Dr. Beth Donaldson chats with Linda Steele & Drex of CKNW’s Health Check series to discuss creating work-life balance and how to get started on a path to a healthier, longer-lasting life.
How much do you think that people prioritize their health these days?
Unfortunately what I see most commonly in my practice is that people think they put health as a top priority, but the reality is that it’s probably closer to 10 out of 10 on their list. There are a lot of barriers for people putting health first, and a lot of that comes down to time – people lack the time to [grocery] shop appropriately, get exercise, see their doctor, or even make basic appointments for the most important annual check-ins, such as mammograms. It’s also tough because if you haven’t been in the habit of looking after yourself for a number of years, it’s hard to start. Especially since there are a number of things that go into creating a healthy lifestyle.
What are the risks of not putting your health first?
I think that what we see most often is heart disease (the number one killer in Canada). If you’re not exercising, eating well, or seeing your doctor, at an early age you’ll run the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, silent ischemia and future risk of stroke. Next to that, the second most common risks I see are associated with anxiety and depression.
What can we each do to help combat these risks?
It really comes back to starting at an early age, as early as your twenties, where you have to put yourself and your health first (even before work and family, at times). You have to make a point of saying “it’s important to go and do XYZ for myself”, whatever it is. You really do have to make it a priority not only for your physical health, but to avoid psychological health problems as well.
It’s also important to be aware of the changes in your body and how it reacts to things. In your 40s, you should start screenings such as mammograms or colonoscopies/colon checks. If you’re not getting these done in your 40s, you’re running a risk of seeing a real problem in your 50s and 60s from these very treatable diseases.
There’s always confusion about when to get screened for what at what age, so what are the latest recommendations?
When it comes to mammograms, after 40 years old you want to get them every year or two depending on your presentation and family history. For the colon, at Copeman we follow the World Health Organization guidelines and begin screening at 40 years old. We try to do a less invasive method, testing stool only, unless you have a family history or other signs that show you need it earlier. For a full colonoscopy, however, we do recommend you start in your 50s.
Does the phrase “it’s never too late” really apply to living a healthier lifestyle?
Absolutely. It can even be as simple as something like how fast you walk. If you can increase your speed of walking by even .1 mile per second (above what you were previously doing), as an elderly person you can add 2-3 quality years to your life. In fact, those people that you see charging around, walking at one fast speed, tend to live longer and healthier because they’ve just always moved faster. The lollygaggers don’t live as long.
What are some of the other relatively simple things we can do now that will have huge payoffs down the line?
It all starts with making small, basic changes. Ensuring you get a proper health screening, having a smaller plate size when you eat, filling half your plate with veggies, taking the stairs, opting for lower fat dairy rather than whole milk in your latte – all of these things can have a huge impact. Even just taking time for yourself to mentally regroup (reading a book, watching TV, walking, meditating, etc.) will have a benefit in the long run.
Is it really that easy?
It really is as simple as just being kind to yourself. Unfortunately we are always going to have some degree of stress in our lives, but it’s about building resilience to that stress in your body and your mind. Your outlook on stress has a huge impact on how it will affect you. It can bring you down or you can gain energy from it – I would encourage anyone to seize the day, rather than letting it rule your life. Remember, it’s never too late to start and everything helps!