Ask any ten health care providers about the road to good health and they’re likely to all agree it’s mapped by preventative behavior. They might have varying opinions on the specific techniques and approaches to undertake, but it’s understandable given their unique perspectives and focuses on different practices. There is something, however, most leading physicians will consider as a major part of the equation: You. Call it “something old is new again,” but more and more doctors are taking time to review patients’ overall lifestyles, occupation, family status and all the little things that exist outside the examining room. Increasingly, this is happening even before you call them for an appointment.
A universal approach to health care (different and distinct from universal health care coverage) focuses on daily life influences that promote, rather than retard, good health. Think of it as a “wellness lifestyle” equilibrium, where the two are interrelated and codependent rather than correlative and independent. Whether you seek a medically necessary procedure, cosmetic surgery or just treatment for a common cold, chances are you will encounter a care practitioner who is asking you diverse questions beyond what brought you into his office on this particular visit.
And that’s what wellness is really all about, which is different than healthiness. Simply put, health is about general condition—the state of being physically, mentally and spiritually vigorous. Wellness is about quality or condition of your health. It’s about asking yourself, “How healthy am I?” and focusing on lifestyle choices that support closing the gap between your current status and the level of health you’d like to achieve.
In response, our leading hospitals, like North Shore LIJ, St. Catherine of Siena Hospital (part of Catholic Health Services of Long Island), Stony Brook University Medical Center and Mather Hospital, have increased their commitment to serving the public with open forums, seminars, health fairs and even exercise classes. Recognizing that awareness and education are essential to preventative care, the doctors and support staff dedicate their time to share best practices, vital medical information and the latest in care technologies with visitors (often at no charge). They also attend community events at outside locations, in effect bringing the answers out to the people in their own neighborhoods. Subjects range, but most often focus on cancer, heart, children’s, nutritional and cardiovascular issues and will often extend to include information about emergency and trauma services. Given the considerably high occurrence of cancer in the region, Stony Brook, for instance, even offers education and support programs that are interdisciplinary to foster a comprehensive dialogue among doctors, social workers and related professionals to support patients.
Preventative and early intervention practices have been proven to keep health care costs down, too. The American Public Health Association (APHA), our country’s oldest medical advocacy association, which currently represents over 50,000 medical professionals, has spearheaded the “Healthiest Nation in One Generation” campaign. According to their website, “While the United States spends more on health care than any other nation in the world, it lags behind many developed nations in important health measures. Compared with other developed nations, the United States has relatively low life expectancy, high infant mortality rates, a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and persistent health inequities.”
Very often, poor diet, or one compromised by “convenience eating,” is cited as the root of our unhealthiness. In fact, there is evidence showing 60 percent of all deaths in the United States are caused by diseases linked to poor diets like heart disease, cancer and stroke as well as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. And these numbers continue to grow despite increased public awareness. Why? Some point to easier access and affordability of fat and cholesterol rich foods over vegetables and fruit (and blame more generous government subsidies given to the former rather than the latter) while others claim fatty foods produce activity in the brain similar to the response a drug addict gets from a fix. Either way, the responsibility over that action is individual. More importantly, it’s a question of mind over matter. Start by stopping into a blood pressure or cholesterol screening at any of these hospitals. While there, check the calendar of events for nutritional presentations, women’s health seminars and seminars promoting child care and safety.
Participating in the public services provided by these hospitals and others is just the start. Finding a doctor to forge a relationship with—while you’re healthy—is another component. Often, health care providers are chosen under the pressure of needing attention to an immediate sickness or ailment. However, establishing a medical record with a practitioner in times of good health will give you both something to look back on in the event sickness arises later. As well, it opens a dialogue between patient and doctor that focuses on the patient’s individual needs, stresses, concerns and ultimate goals. In other words, it affords the opportunity for the patient to partner with his health care provider in tailoring a one-of-a-kind, made to order wellness program.
On Long Island, gyms are ubiquitous, smoking is prohibited in almost every public space and salads are a staple of almost any restaurant’s menu. Indeed, as a region, we are fairly “wellness conscience.” Yet sedentary lifestyles undermine much of our best efforts. It is important to not be discouraged or respond with radical quick fixes that can counter-influence personal health priorities. Instead access the essential and readily available information to develop personal awareness that supports long-term wellness. And of course, seek the care and guidance of some of the nation’s leading practitioners, those who call Long Island home and are easily among our best assets.