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Retirement planning – Health management (IV)

Last week we discussed the first two stages of what we need to be doing to enhance our chances of being in the best health…

Last week we discussed the first two stages of what we need to be doing to enhance our chances of being in the best health condition possible at all times. Today, we will take up the last two stages as follows:

Seek professional assistance: In the past, people visited their doctors only when they fell ill. But this comes with the risk that certain issues are detected rather late and, perhaps, little help could be given. Over the last few decades, the pace of life has tremendously increased due to multi-dimensional causal and consequential factors that are self- and mutually reinforcing in a vicious cycle. Whilst that may have made us ‘more productive’, it comes along with physical, social, economic and emotional stresses that are negatively affecting the health of vast numbers of people in our societies.

Thankfully, regular visits with medical professionals and medical checks can provide several benefits. In a first check-up, your baseline health condition can be established. Secondly, the first check-up and follow-up tests can bring out early insights of any chronic conditions like hypertension, heart disease, etc. which would then be monitored, managed and further complications prevented. In addition, the health education you gain from interactions with professionals will bring out your risk factors, and desired behavioural changes will be identified and encouraged. Other benefits include the opportunity to take required immunisations; the peace of mind you get; long-term financial savings in medical costs that could arise from greater health damages, etc. According to County Health Rankings, clinical care is important in that it accounts for at least 20% of health outcomes.

Our individual factors such as gender, age, personal and family medical history, etc. may determine what medical tests and behaviours we will need in different pre- and post-retirement stages. Generally speaking, a comprehensive medical exam of at least once a year is recommended for individuals forty years and older. Those with chronic issues may need more frequent visits with their doctors and tests that may be required. General checks and tests for men would include weight, height, blood pressure measurements, cholesterol levels, blood sugar, dental exams, eye exams, skin cancer, colorectal cancer screening, prostate health, testicular exam, etc. Those for women would include the first nine for men and pelvic exams and pap smears, mammograms, bone density, thyroid function, etc. For those younger than forty, it is important that they start taking any specifically recommended medical tests also and enforcing the discipline of healthy behaviours that will help them now and in later years.

The results of medical tests might suggest a clean bill of health or bring out issues that might need caution or further interventions. A clean bill is not a license to continue or commence any bad health behaviours! Rather, it means you should be grateful, and remain conscious and vigilant about your health. Where there are issues, the doctor may recommend further tests and/or the start of some treatment such as taking medications or changes in lifestyle. If you are put on medications, it is important to get your medications from reliable supply sources and be diligent in taking them as recommended by the doctor. If lifestyle changes are required you may have the luxury of effecting the changes gradually or it might just have to be ‘drastic’ if there is a need for that. Whatever the situation might be, you need to understand the need and importance of the changes and be resolute about it.

Personal discipline: Our health is significantly influenced by our behaviours and the behaviours of others around us. Health behaviour refers to the health-related thoughts and practices that can improve or damage the health of individuals. These thoughts and practices may or may not be conscious or intentional, but would, nevertheless, promote or detract from the health of the individual. While health behaviours are often discussed as individual-level factors, they can be a reflection and measure of the likely health outcomes of groups and populations through influence, association and impact. Health behaviours are so crucial and are said to account for at least 30% of health outcomes according to County Health Rankings.

Positive health behaviours are a first line of achieving good health, such as through physical exercises which will help our heart. They are a ‘line of defence’ that can help us begin to reverse certain health issues such as reducing cholesterol levels through less intake of red meats. At individual and population levels, monitoring behaviours over time enables us to anticipate likely future health challenges, which would enable us to take preventative measures and necessary health interventions. Positive healthy behaviours are generally inexpensive ways to achieve and maintain good health.

Health behaviours cover the choices we make about our diet, physical activity, tobacco use, alcohol and drug use, substance abuse, sexual activities, sleep routines, professional healthcare-seeking behaviours, adherence to prescribed medical treatments, etc. These behaviours are dynamic at individual and societal levels, varying over our lifespan, environment and generations. Individual and group health behaviours are influenced, shaped and/or constrained by social and cultural norms, physical environment, economic status, etc. For instance, not everyone has the money to make certain healthy choices and/or pay for some medical attention they may require.

To be able to make healthy behavioural choices, we need to know what our situation is; What appropriate behaviours will help our situation, and; What causal factors precede, influence or outrightly determine them. Depending on your health situation and the particular instructions of your doctor, there are general and specific good health behaviours you should abide by. Given the importance of health behaviours in health outcomes, we will take some of them next week along with the factors that influence and shape them as well as what we can do to build them.


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