clinic presented data showing obesity is the number one cause of preventable death. 

As an adult, if your waist is getting larger and you are not pregnant, your risk factors for insulin resistance, pre-diabetes and diabetes is increased and healthy weight loss will decrease those risks. In fact, we now know that some cases of diabetes can be reversed with consistent healthier lifestyle choices. 

If your health would benefit from healthy weight loss, avoiding sweetened and highly processed foods and drinks, increasing activity, decreasing the duration of sitting, improving sleep, reducing stress and adjusting (if possible) any medications that cause weight gain with your health care team are all ways to impact your weight. 

If you are considering a medically-supervised weight loss program, know what to look for in a healthy weight loss program or you can find a board-certified Obesity Medicine Specialist to help you on your journey. 

Day 3

Learn about your medications, vitamins and supplements, if you are taking any. Gather all of your medications, vitamins and supplements. Throw out the ones that are expired. Make a list of the medications you are taking regularly and write down why you are (supposed to be) taking each one. If you do not know why you are taking a medication, put a question mark next to it so you can learn about it when you see your pharmacist. 

Next to each medication, note if it is helpful, not helpful, or if you cannot notice. Take this list with you when you go to see your primary care provider. Talk with your provider about the medications that are not helpful or that you cannot tell if they are helpful. See if there are alternatives or if they can be discontinued and how to do so if appropriate. 

Day 4

Understand that the most powerful health-promoting thing you can do for yourself is to increase your activity. Sit less and move more. Get up from sitting, frequently. Find activities you like to do that require more movement. Exercise is important in the prevention and treatment of mood disorders, sleep disorders, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, as well as prevent falls, prevent many cancers, and prevent sarcopenia (loss of muscle leading to frailty and other health problems). Aim to work up to a minimum total of 15 minutes of daily walking. One prospective cohort study looked at over 400,000 people in Taiwan and found that a minimum of 15 minutes of exercise daily resulted in living three years longer.

Day 5

Create a routine to engage your senses. Examples include spending time with loved ones or finding ways to build new connections with others. Also, time spent with pets, in nature and/or engaging with the arts can calm the mind and provide healing as it connects us to the positive energy around us. 

Health education is a lifelong endeavor. It’s easy to get caught up in daily work and dramas and forget about self-care, particularly at busy times of year. But optimizing health can start with five days of deliberate action and that can start now. 

Dr. Naomi Parrella is assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and the Department of Surgery and the medical director for Rush University Center for Weight Loss and Lifestyle Medicine, and she is board-certified in family medicine and obesity medicine, holds a certification in Chinese herbal medicine, and is a Public Voices fellow through The OpEd Project.


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