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Paging Dr. Frischer - Keeping Americans Healthier
WRITTEN BY :   Dr. Alan Frischer

Everybody’s talking about health promotion and prevention. Blame the economy: with sky-high deficits and ever more costly health care, the focus has shifted to keeping Americans healthier. It makes perfect sense – not only will everyone benefit by enjoying better health, but also our health care costs will decline. This focus on health promotion is on a policy level as well as on an individual patient level. My focus today is on each of us, the patients. In fact, over the next several articles, I will present what our individual responsibilities should be in achieving our best possible state of health.
My favorite definition of health promotion is “the science and art of helping people change their lifestyle to move toward a state of optimal health.” What does this mean to you? While the focus of public health is to ensure that citizens of a society are limited in their exposure to unhealthful pollutants, toxins, contaminated water, unsafe restaurant food, dangerous germs, etc, the focus for the individual is quite different. Personal responsibility begins with the choices we make each day. From the moment we get up each morning, those choices play a role in our health, and it’s amazing just how many decisions we make that can have a significant impact.
Let’s walk through a typical day. The moment we rise in the morning, the number of hours slept will have an immediate and long-term effect on our health and on just how well we will function throughout the day. Are we putting on clothes that keep our body temperature comfortable? Did we brush and floss properly? Was breakfast balanced, low fat, and with limited simple carbohydrates? Did we put on our seat belt, and drive within the speed limit? Will we get at least three balanced meals during the day? Will we limit our junk food? During winter, especially in the heart of an epidemic, will we limit our exposure to crowded public places in order to reduce the risk of infection?
How is your mental health? Are you doing something worthwhile and personally satisfying with your life? If not, are you volunteering or involved with other charitable activities that make you feel better? Is your life tobacco-free? If not, have you made a commitment to quit, and do you need help?
Are you physically active? If you are not already, start small and work up to 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity most days of the week. Walking briskly, mowing the lawn, running, dancing, swimming, and bicycling are just a few examples.
Are you eating a healthy diet? If not, start today. Focus on natural foods such as beans, nuts, fruit, vegetables, fish, chicken, turkey, soy, eggs, and non-fat dairy. Eat foods that are low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars. Stay at a healthy weight. Balance the calories you take in from food and drink with the calories you burn off through activities. Check with your doctor if you start to gain or lose weight.
If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. Have no more than two drinks a day if you are under 65, and no more than one drink a day if you are older. A standard drink is one 12-ounce bottle of beer or wine cooler, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
Are you participating in dangerous activities, such as unprotected sex or drug abuse? Get help as soon as possible, before the inevitable crisis. Start with your doctor and formulate a plan.
The next step in your own personal health promotion plan is to ensure that you are receiving the necessary care from your personal physician. Initiate this conversation at your next visit; it will include proper testing, vaccinations, and discussion of any aspect of your health that concerns you.
More specifics to come. Until then, I wish you good health on your personal journey, and a healthy and happy holiday season!
Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and current chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.

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Published: December 25, 2009 – Volume 8 – Issue 35



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