Emory Report
February 7, 2005
Volume 61, Number 18


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February 7, 2005
Never too early to make yourself healthy

Lisa Newbern is chief of public relations for the yerkes national primate research center

Emory wants you…to be healthy. As a top-ranked university home to a world-class health care system, Emory is vested in making sure its employees thrive.

But sometimes employees aren’t sure of the health care services they need, when they need them—or where to find them. The last question is easy enough; via the Employee Access Program, Emory staff and faculty have direct access to the Emory Clinic’s physicians and services. It’s as simple as calling 404-778-7777.

The what and when questions depend on a variety of factors, including age, gender and family health history. A healthy lifestyle isn’t out of reach for anyone, but it does require a commitment.

“An easy place to start is eating right,” said Richard Gitomer, chief of clinical services in general internal medicine. “A calorie is a calorie whether it’s from fat or carbohydrate. What is important is to eat in moderation and exercise regularly.”

As an internist, Gitomer specializes in adult care and takes a comprehensive approach to understanding the whole person, not simply his or her medical conditions. He recommends all patients know their body mass index (BMI) because it is a good starting point for preventive screening. “It’s like mom and apple pie,” he said. “Your BMI and your health risks go hand in hand.”

Family medical history is critical information, too, and must be taken into consideration as part of a proactive approach to health care. (If you don’t know your BMI, visit www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/bmi/calc-bmi.htm).

So what can you do in addition to eating right and exercising? Visit your health care provider regularly. While annual exams aren’t the standard they once were, maintaining a partnership with your health care provider remains a constant. “If people would just do this,” Gitomer said, “we’d be light years beyond where we are now in terms of the health of our nation.”

Next, age, gender and family history come into play. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent panel of experts in primary care and prevention, has issued guidelines in 10 clinical categories, including cancer, heart and vascular diseases, and metabolic, nutritional and endocrine conditions, to help patients know which health screenings are recommended throughout their lives.

For example, within three years of becoming sexually active but no later than age 21, women should have pap smears at least every three years to detect cervical cancer. The USPSTF recommends men have cholesterol screenings every five years beginning at age 35.

Each decade of your life brings changes in your health and presents individual health care concerns. Working through the decades, consider these important health issues:

20s and 30s
It’s never too early to take better care of yourself and to develop healthy habits. Decisions you make now will affect your health the rest of your life. Eat right, exercise, practice safe sex, wear your seatbelt and don’t forget to use sunscreen. Also, this is a good time to discuss family-planning options with your health care provider.

Women are moving from their childbearing years to menopause. You no longer are building bone mass but instead are beginning to lose it. Men need to pay particular attention to cardiovascular disease. Just by turning 40, your risk for heart attack and stroke increases. For both sexes, the fun in the sun you enjoyed at an earlier age may start catching up with you; check your skin for atypical moles.

If menopause isn’t top of mind for women during this time, it must be cardiovascular disease. One key decision is whether or not to take hormone replacement therapy. Doing so may increase bone density and reduce the risk for colorectal cancer, but it also may add to an increased risk of blood clots and coronary heart disease. Men face their own tough decision of whether to screen for prostate cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer-related death in men.

Immunizations, which haven’t been a major consideration since adolescence, again play a critical role, especially shots that help protect against flu and pneumonia. Eye care and hearing also are increasingly important; poor vision and hearing can contribute to diminished quality of life.

Lisa Newbern is chief of public relations for the Yerkes National Primate Research Center.