August 24, 2020
An Ounce of Prevention, More Than Ever
August is National Wellness Month in the U.S. Traditionally, it’s been a time to reemphasize the importance of practicing healthy lifestyle behaviors – like eating healthier, getting more exercise and better managing stress. This all seems rather basic, but truth-be-told even small improvements in these modifiable lifestyle behaviors can lead to significant health enhancements. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that eliminating just three controllable risk factors – poor diet, inactivity, and smoking – would prevent 80% of heart disease and stroke; 80% of type 2 diabetes; and, 40% of cancer.
If our battle against the COVID-19 pandemic during the past six months has taught us anything, it’s that the positive health impact of practicing wellness and prevention behaviors can literally determine both the severity of, and survival outcomes from, the disease. The CDC reports:
- About 45% of patients with underlying conditions were hospitalized, compared with 7.6% of those who did not have significant preexisting conditions.
- Deaths were 12 times higher for patients with underlying conditions (19.5%) compared with those without reported conditions (1.6%).
Wellness and prevention practices involve more than improving and maintaining healthy lifestyle behaviors like those mentioned above. Preventive care involves routine check-ups for the early detection of hidden medical conditions before they become serious – things like cardiovascular conditions, cancers, and diabetes. Robust, real-time clinical preventive care – mammograms, Pap smears, and colonoscopy screenings, and annual physicals, well-child visits and necessary vaccinations – provide life-saving early warnings and the gift of time to successfully address them.
Unfortunately, preventive care has fallen victim to the pandemic. Some of the strategies enacted to help slow the spread of COVID-19 have included postponing or cancelling non-urgent medical procedures and using telemedicine instead of face-to-face encounters for routine medical care. In fact, the American Cancer Society reports an approximate 65% decline in breast, cervical and colon cancer screenings during the 3-month period of mid-March to mid-June. While promising, the burst of telemedicine appointments we’ve witnessed during the pandemic has not “replaced” necessary in-person preventive screenings and physical exams.
The point here is not to force a mad rush tomorrow into the offices of PCPs, dentists, dermatologists, optometrists and the many other medical specialists where prevention and early detection play a huge role. Rather, it’s to encourage forethought and planning to reschedule these important in-person medical visits that have perhaps fallen prey to the pandemic’s social distancing requirements. Many clinical offices have already made significant safety and procedural adjustments to accommodate visits and ensure a safe environment and experience.
So yes, in celebration of National Wellness Month, reassess and make positive changes to your exercise and nutritional habits, tobacco use, stress level, sleep and other easily modifiable lifestyle behaviors (i.e., your wellness pursuits). But close the circle by also attending to your necessary preventive care visits, not only during August, but regularly throughout your life.
A recent New England Journal of Medicine article emphasizes that “a large-scale shift to a population-based prevention strategy is long overdue.” With what we’ve learned about COVID-19’s severe impact on those with pre-existing health conditions, such as obesity, Ben Franklin’s axiom that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” rings truer today than ever before.
Read other articles related to wellness here.