Do you enjoy visiting the doctor?
If you’re American, it costs you money coming and going.
No matter where you are, it involves appointments and waiting, and sitting in rooms full of sick people.
The last time I visited my gynecologist, I waited three and half hours before she could see me. It’s the nature of doctors, of course, that emergencies take precedence over appointments but it still means that you can lose an entire day to a doctor’s appointment.
Seeing a doctor at all is becoming more difficult these days.
The Association of American Medical Colleges projects a shortage of about 30,000 primary-care physicians in the United States by 2025. I’d love to say it’s better here in Canada, but we have a doctor shortage, too. In Nova Scotia, where I live, it’s a medical crisis. With just 900,000 people in our little province, there are at least 100,000 who lack a family doctor!
That gynecologist that I mentioned? She’s taking maternity leave this month with no plans to return – leaving our region with two male gynecologists and not a single female. (It’s political, not a problem with our health care system.)
The same situation happens with general practitioners. Every time I hear about a doctor retiring, my heart sinks. Throughout North America, we have too few doctors (and nurses, but that’s another issue.)
And of course there is another reason to stay away from the doctor.
A heavy reliance on the medical system to keep you healthy and alive is simply poor preparedness. There are very legitimate reasons to see medical professionals (and I will forever be grateful to my brain surgeon!), but we are being lazy and ill-prepared when we rely on them to fix problems that we have ourselves created.
It may take more than an apple a day to keep the doctor away, but a healthy diet and other simple lifestyle changes can keep you out of the waiting room.
Learn how to develop habits that will keep you fit and strong.
Many experts blame the Standard American Diet for high rates of obesity, diabetes, depression, and other serious conditions.
Good nutrition can strengthen your immune system and lower your risk for many illnesses.
Eat more produce
Fruits and vegetables are nutrient dense and light in calories.
They’ll boost your immune system and help you stay hydrated. Plus, all that fiber can lower your risk of diabetes. One trick that I learned when I spent time with Old Order Mennonites was to serve fruit at every meal. It is not considered dessert – it’s just a part of your meal that everyone is expected to eat.
Focus on whole foods
Processed foods are usually loaded with excessive fat, sugar, and salt. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these, but an imbalance is unhealthy. Plus these foods generally contain preservatives and highly modified ingredients. Try eating foods in their natural state.
My grandfather’s advice has always seemed the best to me – eat food that remembers where it came from.
Too many cocktails can damage your liver and other organs.
Most experts recommend up to one drink a day for women and two for men, if you drink at all. There is not a thing wrong with refusing alcohol. It is empty calories and not good for your body.
Manage your weight
Carrying around too many pounds increases your risk of heart conditions, arthritis, and certain cancers. Stay slim by watching calories and leading an active life. When I stepped on the scales and sighed recently, the nurse said, “Oh, you’re far slimmer than many who consider their weight just fine.”
There should be no argument that maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of a healthy life.
Other Lifestyle Changes
Here are a few more changes to go along with your balanced diet.
They’ll have a major impact on your body and mind.
Physical activity strengthens your heart and muscles. Aim to exercise at least 3 days a week. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
Research suggests that the longer you sit, the poorer your health may be even if you exercise. If you have a desk job, try taking walking breaks every half hour. Cut back on your TV time.
While any form of exercise and relaxation can be beneficial, yoga seems especially powerful. There is no need to study the spiritual forms of yoga in order to get the benefits. A study at Massachusetts General Hospital recorded a whopping 43 percent reduction in healthcare use among patients who studied yoga for a year.
Deal with stress
If yoga is not your cup of tea, there are other ways to keep tension from piling up. Book a massage or listen to gentle music.
The more you’re satisfied with your life, the less you’ll need your doctor. On a scale of 1 to 6, a patient could expect an 11 percent decrease in doctor visits for each level of higher life satisfaction, according to one University of Michigan study.
Adopt a pet
Holding your cat is good for mental and physical wellbeing. The CDC says pets help people lower their blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. They also provide an antidote to loneliness.
Connect with others
Speaking of loneliness, support from humans helps too. Close social ties can help you catch fewer colds, and may even extend your life.
Adequate rest and sleep is vital to healing. Turn off the computer and TV in the evening and go to bed on time.
Giving up tobacco may be the most important thing you can do for your health. It takes an average of 5 to 10 attempts to quit for good, so hang in there. Of course giving up smoking will also save you a lot of money, too.
It’s important to have a good relationship with your health care team and follow their recommendations when you’re sick or injured. However, you and your doctor can enjoy spending more time apart as long as you’re making decisions that increase your well-being.