Start the New Year Off on a Healthy Note

5 min read  |  December 22, 2023  | 

You may have a few New Year’s resolutions on repeat: go to the gym, eat more vegetables, and quit smoking, all of which are wise goals. This year, consider adding a few other changes that could benefit your health, wellness and peace of mind for years to come. 

Why should you see your doctor for an annual physical exam if you generally feel healthy? 

Checking in with your primary care physician can confirm that you have no underlying health risks that need attention. Or, an exam may lead to an early-stage diagnosis, which means you could receive treatment sooner with better outcomes.

For children and adults in all stages of age and wellness, an annual in-person exam can empower you to be proactive about your health and lifestyle choices. It’s also the perfect time to tackle any health concerns in the back of your mind. 

Annual visits with your primary care provider may include:

  • physical exam
  • health screenings
  • chronic disease management (e.g., diabetes, hypertension)
  • vaccinations
  • pap smear and mammography referrals
  • colon and prostate cancer screenings
  • healthy lifestyle guidance, including exercise and nutrition counseling
  • support for managing perimenopause/menopause-related health concerns
  • coordination of care with specialty services
  • smoking cessation programs

Which vaccines, medical screenings and tests do you need this year? 

The list of necessary health steps depends on your sex, age, current medications and therapies, lifestyle choices (smoking, drinking, exercise, and diet), your medical history, and that of your close family. 

At your next physical exam or visit with your primary care physician, ask what you’re due for, and make a list. Start scheduling these appointments before the end of January.

Older men can be particularly hesitant to receive regular health screenings. While women are more likely than men to see a physician on a regular basis, men often avoid seeing a physician until they don’t feel well. At that point, a health condition may have progressed, and treatment could be more difficult.

Middle-aged men should get checked for prostate cancer, colon cancer, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Middle-aged women should get routine screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, breast cancer, and cervical cancer, among others. If you have a history of smoking, you may qualify for lung cancer screening. Learn more about which cancer screenings you need and when. 

Organize and update your medical records.

Get a few file folders or large envelopes, and label each one with one of your medical issues (like diabetes, back pain, or cholesterol) or type of medical specialty (such as gynecology, dental care, or dermatology). Sort and file records that will help you and your doctors stay informed about your medical history and any ongoing issues. The next time you leave the doctor’s office with paperwork, file it away so it doesn’t get misplaced and forgotten.

Keep track of your numbers. 

If you’re diabetic or pre-diabetic, what’s your A1C? Know your typical blood pressure numbers if you have hypertension. Has your weight been fluctuating without reason? If you’re working to lower your cholesterol, what were the results the last time you had them checked? Ladies, when was your last period? Be prepared to provide your doctor with the date of your last menstrual period or when you started menopause. All female patients may be asked if/when they’ve been pregnant.

Before your next doctor appointment, send your provider all of your health records, including recent bloodwork, imaging scans, and lab results, so you can avoid having to redo tests unnecessarily.

Some medical conditions are genetic, so it’s also helpful to document the major medical issues or causes of death of your immediate family members. Your health care team should be informed of these relevant diseases, conditions, or cancers for which you may need to be screened. It’s more valuable to have this information available during your visit rather than after. 

Get on top of your meds.

The new year is a good time to sort through your medicine cabinet and get rid of expired and unneeded over-the-counter meds and prescriptions. Old medications can lose their effectiveness over time. Plus, having a drawer full of medications you no longer need or keep track of can be dangerous to children, teenagers or those with a history of drug abuse. Contact your local health department to learn how to safely dispose of (or turn in) medications so they don’t contaminate the public water supply.

For your next doctor appointment, bring a list of:

  • your current prescriptions
  • over-the-counter medications
  • vitamin supplements (including dosages and how often you take them)

Make a detailed note on paper or your phone, or take photos of your medicine and vitamin bottles. It may be important to note when you take them, such as with food or before bed.

Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UHealth’s news service. Medically reviewed by E. Robert Schwartz, M.D., a family medicine physician at UHealth.

Tags: doctor appointments, Dr. E Robert Schwartz, healthy decisions

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