Taking personal responsibility for your own health

The simple message is common sense: You play a key role in determining the quality of your own health.

Your daily decisions and actions can have a positive or negative impact on your overall health. By doing what you can to stay healthy, you can keep your health care costs down and enhance your ability to live well at every stage of life.
Taking responsibility for your health has three key elements–setting healthy lifestyle goals, partnering effectively with your doctor and making regular health screenings a priority.

First come those healthy lifestyle goals.

People who eat right, exercise, don’t smoke, and drink no more than a moderate amount of alcohol are far less likely to face conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and depression than people who don’t practice these healthy behaviors. When trying to change any behavior, remember this: Research indicates that it takes about 21 days to develop a habit. If your goal is to walk for at least 15 minutes three times a week, don’t get discouraged if you only manage to do it once or twice during the first few weeks. Don’t give up. Once you achieve your goal and maintain it for three to four weeks, you’ll develop a habit and it will be easier to maintain that healthy practice.

Being overweight increases your risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke,
osteoarthritis, and certain cancers. Most people should evaluate their weight using the body mass index (BMI). The BMI shows the relationship between your height and weight. A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 indicates a normal weight. The BMI may overestimate body fat in athletes and others with a muscular build. It may underestimate body fat in older people and those who have lost muscle mass. In addition to BMI, a waist circumference measurement can also help you determine if you are at a healthy weight.

Being overweight is usually caused by a combination of poor eating habits and lack of exercise. If you are significantly overweight, you may benefit from a structured weight loss program. Talk to your doctor and check with your health plan about any programs they offer. If you are only slightly overweight, you may be able to shed those few extra pounds by developing healthier eating habits and adding regular exercise to your daily routine. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently revised its nutrition guidelines to consider age and gender.

Another way you can take responsibility for your health is to be proactive. See your doctor regularly to discuss your health status and to find out if you need to schedule any health screenings. If your doctor says you have a particular condition or disease, be sure you understand the diagnosis and treatment plan. Ask questions about your treatment options. Learn all you can about the condition. Some questions you might ask include:

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