Dr. Amy Balka, a family practice physician with Riverside Eagle Harbor Primary Care in Isle of Wight County, offered these tips for a healthy 2011.
1. Exercise. “Exercise is probably one of the best life-changing things that people can do,” Balka said. It decreases stress and improves energy levels, as well as helps maintain or lose weight. Start slowly. “It’s hard at first, but you start feeling better and it feeds on itself,” she said. Try to get the whole family involved by taking a walk around the neighborhood while the kids ride bikes, or by throwing around a Frisbee. “Anything that gets everyone outdoors and moving around,” she said.
2. Eat healthly. Portion control is the biggest thing. “You can eat lots of different food groups, you can eat fats, you can eat carbs, you just have to do it in moderation,” she said.
3. Have a primary care doctor that you can see at least once a year.“It’s good to have a home base to return to when you get sick. Someone who’s familiar with you and has your records,” she said.
4. Get the recommended health screenings. For young women, that’s a pap smear. Then mammograms should start at age 40. Men should start prostate screenings at age 50. Men and women should undergo colonoscopies at 50, or younger if you’re at risk. That’s why you should have a primary doctor to recommend whether you should start screenings earlier, Balka said.
5. Be sure your immunizations are up to date. This is often overlooked by both patients and providers, Balka said. Prevention of flu, pneumonia, shingles and HPV are all possible with vaccines.
6. Cook at home. Not only is it healthier a lot of times to eat and home, sitting down for a meal together is also really important for the family as a whole. It promotes family bonding and mental health, she said.
7. Do something about stress, anxiety and depression. Maybe that means taking a prescription or finding someone to talk to — a counselor, a pastor. A lot of health insurance plans cover teh cost of a counselor. “It seems that I see have a lot of people who are seeing symptoms of depression and anxiety. It’s just a bigger problem than people might realize,” she said.
8. Quit smoking. “For people who smoke a pack a day, that’s the biggest threat to their life and longevity,” Balka said. Kids whose parents smoke around them are in her office with asthma, ear infections and viral infections more often than kids of nonsmokers.
9. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. It can cause long-term problems, especially in conjunction with other things, like obesity.
10. Lose weight if you’re overweight or obese. Obesity is the main health problem she’s seeing. She’s diagnosing diabetes younger and younger. “That could have been prevented if five years earlier, 10 years earlier, they would’ve made those changes,” she said. And it’s no secret obesity is a problem with kids. “They’re eating out a lot and they’re not having an active outdoor lifestyle,” Balka said. “A lot of times it perpetuates itself in the family. If the parents are overweight, the kids are overweight as well.”
11. Use birth control if you’re young and/or not ready to have a baby.
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