Advocating for Your Health in the New Year!
Guest post by Dr. Sabrina K. Sahni, MD, NCMP
As we close out another year, there is no better time to think about what we want to achieve in the New Year. Many of us like to use this time to refocus on our health, often setting lofty resolutions about weight loss or extreme exercise. We live in a culture where we are accustomed to focusing on the outcome, yet we forget to embrace the parts of the journey that help get us there.
Maintaining your health has many moving parts, and as a physician, I am passionate about empowering my patients to advocate for their health and wellbeing. My background in primary care coupled with my advanced training in specialized women’s health has afforded me a unique perspective on caring for patients and women in particular.
Whether your goals are weight loss or taking up a new hobby – optimizing your health is an essential part. Here are a few ways you can do your part in 2020.
Prioritize your doctor’s appointments
I get it. No one likes going to the doctor. But whether you are 24 or 54, healthy or unhealthy, there is still a need to go to your doctor. For women in particular, it’s important to stay on top of your preventative health screenings.
Cervical Cancer Screening: While you should see your gyno once a year for a routine annual exam, pap smears are only done every 3-5 years depending on age and depending on if HPV is tested with it. Your intervals may be shorter if you have ever had any abnormal pap smears in the past.
Breast Cancer Screening: Routine mammograms begin at age 40 but if you have a family history of early breast cancer, genetic predisposition, or a history of mantle radiation exposure as a child, you may qualify for this sooner. Take a moment to talk to your doctor about this at your next visit. And ladies, self-breast exams are a thing. Be sure to check once a month – best to be done right after your menstrual cycle.
Colon Cancer Screening: Colonoscopies start at age 50! This can occur earlier in certain populations and if there is a strong family history or genetic predisposition. While I get it’s not the most pleasant exam – it is the best modality we have at detecting colon cancer.
Osteoporosis Screening: Routine screening start at age 65 for men, but for women, this should occur within 1-2 years of menopause. Women lose bone mass at a rate of 1-2% within the first 5 years of menopause. For younger women, peak bone mass is generally achieved by age 30. So for the younger ladies, be sure to take Vitamin D3 and get regular exercise.
And a message to my premenopausal and postmenopausal ladies – going to the doctor couldn’t be MORE important than it is at midlife. While the incidence of chronic disease raises as we age, women in particular may be more vulnerable to these risks given their menopausal state and lack of estrogen.
Practice mindful eating
We have all heard the saying, “you are what you eat”, right? Well, there is some truth to that. There is no doubt in the year 2019 there have been some major advances in medical research. In fact, there was a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine on Intermittent Fasting (IF) that looked at the health benefits of IF in both animal and human models. While the forms of intermittent fasting varied, the results were the same – improvements were seen in cognition, physical performance, cardiovascular health, diabetes and obesity.
There are various ways to intermittent fast, but the most common is the 16:8 method, where you fast for 16 hours and eat in an 8 hour window. Generally speaking, for patients that are interested in IF or are looking to decrease insulin resistance, this is what I start them off with a few days a week. Not only do they start to notice increases in overall energy throughout their day, they find themselves eating more mindfully – being able to choose foods that will nourish and fuel their bodies vs. snacking on pesky calories that can lead to inflammation and bloat.
Whatever “diet” you’re on, be sure its one you actually stick to. The great thing about IF is that it is not a diet – it’s a lifestyle, and it doesn’t monitor what you eat, just when you eat it. Now, my recommendation is to stick to mostly whole foods and during your eating window, having 2, 2.5 or 3 well balanced meals filled with vegetables, fruits, and a protein.
If you have any chronic illnesses such as diabetes, have a history of an eating disorder, pregnant, or breast feeding, IF may not be right for you. It is important to speak to your doctor about whether or not you are a candidate for IF and to ensure you are under direct clinical supervision.
And major spoiler alert! I am starting a post holiday reset by doing an 18:6 IF challenge for the month of January and breaking my fast each day with a delicious BB smoothie. Stay tuned next month for my recap!!
Be more present
There is no doubt that life gets busy – we get caught up with the hustle of things to do, projects to be done, and deadlines to be met. Being present in the moment allows you to achieve a higher level of satisfaction, gives you a better experience and as multiple studies have shown, can lead to overall happiness. Health and wellness are deeply intertwined and being able to stop and savor life as it happens is incredibly important.
I tell patients to try various things – go for a walk with a loved one at night, take time to journal 5 minutes a day, or be bold enough to put away your phone for 1 hour a day and live in the moment. While they may seem small and arbitrary, these small acts can actually come with great health benefits. Researchers suggest that small acts like this can help decrease levels of depression or anxiety, decrease stress levels and can even improve our ability to deal with certain negative emotions.
Make 2020 your Healthiest Year Yet!
By implementing small changes to your life, you can yield big outcomes. I encourage you all to enjoy the journey and embrace the process, rather than focusing on your bigger goals. Taking control of your health can open the door to dozens of possibilities, and there is no better time to start than today. Remember, your health matters, and you are your biggest advocate.
In Good Health,
Sabrina K. Sahni, MD, NCMP
Clinical Assistant Professor Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine
Section of Specialized Women’s Health, Department of Gynecology