Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Healthy Outlook

Unless you spent the last week under a rock, you probably know that last week was the week the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments and will ultimately rule on the Constitutionality of the national health care reform laws known as Obamacare.


That's now what I'm writing about today.

But since that debate does have everyone talking about health care, it seemed appropriate that I received a press release from Montgomery County Wednesday which informed me that April 2 to April 8 is National Public Health Week.

Immediately, I thought of my mother, Barbara Brandt, who spent her entire career as a public health nurse and, ultimately, a geriatric nurse practitioner first in Westchester County, NY, where I grew up, and then in New Mexico, where she lives now.

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother coming home in the county cars (she gave them names) she used to visit dozens of households each week, providing preventative care, continuing care and, in many cases, final care.

Later in her career, she ran "well-baby clinics" and health clinics, as well as making "Hogun visits" in the Navajo reservation first for the Indian Health Service and later for the state of New Mexico.  

I was amazed, when I moved to Pennsylvania, to find out how relatively new the Montgomery County Health Department was, and that many Pennsylvania counties have none at all.

Pottstown is lucky in that it has an agency, the Visiting Nurse Association of Pottstown & Vicinity, that performs that function but is not part of county government. (The best of both worlds?)

The VNA, as it is locally known, is an independent, voluntary, non-profit home health organization founded in 1917 and currently celebrating its 95th anniversary. That makes it older than most county health departments.

Last year the VNA won a Mercury
Reader's Choice Award in the
Health Care category.
Their mission, according to their web site, is to provide community-based health care related services in order to help people "achieve a level of physical and emotional well-being and independence in their home of choice." 

Also important if their pledge to "provide care to patients without regard for their ability to pay," ("within the financial constraints of our organization.")

Perhaps it was my mother's influence, but I learned early the value of prevention as a health care tool, as well as it counter-intuitively negligible political weight. 

(Speaking of 'weight,' she no doubt considers my bulk to be a professional failure on her part. That's OK, when I was sick and she sent me to school anyway, I had my own opinions about mom's 'professional failures.')

Anyway, as it turns out, the best way to fight a disease is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Dick Cheney has a new heart
An ounce of prevention...
Consider, it's easier and less expensive to pay to encourage someone to exercise and eat healthy foods and thus prevent heart disease, than it is to give them a heart transplant like former Vice President Dick Cheney just had. (Pretty sure his taxpayer-funded health care insurance covered the bulk of that cost, but I can't confirm that.)

But as well all know, when budgets get tough, the first thing to go is preventative maintenance. Apparently, that goes for human beings as well as furnaces and roof replacements.

Thankfully, in keeping with the theme for this year's National Public Health Week the Montgomery County Health Department is encouraging "its community to take preventive measures and help improve their lives. Lifelong health starts with prevention" according to the press release from the county.
It also included some "Quick Facts from the American Public Health Association:"
  • There are approximately 19 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections in the United States each year with almost half occurring in young people ages 15-24.
  • Every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver.
  •  Cigarette smoking, which is the most common form of tobacco use, causes approximately 443,000 deaths and costs about $96 billion in medical costs in the United States each year.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccinations from birth through adulthood to provide a lifetime of protection against many diseases and infections, such as influenza, pneumococcal disease, human papillomavirus, and hepatitis A and B.
  • Fewer than 15 percent of adults and 10 percent of adolescents eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables each day.
Each year, chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are responsible for millions of premature deaths and cause Americans to miss 2.5 billion days of work, resulting in lost productivity totaling more than $1 trillion.   

Eating healthy and engaging in regular physical activity are ways people can stay healthy. Making a few simple changes to your daily routine over a short period of time is all that is needed.

Try these four simple steps to a healthier lifestyle:
  •  Change your diet – A very simple and easy step to take. Start by cutting out more of the fatty foods that you already know you shouldn't be eating. Replace these with fresh fruit and vegetables in your everyday cooking. Then gradually cut down on the starchy stuff, like potatoes, bread, rice, and pasta. Within just a few weeks you will start to notice that you feel more energetic! Visit for more information about food group recommendations and portion size.
  •   Exercise – Regular physical activity helps improve your overall health and fitness and reduces your risk for many chronic diseases.  Adults need two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e. brisk walking) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).  The body will burn off those extra calories and the blood will circulate around the body carrying vital oxygen where it is needed. Doing activity that requires moderate effort is safe for most people. But if a chronic health condition exists, such as heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, or other symptoms, be sure to talk with your doctor about the types and amounts of physical activity that are right for you.
  •  Cut down on alcohol and eliminate tobacco – By reducing your alcohol intake and eliminating tobacco use your internal organs will start to work more efficiently. In turn, your entire body will feel healthier. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, if you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation, which is defined as no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men. Compared with nonsmokers, smoking is estimated to increase the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke by 2 to 4 times.  For quitting support and resources: 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).                                       
  •  Rethink your drink – Probably the easiest step to take when wanting to achieve a healthier lifestyle is to drink more water. Water is essential for all systems in the body. It will not only make you feel better, it will improve the appearance of your skin and help your body’s systems work better.  Try having a glass of water instead of coffee or tea at least twice a day. The body needs water to repair damaged tissues and remain hydrated.  Adults should consume eight 8oz glasses of fluid each day and avoid sugary drinks.

The health department advises us, wisely, to take advantage of spring's warmer temperatures. Take this opportunity to start walking, biking, or hiking to better health. Make a date or make it a family affair and get everyone moving. Small steps will go a long way towards preventing chronic disease.

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