By: Dr.Sharon Mintz, MD, CCFP, FCFP, Director of Preventive Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Canada.

The Roman poet, Virgil, said it best when he said, “the greatest wealth is health”.  Unfortunately this wisdom is often only appreciated after one’s health is compromised. We all know that our risk of disease increases as we age, but what we often neglect is finding the time to make our health a priority in our busy lives. The recipe for good health is simple: combine a healthy lifestyle with a commitment to know your body and monitor its changes. Below are some tips to help you take proactive care of your health today so you age well tomorrow.

Live your Healthiest Life. Every day.

Healthy living is all about the decisions we make every day to keep our bodies and minds strong, nourished and balanced. These decisions include eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, wearing sunscreen, getting enough sleep and minimizing stressful situations. The best advice is to make these changes to your lifestyle sooner than later so you can reap the benefits as you age. To ensure long term success in adapting these healthy habits, you may want to consider having a personalized wellness plan developed for you and your lifestyle.

Visit your Family Doctor 

Annual check-ups with your family doctor will help monitor and identify any signs or symptoms of illness. Ask your doctor to help you set up a regular screening schedule based upon your gender, age, ethnicity and family history as well as set up a vaccination schedule that is right for you. Vaccinations protect you from disease – your age and risk of exposure will determine what vaccines are required.

Know your Body

No one should know your body better than you. As women, we need to take the initiative to be informed about our family history and to monitor and communicate any changes happening to our bodies. If you think something isn’t right, talk to your family doctor.

Protect your Heart 

Healthy eating, exercise and reducing stress are the foundation of a healthy heart. Smoking, high cholesterol, obesity and family history are the major risk factors for heart disease.

What you can do:  

  • Talk with your doctor if you have a high risk of stroke, hypertension or family history of heart disease.
  • Monitor your cholesterol.

Keep your Bones Strong

Osteoporosis, common in women, is a disease that weakens bones, making them more susceptible to sudden and unexpected fractures.

What you can do:  

  • Eat a diet rich in calcium to maintain healthy bones. Women require 1000 – 1200 milligrams of calcium a day.
  • Vitamin D is vital to the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis because it helps your body absorb calcium. Most women require 1000 IU of vitamin D a day but if you are unsure about your vitamin D levels you can ask for a blood test.
  • Establish a regular exercise program that includes weight bearing exercise such as walking, jogging, aerobics or weight lifting to strengthen your bones.
  • Talk to your doctor about having a bone mineral density test to check your risk of bone fracture.

Save your Skin

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada. It is important for women to be proactive about reducing their risk by protecting their skin and performing self-skin exams.

What you can do:

  • Use sunscreen – 15 SPF or higher.
  • Perform self-skin exams monthly. You should note any moles, blemishes, or birthmarks on your body, and if you find any changes in size, color, or shape, or if you develop a skin lesion that does not heal, see your doctor.
  • Know your ABCD’s.  Check your moles and report any changes to your doctor.
    • Asymmetry – one half of the mole is unlike the other half
    • Border – irregular or uneven borders
    • Colour – varied shades of colour from one area to another
    • Diameter – larger than 6mm (diameter of a pencil eraser)

Prioritize your Colon 

Most women dread the idea of having to have their colon checked, but 90% of colon cancer cases are preventable if detected early.

What you can do:

  • Beginning at age 50 you should start getting screened for colon cancer. If you have a family history you should speak with your doctor about an appropriate age to start your screening.

Know your Breasts

It is important for women to be familiar with their breasts and to monitor any changes in them.

What you can do:

  • Mammograms and self-evaluations are our best chance at fighting breast cancer.
  • Speak with your doctor about what screening protocol is right for you and your family history.

Screen for Cervical Cancer

The pap smear is most commonly used to screen for cervical cancer because it can detect abnormalities before they are visible.

What you can do:

  • Women should get a pap smear starting at 21 years of age if they are or have been sexually active. After 2 normal pap smears, screening should be every 3 years until the age of 70.
  • It is recommended for women between the ages of 9-26 to speak with their doctor about the HPV vaccination.

And finally remember, the best investment you will ever make is your health. By making your health a priority today will make all the difference in aging gracefully.

 

Sharon Mintz, MD, CCFP, FCFP, is the Director of Preventive Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Canada in downtown Toronto. Through the Executive Health program, Dr. Mintz works with a multidiscplinary medical team to help patients make sustainable, healthy lifestyle changes. Throughout her career, Dr. Mintz has balanced her time as a community doctor and medical educator. Committed to the advancement of medicine, she has also been involved in a multitude of academic and research committees and has published both peer and non-peer reviewed journals. To learn more visit www.clevelandclinic.ca