Healthy lifestyle promotes "preventative medicine"

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - 19:00

While the government, insurance companies and health-care mega-businesses constantly debate health care issues to protect their separate interests, (note the operative phrase ‘protect their separate interests’) there is a seldom-discussed panacea, albeit not a perfect one, that could go a long way toward reducing health care costs: Preventative medicine.

A lot of us have been doing this all along. I mean, who really likes going to doctors? You know, the big waiting room and then the little waiting room. They’re always cold and the magazines aren’t that great.

We quit smoking, curtailed or even quit drinking, spurned artery cloggers like eggs and butter, started gobbling down anti-oxidants like blueberries, gulping pomegranate juice, made concerted efforts to exercise regularly, received immunizations on a timely basis and made sure we went in for regular physical exams.

In this alphabet-soup country of government control, i.e., IRS, EPA, FAA and coming soon to a city near you, “Obamacare,” it felt good to take responsibility for our own health and do something for ourselves.

I like doctors who are willing to coach me on ways to stay away. An osteopath once helped me with a bad back. I’d already been to a chiropractor seven times, and he kept advising me to return for more adjustments.

“I know that chiropractor,” the osteopath said. “He is trying to save up enough money to buy a boat. Do these exercises and I never want to see you again.”

I did the exercises and I didn’t see him again. My nagging back problem, I finally learned, was remedial with exercise. I don’t think I ever would have learned that from that particular chiropractor — but I’m not casting aspersions on all chiropractors. I know there are also good ones out there.

Back in my younger days, a doctor noted some high blood pressure readings. “Quit smoking, cut down on coffee, take a baby aspirin a day, exercise, avoid fatty foods, start eating more fruits and vegetables, and you’ll live a long time,” he said. “Now go away.”

I took his advice and have enjoyed good health well into my 60s. And in accordance with that doctor’s admonishment, I mostly stayed away. Today, my regimen includes regular sleep, vitamins and a lot of rigorous exercise through climbing, hiking, biking and cross-country skiing. I also make a concerted effort to reduce stress levels through time management, prioritization, delegation and relaxation techniques such as meditation.

Don’t get me wrong. I do receive regular medical checkups and screenings for things appropriate to my age group. And when I have a raging tooth ache, I throw my meditation mantra to the wind and reach for Tramadol or some other pain killer; or ultimately, go to the dentist. I recently had surgery to repair an arthritic thumb, but the pain medication they provided didn’t cut it. I had to find relief in my private pain pill stash. The mind is a powerful thing, but for bone fractures or detached retinas yes, I believe in pharmaceutical technology and doctors.

According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, the average American visits the doctor five times per year. I’m sure this rate is much lower for young and healthy Alaskans who hike up mountains and ski and in general, take good care of themselves. According to medical authorities, regular exercise by America’s population could reduce the cost of health care by tens of billions of dollars.

But even the most ardent preventative medicine practitioners, especially seniors, need comparatively frequent visits and tests to prevent serious problems, which down the road can be costly to treat. Early detection and aggressive cancer treatments extended my mother’s life by more than 20 years. Early cancer detection also extended my brother-in-law’s life by about the same length of time.

But for seniors, finding a doctor in Alaska who accepts Medicare, which is mandatory at age 65, is like finding microbial life on Mars. However, the situation seems to be improving and more clinics are slowly opening.

In the meantime, I plan to continue a rigorous exercise regimen, go easy on the salt, up my intake of fruit and vegetables and say “no” to that extra helping of gravy at Thanksgiving dinner. Okay, we all cheat once in a while.


Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. [email protected].

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