When it comes to healthcare, most people act reactively instead of proactively. They won’t go to the doctor until they’re sick and they won’t take care of their body until problems start to arise.
People don’t want to spend time and money on healthcare until they feel like it’s completely necessary. But the problem with that is you’ll be spending a whole lot more time and money on fixing a problem than preventing it in the first place.
That’s why people need to understand the importance of preventive health care. Preventive care means catching potential problems before they become real problems. For example, if you get regular wellness checks, your blood pressure will be tested regularly. If your healthcare professional notices that it’s increasing, you can start doing things to lower your blood pressure before it becomes problematic.
Like many countries, the UK has a population that is both increasing and growing proportionally older. This is a good thing – that more people are living longer lives is unquestionably an indicator of success in many areas, especially healthcare. But this demographic shift is changing the needs of our society, and the ways in which services such as healthcare are provided will need to change with it.
For longer lives to be healthier lives, the UK must find more affordable ways for people to get the best care, where it’s needed. One of the most important ways this can be done is by creating a system in which people are kept healthier and treated earlier. The NHS is currently acting as a ‘sick care’ system, treating people when they fall ill, however this care model is unlikely to be sufficient to meet with the rising demands on the UK’s health service. While the savings of preventative care are hard to quantify, no-one would dispute that actions to reduce smoking, for example, have saved the health service billions of pounds.
What else can be done?
After observing Covid for the last three years, it has become apparent that those who seem to do best against this virus are those who have maintained their bodies better throughout their lives. One could argue that, to a great extent, our co-morbidities are our own failings at taking care of ourselves. There are, of course, genetic predispositions, but to quote a well-worn phrase, ‘Genetics loads the gun, but diet and lifestyle pull the trigger.’ But whatever hand we are dealt, we need to play it to the best of our abilities.
I think that Walter M. Chestnut from WMC Research sums up Covid pretty well in this simple statement: ‘It was a stress test on virtually every organ in the body.’
This got me thinking more about prevention, the main principle of naturopathy. Conventional medicine has a one-size-fits-all approach to health; there is little education about preventing disease, which is a bit bonkers to me. Why wouldn’t anyone want to try and prevent disease so that they can get as many healthy, disease-free years as possible? Think of the number of lives that would be saved if we had a shift towards a more ‘disease-prevention’ approach instead of ‘disease-management’ approach. We need to focus on health maintenance as a means for disease prevention. Diet and exercise can go a long way to improving longevity, but sometimes additional techniques are needed to give the body a boost.
When we are young, we don’t really think about illness, getting old, disease and death, but as we age, such things become more of a focus. As a naturopath, I’ve always practised disease prevention personally, and tried to educate my clinic clients and Just For Tummies customers in this respect too. I’ve come into grandparenting later than most. I was almost 60 when my grand-daughter, Jessica, was born and I want to be around for her and the rest of my family for as long as possible and be a good role model to Jessica in all aspects of her life, including maintaining my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
We all know that having a healthy immune system means that your body can more easily fight off infections, viruses, and bad bacteria. You can take supplements and herbs to improve the robustness of your immune system, and you can also take this one step further and have IV vitamin infusions, where you are put on a drip so that the vitamins are delivered directly into your vein. There are also many complementary therapy treatments that can go a long way to supporting immunity, including acupuncture, aromatherapy, reflexology, to name a few.
When you focus more on preventative health and, in particular, reducing your risk of heart disease, strokes and heart attacks, having a good diet, exercising and managing stress levels are key. If you have a healthy heart, you have healthy circulation, and this is important for preventing many diseases.
Sleep prevents sickness too, but how much sleep should a person be getting? I get around 6-8 hours a night and I feel good during the day with plenty of energy. Good sleep allows your body to heal and recover faster. I do have the odd night, where I wake at around 2am, and I’m wide-awake! When this happens, I just get up, make myself a drink and do some work. I can’t see the point in tossing and turning in bed, getting more frustrated trying to get to sleep.
When you’re maintaining overall preventative health to reduce disease, there are added benefits, such as increased energy and better mood. You feel alive and happy. You will be slim, have a positive outlook on life and people will be attracted to you because of the aura of health and vitality that you radiate. If you have the right positive attitude to health, you will be able to get on and enjoy your life without worrying about getting ill.
This is why I am so passionate about the need for a stronger focus on preventing poor health, not just treating it. However, this would require a change not just in our health service, but by governments who would need to take a longer-term approach beyond the five-year parliamentary cycles.
I get fed up with ‘dustbin’ diagnoses too – Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Irritable Bladder Syndrome, Fibromyalgia – conditions that primary and secondary care don’t know the causes of, so symptoms get lumped together. These are all functional disorders where no cause can be found, or at least in primary and secondary care, but that doesn’t mean to say that with a bit of detective work that the cause of these ‘dustbin’ diagnoses can’t be found.
I hope this gets you thinking about how you’re going proceed on your own health journey. Are you one of the millions of people in the UK who wait to get ill before they do anything about it? Are you on a cocktail of medication? Do you know why you’re taking them? Do you have regular drug reviews with your GP? If we don’t focus more on preventing ill health in this country better than we are doing, then the NHS is simply not sustainable. We must be more self-aware and self-responsible when it comes to our own health and wellbeing.
A few of my preventative health tips:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid antibiotics and any medication wherever possible
- Cultivate relationships with like-minded people who share your interests and your values
- Remove toxic people from your life
- Connect with your spiritual side – walks in nature, meditation, prayer, reflection
- Try and do some exercise every day, even if it’s a short, brisk walk, some stretching, yoga, pilates, tai chi, aerobics, strength training
- Eat minimal processed food
- Don’t eat ultra-processed food
- If it’s a plant – eat it; if it ate a plant – eat it; if it was made in a plant – avoid it
- Try and get 8 hours sleep a night – go to sleep early and wake early
- Avoid eating three hours before bed
- Try intermittent fasting. Aim for 18 – 20 hours of fasting a day
- Take your supplements, Live Bacteria probiotics, Omega 3s and a good quality multivitamin/mineral supplement