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What You Can Do To Stay Healthy

What You Can Do To Stay Healthy
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What You Can Do To Stay Healthy

Ask Your Doctor About Checkups, Tests, and Shots You Need

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Personal Prevention Charts

Section 1:

What You Can Do To Stay Healthy

Evidence shows that some of the leading causes of death in the United States, such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, some lung diseases, injuries, and HIV/AIDS, often can be prevented by improving personal health habits. Eating right, staying physically active, and not smoking are a few examples of good habits that can help you stay healthy.

Creating a Healthy Lifestyle

Last year, I started walking with a group of women five times a week. We're now up to 3 miles each time. It's both my social and exercise time of the day. I actually miss our time together on the days we don't walk.

--Maria W.

Eating Right

Eating the right foods and the right amounts of foods can help you live a longer, healthier life. Research has proven that many illnesses—such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure—can be prevented or controlled by eating right. Getting the nutrients you need, such as calcium and iron, and keeping your weight under control can help. Try to balance the calories you get from food with the calories you use through physical activity (select for more information about physical activity). It is never too late to start eating right. Here are some helpful tips.

Eat a variety of foods, especially:

Square bullet image  Vegetables. Choose dark-green leafy and deep-yellow vegetables.

Square bullet image  Fruits. Choose citrus fruits or juices, melons, and berries.

Square bullet image  Dry beans (such as red beans, navy beans, and soybeans), lentils, chickpeas, and peanuts.

Square bullet image  Whole grains, such as wheat, rice, oats, corn, and barley.

Square bullet image  Whole grain breads and cereals.

Eat foods low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, especially:

Square bullet image   Fish.

Square bullet image   Poultry prepared without skin; lean meat.

Square bullet image   Low-fat dairy products.

Weight Control

Weighing too much or too little can lead to health problems. After age 45, many people gain too much weight. You can control your weight by eating healthy foods and being physically active. For more information, select the next section, "Physical Activity."

Ask your health care professional:

Square bullet image   What is a healthy weight for me?

Square bullet image   What are some ways I can control my weight?

Keep track of your weight. Use your personal prevention chart.

Physical Activity

Research shows that physical activity can help prevent at least six diseases: heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity (excess weight), diabetes, osteoporosis, and mental disorders, such as depression. Physical activity also will help you feel better and stay at a healthy weight. Research suggests that brisk walking can be just as good for you as an activity such as jogging. Try to do a total of 30 minutes of constant physical activity, such as fast walking, most days of the week.

Before you start being physically active:

Square bullet image   Talk with your doctor about ways to get started.

Square bullet image   Choose something that fits into your daily life, such as walking, gardening, raking leaves, or even washing windows.

Square bullet image   Choose an activity you like, such as dancing or swimming.

Square bullet image   Try a new activity, like biking.

Square bullet image   Ask a friend to start with you, or join a group.

Don't quit:

Square bullet image   Make time for physical activity, start slowly, and keep at it.

Square bullet image   If the weather is bad, try an exercise show on TV, watch an exercise tape in your home, walk in the mall, or work around the house.

Safe Sex

Sexually transmitted diseases. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, are passed easily from one person to the next through sexual intercourse. STDs are more common in people under the age of 50. But, if you or your partner have other sexual partners, you are at risk for STDs. You can lower your chances of getting an STD by using a latex condom every time you have sex. If you have not taken this step, you may need testing for STDs.

HIV and AIDS. AIDS is a disease that breaks down the body's ability to fight infection and illness. AIDS is caused by the HIV virus. By preventing HIV infection, you can prevent AIDS.

People in midlife and those who are older can become infected with HIV. In fact, 10 percent of all AIDS cases in the United States have occurred in people over the age of 50.

How do you get HIV?

People get HIV by coming into contact with the blood or body fluids (semen or vaginal fluid) of a person with HIV. You cannot get infected with HIV from casual contact, such as shaking hands or hugging.

If you or your partner have other sexual partners or if you share needles or syringes, you may need testing for HIV. To protect yourself, use a latex condom every time you have sex and do not share needles or syringes.


Taking Charge of Your Health

Since I have been taking medicine to lower my cholesterol and treat my arthritis, I have been feeling tired and have had an upset stomach. I didn't know which medicine was causing me to feel this way. I was also getting confused about when I should take each medicine. I brought in the booklet "Prescriptions Medicines and You" and asked the doctor the questions in the booklet. I wrote down the answers. Then, the doctor and I talked about what I could do to prevent the side effects from the medicines.

--Mia C.


Between ages 35 and 50, the levels of two female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, start to change. The shifting levels of hormones may cause you to skip periods, have irregular bleeding, or both. You may also have such symptoms as hot flashes, mood swings, sleep problems, and painful intercourse. Talk to your doctor about these changes and how to relieve them. You can still get pregnant during this time, so you may want to use some method of birth control.

Menopause occurs when you stop menstruating for good. Most women reach menopause in their late 40s or early 50s. If you have not had a period for at least 1 year, you are likely to be in menopause. At this point, your hormone levels drop so you are no longer producing eggs. Once this happens, there is no chance of becoming pregnant.

You can take a pill or use a skin patch that contains the hormones estrogen and progesterone to help relieve some symptoms of menopause. Taking these hormones is called hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT also may help keep your bones strong and prevent heart disease. But HRT also has risks—it is not for everyone. Talk to your doctor to see whether HRT is right for you.


Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones break easily. About 70 percent of fractures in people over the age of 45 are related to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is more common in women than in men. The loss of hormones that occurs after women have gone through menopause causes their bones to become less dense, or thinner, and therefore more prone to breaking.

You can help prevent osteoporosis by:

Square bullet image   Doing weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, stair climbing, jogging, yoga, and lifting weights.

Square bullet image   Getting 1,000-1,300 mg of calcium per day (see below).

Square bullet image   Not smoking.

Square bullet image   Taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Ask your health care provider:

Square bullet image   How can I get enough calcium?

Square bullet image   What medicines, such as HRT (for women), can help prevent osteoporosis?

A bone density test can help determine whether your bones are prone to breaking. But there is no evidence that a bone density test is needed for everyone. You may want to ask your health care provider if you should receive this test.

Foods That Can Help You Add Calcium To Your Diet

  • Most foods in the milk group (choose lower fat, lower cholesterol foods most often, such as skim milk):
    • Milk and dishes made with milk, such as puddings and soups made with milk.
    • Cheeses, such as mozzarella, cheddar, swiss, and parmesan.
    • Yogurt.
  • Canned fish with soft bones, such as sardines, anchovies, and salmon.
  • Dark-green leafy vegetables, such as kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, and spinach.
  • Tofu, if processed with calcium sulfate. Read the labels.
  • Tortillas made from lime-processed corn. Read the labels.


Injury Prevention

Following basic safety rules can prevent many serious injuries. Here is a checklist to follow to help keep you safe.

To help protect yourself when you are home:

Check box image Use smoke detectors in your home. Remember to check the batteries every month. Change the batteries every year.

Check box image If you keep a gun in your home, lock up the gun and the ammunition separately and keep them out of children's reach.

To help prevent falls:

Check box image Make sure that hallways and stairwells are well lit.

Check box image Remove or repair things that could make you trip, such as loose rugs, electrical cords, and toys.

Check box image Put handrails and traction strips on stairways and in bathtubs.

To protect yourself when you are away from home:

Check box image Always wear seat belts while in the car.

Check box image Never drive after drinking alcohol.

Check box image Always wear a safety helmet while riding a motorcycle or bicycle.

Check box image Be alert for hazards in your workplace and follow all safety rules.

Taking Medicines

Getting information about the medicines you are taking is important for people of all ages. It will help you get the full benefits from your medicine. It will also help avoid problems such as taking too much or too little of a medicine. Taking medicine in the wrong way can make you worse instead of better. Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor or pharmacist.

About the medicine:

Square bullet image   What is the name of the medicine? Is this the brand or generic name?

Square bullet image   What is the medicine supposed to do?

Square bullet image   What written information is available about the medicine?

How to take the medicine:

Square bullet image   How and when do I take it—and for how long?

Square bullet image   What foods, drinks, other medicines, or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine?

Side effects of the medicine:

Square bullet image   What are the possible side effects?

Square bullet image   What should I do if they occur?

To help you keep track of the medicines you are taking, fill in the medicine chart. You may want to share this with your health care provider and pharmacist.

Prescription Medicines and You, published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), is a free guide that gives practical tips on how to take medicines safely. It also gives advice on questions to ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist. To get a copy of this brochure, call the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse at 1-800-358-9295.

Getting Help When You Need It

I was having trouble getting up in the mornings and seemed to have less energy than most people my age. Some of my friends started to make comments about my drinking. They tried to make them in a teasing way, but my feelings were hurt. I tried to tell myself that I didn't have a problem because I went to work every day and took care of my family. I felt I was a social drinker. Finally, I decided that I needed to do something about my drinking. I asked my doctor where to get help. I got the help I needed and now feel very proud of myself for taking control of my drinking problem.

--Mike F.

Alcohol and Other Drug Use

Abusing alcohol or using illegal drugs can cause serious medical and personal problems. Alcohol and drug abuse can lead to motor vehicle and other accidents, depression, and can cause problems with friends, family, and work. Drug use can cause heart and breathing problems. Alcohol abuse can cause liver and heart problems and throat and mouth cancer.

Advice on Alcohol and Other Drug Use:

Square bullet image   Don't use illegal (street) drugs of any kind, at any time.

Square bullet image   If you drink alcohol, limit the number of alcoholic drinks—no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.

Square bullet image   Do not drink alcohol before or while driving a motor vehicle or operating heavy machinery.

Square bullet image   If you have concerns about your alcohol or drug use, talk to your doctor.

Read the questions below. A "yes" answer to any of the questions may be a warning sign that you have a drinking problem. Talk to your doctor or other health care provider. Ask yourself the following questions, and if you print this page, place a checkmark next to each question for which the answer is "yes."

Check box image  Have you ever felt that you should cut down on your drinking?

Check box image  Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?

Check box image  Have you ever felt bad or guilty about drinking?

Check box image  Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?


Research shows that smoking causes more major diseases than any other personal habit. Some examples are cancers of the lung, mouth, bladder, and throat; heart and lung disease; and strokes. If you stop smoking, you can help avoid these diseases.

It is never too late to stop smoking. Half of all people who have ever smoked have quit.

When you are getting ready to quit:

Square bullet image   Pick a date to quit.

Square bullet image   Begin by not smoking in places where you spend a lot of time, such as at home or in the car.

Square bullet image   Get support and encouragement—you may want to join a quit smoking program.

Square bullet image   Talk with your doctor about using nicotine replacement products such as gum, patch, nasal spray, or inhaler. Research shows that almost everyone can benefit from using these products.

Once you have quit:

Square bullet image   Don't try even one puff, and try to keep yourself away from all cigarettes.

Square bullet image   If you fail the first time, don't give up. Keep trying and learn from your experiences. Ask yourself what helped or did not help you in trying to quit.

Every time children and others you care about are around cigarette smoke, they breathe in poisons that can cause asthma or cancer. Please, don't expose others to secondhand smoke. Quit for them.

Overcoming Depression

Everybody feels "down" or "blue" at times. But, if these feelings are very strong or last for most of the day, nearly every day, they may be due to a medical illness called depression.

The good news is that depression can be treated. But first you have to know you have it.

People do not always know the warning signs of depression. Some of these signs are listed below. If you have four or more, be sure to talk to your doctor about depression. If you print out this list, place a checkmark next to each sign that you have.

Warning Signs of Depression

Changes in the way you feel:

Check box image  Feeling sad, hopeless, or guilty most of the time.

Check box image  Feeling tired, low energy, or feeling "slowed down."

Check box image  Crying a lot.

Check box image  Having thoughts of suicide or death.

Changes in eating and sleeping habits:

Check box image  Sleep problems, either too much or too little.

Check box image  Changes in appetite or weight (up or down).

Changes in your daily living:

Check box image  Loss of interest and pleasure in daily activities.

Check box image  Problems making decisions or thinking clearly.


The earlier you get treatment for depression, the sooner you will begin to feel better. The longer you wait, the harder depression is to treat.

Depression usually is treated with medicine, counseling, or medicine combined with counseling. Medicines for depression are not addicting or habit forming. They work for people with severe depression and may be useful for people with mild to moderate depression. Treatment works gradually over several weeks. If you do not start to feel better after this time, call your doctor. It may take some time to find what works best for you.

For more information, read Depression Is A Treatable Illness, which answers some common questions about depression. To get a print copy of this free booklet, written by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), call the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse at 1-800-358-9295.

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