Preventive Care Appointment on Calendar

10 Easy (and Mostly Free) Ways to Take Charge of Your Own Health—Starting Today

Bana Jobe

Just a few decades ago, people only went to doctors and nurses when they felt unwell. Now, the scope of healthcare has evolved.

Providers still help treat patients for sickness and disease, but there’s a growing priority to help populations stay healthy and prevent illness altogether. This added focus has moved healthcare from what many people call “sick care” to “preventive care.”

What Is Preventive Care?

Preventive care means being proactive in many aspects of life and health—from working to keep your body fit and well to managing stress and other negative feelings. By focusing on good-for-you things like nutrition, exercise and routine screenings, preventive care can help you feel your best while also potentially avoiding dangerous (and costly) health problems.

Protect Your Health with Preventive Care

Healthcare providers play a crucial role in preventive care, but so do you. By taking proactive steps to stay healthy inside and out, you can help create your own path to lifelong well-being. Here are a few things you can do, starting now.

1

Schedule a Checkup With a Primary Care Provider

Once you find a primary care provider (PCP), it’s a good idea to book a wellness visit with them once a year, in addition to any other tests or screenings you may need.

If you don’t already have a PCP, check your insurance plan to find one in your network. They’re an essential ally in preventive health—and can answer questions, discuss recommended screenings, and direct you to specialists when needed.

This proactive care could help prevent disease or catch it in its early stages. It also could potentially help save the financial costs of late-stage treatments like chemotherapy or surgery.

Best of all, many checkups may be free. If you have a health plan that’s compliant with the Affordable Care Act (most traditional health insurance plans are), you get many preventive healthcare services like flu shots or blood pressure screenings at no cost to you, as long as you see an in-network provider. Find out who’s in your plan’s network:

  • Check with your employer’s benefits administrator or human resources team.
  • Look up in-network providers on your health plan’s website.
  • Call the number on the back of your insurance card for help.

2

Organize Your Medical Records

Keep a digital or paper folder or notebook to store pertinent information, and request records from different doctors so that you have them all in one place.

As people get older and see more healthcare providers, medical records tend to get spread out across different doctors, hospitals and pharmacies. This disconnected nature of record-keeping can impact your overall health; a health problem, allergy or medication side effect you had many years ago may affect what your doctor recommends for you today.

But you can help take charge of your medical records by being a good steward of them. This template from the American Academy of Family Physicians can be a good option to organize key details.

3

Write Down Your Family History

In addition to knowing your health history, it’s good to know about your family’s health history, too. Many health concerns—such as heart disease, cancer or even depression—can run in families.

Knowing these details can help doctors better plan for your care, and identify any extra testing you may need. For example, if you have a family history of breast cancer, some physicians may recommend preventive steps such as genetic testing, mammograms that start at an earlier age, routine monitoring and other services based on your unique situation.

4

Pay Attention to Your Mental Health

Mind your body but also mind your mind. Mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression can affect your physical health, potentially putting you at risk for chronic conditions like diabetes, stroke or heart disease.

A few warning signs might include:

  • Lasting sadness, anger or worrying
  • Trouble sleeping or concentrating
  • Changes in your appetite, energy levels or libido
  • Loss of interest in relationships or doing things you once enjoyed

If you are concerned about your mental health, talk to your PCP about what resources are available that would best meet your needs.

If you don’t have an immediate mental health need, take some time to prevent one from happening by making regular self-care a priority. Simple things like doing yoga, exercising or reading a book can have a big impact on your mental well-being.

5

Plan Healthy Meals

The American Heart Association has some delicious options to try, such as huevos rancherosturkey sliders and cauliflower pizza.

There’s so much to be gained in eating good-for-you food—from living longer and having more energy to reducing the risk of serious problems like type 2 diabetes and obesity. Even still, healthy eating can be intimidating for many people. Keep in mind that a healthy meal starts with healthy ingredients. When shopping for groceries, aim to fill your basket with a variety of the five food groups:

  • fruits
  • veggies
  • whole grains
  • proteins
  • no- or low-fat dairy

Throw in some multipurpose spices like cumin and oregano; they can help season meals without the potential health risks of added salt.

As you try different things, pay attention to how you feel. Some people may have a minor food allergy to things they’ve eaten all their life, like gluten or dairy. By being proactive, listening to your body, and working with your doctor, you can help manage your diet to stay well.

6

Set Realistic Fitness Goals

Aim for about 150 minutes per week of activity, the world is your oyster as far as what you do.

Regular physical activity packs in a whole range of preventive health benefits—from helping you keep your bones strong and warding off heart disease to reducing anxiety. Best of all, those effects help you both in the short- and long-term. Experts suggest that exercise offers immediate benefits to your brain health, while also helping maintain your weight and boosting your heart health over time.

Even still, exercise doesn’t have to be monotonous or difficult. Make it fun by going on a hike, taking up gardening or walking the dog at a brisk pace.

7

Practice Good Oral Health

Check your dental plan so you know what is covered and how often you can take advantage of benefits, from regular cleanings to needed dental work.

Good oral health doesn’t just help prevent your teeth from rotting. Good oral hygiene—like regular brushing and flossing—may also help ward off major problems like heart disease or pneumonia by preventing the risks of inflammation and infections that start in the mouth.

Not only can dentists and hygienists help keep your teeth clean and in tiptop shape, but they can also help screen for other problems like oral cancer. Talk with your doctor and dentist to see what type of preventive dental care is right for you.

8

Make a Plan to Stop or Limit Bad Habits

Nip those potential problems in the bud with a preventive plan.

Unhealthy habits like smoking or drinking alcohol can lead to chronic health problems down the road.

  • If you smoke, find local resources by dialing 800-QUIT-NOW or visiting smokefree.gov.
  • If you drink alcohol, check with your doctor to set reasonable limits and goals.

9

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

To set yourself up for more restful, lasting sleep, follow a bedtime routine and limit late-night use of phones and tablets.

Sleep is precious, but most people don’t get enough. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most adults need at least seven hours per night. Are you getting that much?

If not, you may be missing out on the many preventive benefits of sleep—from helping the body feel restored to helping you concentrate better at work. Quality sleep can also reduce the risk of chronic issues and boost your immune systems’ ability to fight infections.

10

Think Through Your Health Benefits Needs

Take a good look at voluntary plans, such as Hospital Indemnity or Critical Illness insurance; they can help bridge the gaps left by a traditional health plan.

In addition to being proactive about other aspects of your health, your financial health matters too—as financial stress can affect your mental health.

A comprehensive health insurance plan can help stave off that financial stress, but sometimes traditional health insurance isn’t enough—and out-of-network care or high deductibles can rack up the costs.

Voluntary plans provide a lump-sum payout for designated events, like a broken bone or burn. You can use the payouts for anything, even just to keep the rent paid if you’re in the hospital. Because most voluntary plans cost less than traditional insurance, it’s a small price to pay for a lot of peace of mind. It’s also a great way to be proactive about your health.

If you worry about how you’ll be able to see a doctor or pay your bills—dial 211 or visit 211.org to learn more about resources available to you. Run by United Way, this hotline helps connect people with essential services like healthcare, housing and food.

An Ounce of Prevention

As the adage goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Indeed, even small preventive steps can go a long way in helping protect your health long-term.

But doctors aren’t the only ones responsible for keeping you healthy—you share in that responsibility, too! And fortunately, there are many things you can do, even starting today, to take a more proactive role in your own healthcare.

The question is, are you ready to start?

Do you have any other tips on how to be proactive about your health? Leave a comment below to share your wisdom with others.

This informational material shall not be considered medical or health advice. You should always consult your health care provider before changing your diet or starting a new exercise regimen. The Hartford assumes no responsibility for any decisions related to your medical or health care. Consult with your health care provider, nutritionist, or other health professional before making any decisions that may impact your health and well-being. 

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