Submitted by Elizabeth Madlem, APN, The Bone Health Clinic at Millennium Pain Center
The holidays are a great opportunity to enjoy time with family and friends, celebrate life, to be grateful, and reflect on what’s important. While the focus often tends to be on giving gifts, is there any gift more valuable than the gift of good health? We tend to take good health for granted — until it’s gone. If you’ve lost your health for a short period of time — like coming down with the flu, or recovering from a surgical procedure — you have surely experienced a renewed appreciation for feeling “back to normal.” Of course, we can’t really “give” someone else good health, but we can do a lot to take care of our own health and to encourage and support healthy habits in those we love.
Unlike the flu or the common cold, some serious health conditions slowly sneak up on people, often causing no symptoms and many times the result of unhealthy habits accumulated over many years. For example, heart disease doesn’t just suddenly appear out of the blue.
Blocked arteries and blood vessels have usually developed over a long period of time, aided by factors like smoking, inactivity, obesity, and poor nutrition. Osteoporosis, which causes the bones to become weak and brittle, is another disease that doesn’t just materialize overnight. Bone density gradually decreases as people get older, but a lifetime of poor nutrition, inadequate calcium and Vitamin D, lack of exercise, and smoking are reasons why the disease progresses. When people are in their 20s and 30s, they can often eat poorly, be inactive, get too little sleep, and even smoke without any immediate negative affect on their health. The consequences of poor lifestyle choices show up later in life in the form of disease. The sad thing is that a great majority of diseases are preventable by making healthy lifestyle choices and being proactive about one’s health by getting recommended screenings and check-ups.
The holidays can also provide a benchmark that reflects how much a person’s health has changed, or hasn’t changed, since the previous year. For older adults, especially if we only see them once a year, a decline in their health may be quite dramatic. I recently had a conversation with a friend whose 91- year-old grandmother has osteoporosis. Despite several broken bones in the past, including a painful vertebral compression fracture, this woman was quite spry and mobile a year ago; she was even still driving. She could easily get in and out of a car, carry packages, often took walks outside, and was quite active. One day, she fell while just walking down the hall and severely fractured her arm and leg. A fall such as this from a standing position would not likely cause a fracture in a person whose bones were strong. Because her bones were so weak, this relatively minor fall caused devastating consequences that have changed her life forever.
She can only walk with a walker, she can no longer drive, she has difficulty getting dressed or taking a shower without assistance, and she is not very active because she is afraid of another fall. It wasn’t the fall that altered the course of her life; it was osteoporosis — a disease that is almost completely preventable.
Following are some simple tips to help give yourself and your loved ones the gift of good health this season and throughout the year.
Don’t smoke, support the efforts of loved ones to quit, and do whatever you can to ensure that your children do not start smoking.
Manage stress. The holidays don’t need to take a toll on your health and pocketbook. Keep your commitments and spending in check. Balance work, home, and play. Keep a relaxed and positive outlook.
Get enough quality sleep. Recent research is proving that lack of sleep can increase your risk for all kinds of serious health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, not to mention increased risk for accidents.
Get check-ups and immunizations. Exams and screenings, including regular dental check-ups, can help find potential problems early, when the chances for treatment and cure are often better. Vaccinations help prevent diseases and save lives. Ask your healthcare provider what screenings are necessary based on your individual situation and family history.
Prevent accidents and injuries, which often increase during the holidays. Use step stools instead of climbing on furniture when hanging decorations. Hire a professional to hang outdoor lights up high. Minimize the risk of falls by making sure extension cords, wires, lights, and decorations aren’t cluttering up pathways. Candles, fireplaces, space heaters, Christmas trees, and overloaded electrical systems can all be fire hazards.
Ramp up physical activity. Regular exercise, including some weight-bearing activity, will yield enormous health benefits. There is a plethora of information and helpful advice on ways to become more active. Figure out what works for you and do it.
Eat healthfully. The impact of good nutrition on your health cannot be emphasized enough. Poor food choices affect not only your weight, but are associated with major health risks that can cause illness and even death. These include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer. There are unlimited resources available to help improve eating habits. Don’t aim for a complete overhaul, just take small steps in the right direction.
This holiday season, as you are contemplating the perfect gifts for important people in your life, remember to be thankful for the best gift of all, one that doesn’t come in a box and can’t be wrapped with a bow, the gift of good health.
For more information on preventing and treating osteoporosis, you may contact The Bone Health Clinic at Millennium Pain Center, 309-662-4321. They have a new location at 2406 East Empire St. in Bloomington, next to Orthopedic & Sports Enhancement Center. Elizabeth Madlem is a certified bone-health specialist. The clinic provides screening, diagnosis, and a comprehensive treatment plan for people who have or are at risk of developing osteoporosis.