Staying Healthy

Maintaining good health doesn't happen by accident. It requires work, smart lifestyle choices, and the occasional checkup and test.

A healthy diet is rich in fiber, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, "good" or unsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids. These dietary components turn down inflammation, which can damage tissue, joints, artery walls, and organs. Going easy on processed foods is another element of healthy eating. Sweets, foods made with highly refined grains, and sugar-sweetened beverages can cause spikes in blood sugar that can lead to early hunger. High blood sugar is linked to the development of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and even dementia.

The Mediterranean diet meets all of the criteria for good health, and there is convincing evidence that it is effective at warding off heart attack, stroke, and premature death. The diet is rich in olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish; low in red meats or processed meats; and includes a moderate amount of cheese and wine.

Physical activity is also necessary for good health. It can greatly reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancer, depression, and falls. Physical activity improves sleep, endurance, and even sex. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week, such as brisk walking. Strength training, important for balance, bone health, controlling blood sugar, and mobility, is recommended 2-3 times per week.

Finding ways to reduce stress is another strategy that can help you stay healthy, given the connection between stress and a variety of disorders. There are many ways to bust stress. Try, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, playing on weekends, and taking vacations.

Finally, establish a good relationship with a primary care physician. If something happens to your health, a physician you know —and who knows you — is in the best position to help. He or she will also recommend tests to check for hidden cancer or other conditions.

Staying Healthy Articles

Grapefruit and medication: A cautionary note

Grapefruit and grapefruit juice are healthful, providing enough vitamin C, potassium, dietary fiber, and other nutrients to earn the American Heart Association's "heart-check" mark. That's the good news. The bad news is that grapefruit juice can interact with dozens of medications, sometimes dangerously. Doctors are not sure which of the hundreds of chemicals in grapefruit are responsible. The leading candidate is furanocoumarin. It is also found in Seville (sour) oranges and tangelos; although these fruits have not been studied in detail, the guidelines for grapefruit should apply to them as well. Grapefruit's culprit chemical does not interact directly with your pills. Instead, it binds to an enzyme in your intestinal tract known as CYP3A4, which reduces the absorption of certain medications. When grapefruit juice blocks the enzyme, it's easier for the medication to pass from your gut to your bloodstream. Blood levels will rise faster and higher than normal, and in some cases the abnormally high levels can be dangerous. More »

When You Visit Your Doctor - After Hodgkin's Disease Treatment

Have you had fevers, heavy sweating at night, weight loss, itchy skin, or swollen lymph nodes? Do you have pain in any of your bones? Do you have a cough? Are you fatigued? Do you get lightheaded? Do you bruise easily or have nosebleeds? Do your gums bleed when you brush your teeth? Have you had any recent infections? Do you have a cough? Do you have sinus congestion? Do you have nasal discharge? Do you know when to seek medical attention for signs of infection? Do you know that you still need to practice birth control (both men and women)? Infertility is uncommon with newer chemotherapy regimens. If you are a woman and have undergone early menopause, have you considered hormone replacement therapy? Are you short of breath at rest or with minimal exertion? Do you get chest pain or pressure with exertion? Do you have swelling in your legs? Do you know that chemotherapy and radiation can increase your risk of developing certain other cancers? Are you up-to-date on all of your cancer screening tests? If you are a woman, have you discussed the need for regular mammograms and breast examinations with your doctor? Are you gaining weight? Are you constipated? Are you always cold? Do you have dry skin? Neck veins Heart Lungs Abdomen (for enlargement or tenderness of the liver or spleen) Bones and spine (looking for areas of tenderness) Skin (looking for skin cancers) Lymph Nodes (neck, axilla, elbow, groin) Blood tests for complete blood counts, kidney and liver function tests CT scans of the chest and abdomen   More »

When You Visit Your Doctor - Hearing Loss

Is your hearing loss on one side or both? For how long have you noticed the problem? Has your hearing loss been getting worse over time? Do you have difficulty understanding other people when they speak? Do you say "what?" a lot? When you turn on the television, do others say that it is too loud? Have you had any kind of ear surgery? Have you flown in an airplane recently? Do other people in your family have trouble hearing? Do you hear ringing in your ears? Do you suffer from dizziness or loss of coordination? Have you had multiple ear infections in the past? Do you currently have an upper respiratory infection (for example, a cold) or other infection? Have you had any head injuries or strokes in the past? Are you taking any medications? Examine your ears, nose, and throat. Test your balance, coordination, and walking. Test your ability to hear. Formal hearing testing by an audiologist (hearing specialist)   More »

When You Visit Your Doctor - Heart Block

Have you been dizzy or lightheaded? Have you fainted? Have you been fatigued? Have you had chest pain? Do you get it with exertion or at rest? How frequently do you get it? How long does it last? What brings it on? What relieves it? Is this a change from your usual pattern? Do you get short of breath when you lie down or exert yourself? Do you awaken in the middle of the night short of breath? Do your ankles swell? Do you get rapid or pounding heartbeats for no reason? What medications are you taking (including over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies, and vitamins)? Do you have any other medical problems? Heart rate, blood pressure, and weight Pulses in the wrist and feet Veins in the neck Heart and lungs Ankles and legs (for swelling) Electrocardiogram Echocardiogram Holter monitor Electrophysiologic testing   More »

When You Visit Your Doctor - Inguinal Hernia

Do you have pain in the lower abdomen or groin area? Have you noticed a bulge in your lower abdomen or groin area? Does lifting heavy objects, coughing, sneezing, or straining increase the size of the bulge? Can you push the bulge back in? Do you suffer from constipation? Have you had bloody stools? Careful abdominal exam Groin exam (including testicular and scrotal exam in men) Stool sample Abdominal/Pelvic ultrasound Abdominal/Pelvic CT scan   More »

When You Visit Your Doctor - Insomnia

Are you particularly stressed at work or at home? Are you depressed or anxious? Do you have any underlying medical problems such as hyperthyroidism or sleep apnea? Do you snore? Do you have chronic pain or difficulty breathing at night? Do you have restlessness or twitching of your legs at night? Do you drink caffeine-containing beverages after noon (such as coffee or sodas)? Do you use stimulants? Drink alcohol? Take sedatives? Smoke cigarettes? Do you take any medications? What time do you usually go to bed? What time do you get up in the morning? Do you eat or work before going to bed? Have you noticed changes in your sleep patterns? Do you wake frequently at night? Do you feel tired during the day? How long do you stay in bed before you fall asleep? Do you have worries about not sleeping? Blood pressure, heart rate, weight General physical exam Complete blood cell count Thyroid function Sleep study with monitoring of heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygen level, eye movements, and brain waves   More »

When You Visit Your Doctor - Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Do you have pain or cramping in the lower stomach? How often do you get the pain? Is the pain related to meals? Do you suffer from constipation and small bowel movements? Do you have diarrhea that alternates with constipation? Do you have frequent bloating and gas? Do you have a feeling of fullness in the rectum? Is there a family history of inflammatory bowel disease? Do you have a history of mental illness or depression? Are there any things causing unusual stress in your life? Please describe your diet in detail. Careful abdominal exam Rectal exam Stool testing for blood and cultures Conventional abdominal X-rays Endoscopy or sigmoidoscopy Barium enema Complete blood count and other blood tests   More »

When You Visit Your Doctor - Lactose Intolerance

Do you have rumbling abdominal sounds after eating milk products? Do you get abdominal cramps, bloating, or diarrhea after eating milk products? Can you tolerate small amounts of milk? Do your symptoms improve when you eliminate milk products from your diet? Careful abdominal exam Rectal exam Trial of elimination of milk products from the diet Hydrogen breath test Lactose tolerance test   More »

When You Visit Your Doctor - Macular Degeneration

Have you noticed a change in vision in one eye or both? Do you have trouble reading, even with reading glasses? Do you have difficulty seeing fine details? Do you see a gray patch in the middle of the words when you read? Do straight vertical lines appear "wiggly" when you look at them? Is your side or peripheral vision affected? Do you have diabetes? Do you smoke? Do you have a family history of macular degeneration? The inside of your eye, using an ophthalmoscope (see p. 417) Referral to an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) who will do a complete eye exam with drops to dilate your pupils.   More »