I know how busy life can get. Between the patients I see and the guests on my show, I’m constantly amazed with how much people are squeezing out of their lives. But too often I meet people who fill their days with things that seem important while neglecting their health in a way that undermines the work they’re putting into their future and their families.
I was reminded of this by Taylor Swift’s recent post on her unusual Christmas present request from her mother and her mother’s subsequent cancer diagnosis. I’ve always been floored by the strong relationship Taylor obviously has with her mom and I can only imagine how hard her mom has worked over the last few decades to ensure the health and success of her family. But it also sounds like all of that work may have caused her to neglect her own well-being. So I want to take some time to talk about why a visit to the doctor is worth your time, even when it seems like you’re too busy to make an appointment.
Gradual change can creep up on you.
It’s easy to think that feeling fine translates into nothing being wrong. That might work when you’re 18, but it doesn’t hold when you’re 50. Let me explain. At one point, you were young, healthy and active and probably had few to no medical conditions. Managing your health just meant doing what you were already doing and seeing a doctor every few years.
But as we age, we also often transition very slowly into worse health. Our poor eating habits and lack of exercise start to catch up with us. We gradually gain weight and our blood pressure and cholesterol start to creep up. Old sports injuries starts to bother you again, but soon become a part of the daily aches and pains you take for granted.
When health changes happen so slowly, it can be easy to shrug them off. The thing is, the slow accumulation of these issues start adding up to real problems. Normal blood pressure can slowly creep up to high blood pressure; a limp over years can add up to arthritis, and a little extra weight can slowly grow into obesity, all without anything really seeming different from day to day.
Figure out what’s really concerning.
A visit to the doctor is like a status check. The aim isn’t to find disease or get on a new medication. Instead, the goal is to get a sense of where your health is, how worrisome the things that bother you are, and whether there’s anything you should be doing to avoid disaster both in the near and distant future. Your doctor can help you sift through all of the information your body is sending you and help you figure out what to pay attention to and what to put on the shelf for now.
Keep on eye on your screening needs.
Part of that status check is looking for any signals your body is sending that might not be obvious. This is what screenings are for. Heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer are all examples of diseases that can be hard to recognize without special tests. This is why getting your blood pressure checked or going in for that colonoscopy is so important. Without these screenings, you might find out that you have a problem when it’s already too late to prevent it.
Not everyone needs every type of screening, though. This is where your doctor comes in. He or she can discuss your family history, age, gender, lifestyle and current health issues that might put you at risk for certain diseases. He or she can also help you weigh the risks of the screening against the risks of possible disease. Together, you can come up with a schedule for screening to keep you on top of your health while meeting your overall wellness goals.
Making an appointment is an investment in your health.
Remember, you may never really see how regular checkups change your health because you never fall ill with a disease that you nip in the bud. Even if you do see the effects, it might take decades to finally understand the impact of a healthier lifestyle. This is why I like to think of regular checkups as investments in your health, like investing for retirement. You do it because you know it’ll pay off down the road, not because it’s easy or convenient now.
This is why starting early is key. I’m not saying you have to see your doctor once a month starting at age 18. What I am saying is that you need to be on top of your health. You can’t do that if you don’t know what your health status is and what you should be doing to prevent illness. As in the case of Taylor Swift’s mom, doing so could save your life. Don’t gamble with your health. If you haven’t seen your doctor in the last year or two, make an appointment and invest in your future.