general health issues

Lifestyle Is the Best Medicine—A Call to Action

Women at the farmer's marketKnowing your numbers—blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure and weight—is important. These risk factors and markers, however, only partially tell your story. They measure your risk of disease rather than indicate your well-being.

Well-being is more than the absence of disease. It is living life with joy, energy, fulfillment and health. Sadly, we are living at a time when there is a health care paradox: while medical costs continue to rise, our health and well-being are declining. Currently, seven out of 10 deaths in America each year are due to chronic diseases that are mostly preventable, such as heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. We are dying prematurely, and these diseases are compromising the quality of our years. Our children are projected to fare worse—for the first time in two centuries, they may backslide on the steady rise in life expectancy.

The reason that unsustainable spending on treatments and exponential increases in technology aren’t improving our collective health is that we aren’t treating the underlying cause of disease. Through our lifestyle—eating healthily, exercising, maintaining our weight, and avoiding tobacco—we can prevent up to 80 percent of chronic diseases.

Yes – the biggest killers in this country can be nearly eradicated. But it has to begin with you and with all of us making a different kind of investment in our health. We need to invest in our well-being before the onset of the disease. And it seems we have a long way to go. Less than 3 percent of Americans engage in the healthy behaviors that can prevent diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. It’s time to change that.

By using lifestyle as medicine—through a whole food, plant-based diet, exercise, and emotional well-being—we can awaken our innate power to heal. We won’t only prevent disease, but experience a new level of physical, emotional and spiritual health.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” To change the course of your health, you have to be intentional about your daily habits and behaviors. An abundance of research studies indicates more of your health is in your control than you might think. With the right support and guidance, you can feel more energy, creativity and happiness. Here are some steps you can take:

Learn Self Care

It’s been said that knowledge is power. Despite seeming confusion and controversy, there is a convergence of expert opinion and scientific evidence demonstrating what our bodies need for health. Epidemiologic, ecologic, and interventional studies support that a diet of minimally processed food, mostly plants, routine movement, strong social support, and a sense of purpose are among the traits that add healthy years to life. It’s simple yet at the same time powerful. Your lifestyle alters inflammation, oxidative damage, your gut bacteria, and how your genes are expressed. These, in turn, are at the root of preventing and treating common diseases and improving your well-being.

In addition to knowledge, you need skills—such as culinary skills, skills to build emotional resilience, and skills to create and sustain good habits. These capabilities are accessible to all of us. We can each become more engaged, active participants in our own care.

Set Personal Health Goals

Putting what you know into daily practice can be challenging. Our modern world conspires against us—tilting us toward high-fat, sugary processed food, a sedentary lifestyle, stress, and inadequate sleep.

By setting personal goals, you can stay focused on long-term benefits rather than short-term rewards. The first step you should take is to examine your health behaviors and become mindful of what makes you get off track. As a primary care physician, I know first-hand how hard that can be. I have also seen countless success stories. I know it can be done. Trust that it can be life-changing.

Invest in Your Emotional Health

A healthy lifestyle is often equated to following a healthful diet and exercising. Whole health, however, involves nurturing emotional as well as physical health. Getting good at managing stress, investing in strong social relationships, and living with purpose can have a more significant benefit on your health than controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol. There is an inescapable connection between our mind and our body. And you need to nourish both to feel your best.

Emory Lifestyle Medicine & Wellness: Join a Community

As the poet John Donne famously penned, “No man is an island.” We thrive when we work collaboratively to tackle and overcome our greatest obstacles. We recently launched Emory Lifestyle Medicine and Wellness to build an interactive community focused on whole-person, self-care solutions. We combine science and well-proven strategies with immersive learning to get to the root cause of disease. We want to spread knowledge about the fundamentals of health—to fulfill our vision of people living happier, healthier lives. We invite you to learn more.

About Sharon H. Bergquist, MD

Sharon Bergquist, MD, received her degree from Harvard Medical School in 1997, and completed her residency in internal medicine at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in 2000. Dr. Bergquist strongly believes in comprehensive health management, and incorporates prevention and wellness strategies into her practice along with managing chronic disease. Her expertise includes heart disease prevention and management, women’s health, diabetes, nutrition and obesity counseling, and the treatment of mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

Back-to-School Bugs & Beyond: Know Where to Go

Back to school bugsBack-to-school bugs mean your kids may soon be coming home sniffing, sneezing or showing other signs of battling a “bug”?

Your kid’s classroom can be just the kind of enclosed space that makes a great breeding ground for viruses and bacteria to multiply and spread. According to the CDC, (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) elementary school children catch eight to 12 colds or cases of flu each school year.

Back-to-School Bugs

Back-2-school brings kids back in touch with lots of other kids. It can be a stressful time even for kids who have the healthiest immune systems. Children returning to school may be exposed to:

  • Colds, cold sores, coughs
  • Pink eye
  • Stomach bugs

You can prepare your kids for battling any back to school bugs by strengthening their immune systems. Here’s how:

  • Get your kids back on a good sleep schedule
  • Boost diets with Vitamin C rich fruits & veggies
  • Make sure they stay hydrated

Healthy Habits

  • Hand washing: The best way for your child to stay healthy at school is to practice good hand washing. Teach your child to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. That’s how you know they’ll be washing for at least twenty seconds. And, your child should use soap. It’s more effective than hand sanitizers.
  • Clean water: Arm your child with a water bottle and teach him this is one thing that should never be shared. Hydration is important but drinking fountains can be hot zones for germs. They aren’t cleaned and disinfected as often as school bathrooms are. If your child does use the water fountain, they should let the water run before drinking and keep their mouths from touching the fountain.
  • Healthy Manners: Teach your child to always cough or sneeze into an elbow.

Fall Allergy Alert

Here in Atlanta, ragweed pollen blooms in August and is at its peak in September. In addition to ragweed, tree pollens can also be blamed for fall allergies.

If your child suffers from allergies, prepare for back to school by pretreating with allergy medication before the peak of pollen season.

Symptoms of fall allergies include:

  • Asthma attacks
  • Congestion
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Itchy eyes, nose, and scratchy throat
  • Post-nasal drip, runny nose
  • Headache
  • Sneezing

Learn more about allergies here.

Know Where to Go When It’s Not Life Threatening

Primary care physician, family doctor, or pediatrician: If your child does come down with a bug or an infection, start out by seeing your pediatrician, family doctor or PCP. They are already familiar with your child and know their health history best.

If you can’t get an appointment at a time that works for you, or your doctor’s schedule is all booked up, don’t stress. You have options.

MinuteClinics and Urgent Care centers are good alternatives if you need to see a health care provider sooner than you can see your PCP, or if you need care outside of your PCPs normal office hours. MinuteClinics can treat many minor illnesses and injuries and prescribe medications. Urgent care centers can treat serious, but not life-threatening illnesses or injuries.

When to Go to the Emergency Room

Unfortunately, playground accidents and back to school injuries can happen. In addition to bumps and bruises, your child might show signs of an urgent condition. Go to the ER for urgent conditions including:

  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Chest or upper abdominal pain
  • Fainting, dizziness, weakness or lack mobility
  • Changes in vision
  • Confusion or changes in mental status
  • Sudden or severe pain
  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Broken bones that break through skin
  • Severe or persistent diarrhea or vomiting
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings
  • Poisoning
  • Head or neck injury
  • Suspected concussion

If you take your child to the ER, have key information ready for the nurse or doctor. Keep track of when symptoms started, how they progressed, how long a fever or rash has lasted, how often your child has gone to the bathroom, any medications, who they’ve been in contact with and any other health concerns. Bring water, snacks and a toy for your child.

Contact Us

If you’re not sure if a trip to the ER is needed, call your family doctor or the Emory HealthConnection nurses at 404-778-7777*

*Business hours: 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., EST. Monday–Friday

 

About Dr. Colovos

Nick Colovos, MD, received his degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine in 1993 and completed his residency in emergency medicine at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Toledo Ohio in 1996. His work experiences in the academic, public and private sectors of medical care have allowed him to develop a unique perspective on the business of healthcare and its delivery to patients. He currently serves as Medical Director for the Emory Healthcare Urgent Care and MinuteClinic Strategy and Assistant Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Related resources

Kid’s Health: Common back-to-school illnesses and injuries

Kid's Health Going back to school can tax your kid’s health. Catching up with old friends and make new ones can be an exciting time, but one that puts them back in close contact with one another — with a result no one looks forward to: illnesses and injuries.

In the first few months of a new school year, there are lots of germs going around. They’re on desks, keyboards, in the classroom and on the playground where accidents also happen.

Over time, your child will become immune to many infectious diseases. In the meantime, teach him to wash his hands well —and often. If your child does come down with a bug, keep him home from school until he’s fever-free for 24 hours without medicine.

Common kid’s health back-to-school illnesses and injuries include:

  • “Backpack-itis”: Overstuffed backpacks can cause head, neck and shoulder pain as well as lead to bad posture. Use your bathroom scale to figure out what your kid weighs with and without his backpack. Make sure that his locked and loaded backpack doesn’t weigh more than 10% of his weight. Also, make sure your child wears both straps. A lightweight pack with wide straps and a padded back is a good choice.
  • Colds and flu: Colds are very contagious. If your child doesn’t have a fever, it’s probably okay to go to school. It’s important not to spread germs — so teach your kid to cough or sneeze into a tissue—or an elbow—and to wash his hands. When it comes to flu, prevention is important. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a flu shot for everyone six months old and up.
  • Impetigo: This skin infection is very contagious. Symptoms include sores and blisters on the face, neck, and hands. Keep any cuts clean and teach your child, not to scratch rashes and bug bites. Thorough hand washing helps prevent the spread of impetigo and also strep throat, which is related.
  • Lice: These tiny bugs live on the scalp, feed on blood and cause itching. Kids usually get lice by being in close contact with someone who has them. To keep your family lice-free, teach your child to avoid head-to-head contact and not to share hats, helmets, hair accessories, towels, or other personal things. Make sure students don’t share cubbies or lockers.
  • Pinkeye: This eye infection, also called conjunctivitis, is easily spread from one kid to the next in school. Signs include bloodshot eyes, itchy and burning eyes, and a yellow or green eye discharge from the eyes. If your child has pinkeye, a prescription for antibiotic eye drops is needed to treat it. Like other contagious diseases, the best prevention is good hand washing.
  • Playground injuries:  Common injuries are fractures, cuts, bruises, and sprains. But dislocations, broken bones and concussions can also happen. Most injuries happen on playground bars or climbers. Make sure the playground is supervised and that your child follows the rules.
  • Strep throat: Strep throat can spread through the student body pretty fast. In addition to a sore throat, symptoms may include a runny nose, high fever, and headache. If untreated, a strep throat could lead to rheumatic fever. It’s important to get a strep test and treat this disease with antibiotics. Teach your child to steer clear of anyone with a sore throat and to wash hands often. Your child should know not to share drinks, spoons, forks, knives or toothbrushes.
  • Stomach flu: This bug isn’t really the flu—but it is a virus and it’s highly contagious. It causes stomachaches, vomiting, and diarrhea. Stomach bugs can lead to dehydration. Teach your child to always wash hands after using the bathroom and before eating. Your child should not share drinks, forks, knives, spoons, or toothbrushes.

Know where to go for kid’s health issues

Your pediatrician or family doctor knows your kid’s health the best, but if your doctor isn’t available and you need health care right away or outside of your doctor’s office hours, minute clinics, and urgent Care centers are good choices.

Minute Clinics can treat minor illnesses. Urgent care centers also treat minor illnesses and can perform X-rays and more advanced treatment for kid’s health issues that aren’t life threatening.

Learn more about Emory Healthcare’s MinuteClinic and urgent care partners – Peachtree Immediate Care and SmartCare® Urgent Care. Combined, these partners provide nearly 60 locations throughout metro Atlanta and surrounding counties — putting the care you need now where you need it, 7 days a week for most of the year.

When to go to the emergency room

Go to the ER for urgent conditions including:

  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Chest or upper abdominal pain
  • Fainting, dizziness, weakness or lack mobility
  • Changes in vision
  • Confusion or changes in mental status
  • Sudden or severe pain
  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Broken bones that break through skin
  • Severe or persistent diarrhea or vomiting
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings
  • Poisoning
  • Head or neck injury
  • Suspected concussion

If you take your child to the ER, have key information ready for the nurse or doctor. Keep track of when symptoms started, how they progressed, how long a fever or rash has lasted, how often your child has gone to the bathroom, any medications, who they’ve been in contact with and any other health concerns. Bring water, snacks and a toy for your child.

If you still aren’t sure, contact your family doctor or call Emory HealthConnection to speak to an Emory nurse at 404-778-7777.