The foundation of medicine is the prevention of disease, disability, and death so that everyone has the best quality of life they can. Treating illness once it’s happened is all well and good, but it’s far better to prevent that illness from happening wherever possible. But stigma, discrimination, and ignorance prevent many gender and sexual minority people from getting the preventive medicine they need!
So we begin a new series here on Open Minded Health: Your guide to taking care of your health. Like Trans 101 for Trans People, this is a multiparter that will slowly take the form of a living document.
This week we’ll start with the basics — definitions and health promotion that applies to everyone.
What is health promotion/preventive health? Why should I care?
At its core, health promotion gives you the tools to take care of yourself. Your actions and choices are the core of your health. Doctors, surgeons, and nurses can provide services that help, but the ultimate decision is almost always yours.
Taking care of your health every day won’t stop all bad things from happening. It can’t stop a bad car accident, for example. But it can increase the chances of you surviving the accident and thriving afterwards.
Choosing healthier options can also add years to your lifespan. For example, non-smokers live roughly 10 years longer than smokers. And smokers who quit add years onto their lifespan, no matter when they quit (though earlier is better!)
What can I do on a daily or weekly basis to promote my own health?
This is the nuts and bolts of living well. Little choices every day add to up to a lot! In general, it’s best to make small choices you think you can succeed at rather than huge life changes all at once.
- Diet: Consider eating more vegetables, less meat, and less sugar. Too much red meat and too little vegetables is associated with heart disease. Too much sugar can lead to obesity and diabetes. So consider replacing beef with chicken, and chicken with lentils or beans. And consider drinking water, seltzer, or diet soda instead of sugared soda. You don’t have to eat kale and quinoa all day to make better choices. The mediterranean diet is another heart-healthy option. MyPlate and the American Heart Association have more details if you’re interested.
- Exercise: Consider moving more and spending less time sitting down. Park a little further away from work and walk in. Take the stairs. Walk the long way to the bathroom. Go for a walk for part of your lunch break. It all adds up. Consider asking a friend or partner to walk/exercise with you. If your mobility is limited, do what you can. Swimming can be gentle on painful joints, and arm exercises are useful for people who need wheelchairs. Some people find a fitness tracker or pedometer helpful, others don’t. Do what works for you.
- Tobacco: Avoid tobacco and nicotine products. If you currently use tobacco, make a plan to quit and quit as soon as you can. Many people find a support group, nicotine replacement therapy, and some medications helpful but they’re not necessary for quitting. And remember: relapsing doesn’t mean you’re a failure — you’ve quit before, you can quit again. You have the tools. Also keep in mind that e-cigarettes may not be healthier than regular cigarettes. Early reports show they’re high in formaldehyde, a carcinogen. So it’s best to avoid all tobacco and nicotine. The CDC has resources for those looking to quit.
- Alcohol: If you drink, drink in moderation. Current recommendations are around 1-2 drinks per day. 1 “drink” is 1 shot worth of alcohol. Limit the times you drink heavily (“binge” drinking). If you do drink heavily occasionally, don’t drink to the point of passing out or vomiting. As always, don’t drink and then drive and avoid drinking when you’re on certain medications. The CDC has more information.
- Addiction: If you feel that you may have a problem with your use of drugs or other habits, it’s probably worth taking a break from those drugs/habits for a while. If that’s intolerable, it may be time to quit outright. Help for addiction does exist. The best help comes from trained mental health professionals. But if those aren’t available for you, you can consider support groups (online or in person), seeking help from a physician, or working through workbooks on your own. Here’s more information on addiction treatment.
- Illegal drugs: Most sources say you should always avoid using illegal drugs. And avoiding illegal drugs is best for your health. But that’s simply not reality for everyone. If you choose to use illegal drugs, it’s important to reduce your risks. First — be careful with your sources. As I’m sure you know, contamination isn’t a made up problem. Second — use those drugs as little as possible. This helps avoid addiction and tolerance. Third — use the drugs in the safest way possible. Vaporize, don’t smoke. Avoid injecting drugs, but if you do inject then don’t share needles. Here’s more information.
That’s where I’m going to leave it for this week. But don’t worry! More information is coming. And as always — let me know if you have feedback, questions, or concerns. Have a lovely week in the meantime.