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December 30, 2009 > Turn Over a New Leaf

Turn Over a New Leaf

What are your New Year's resolutions for 2010? For most of us, our health and wellbeing remain at the top of our resolution list each year. Still, we don't always follow through with our pledges that this year will be different.
But what if someone told you that by turning over a new leaf - making incremental healthy lifestyle changes - you could significantly reduce your risk of potentially deadly health conditions like heart attack, stroke, cancer and diabetes while also improving how you look and feel?
Doug Van Houten, R.N., coordinator of Washington Hospital's Stroke Program says now is the time to make the commitment and get serious about lifestyle changes. A great first step is making plans to attend the upcoming free Community Stroke Education Series seminar about stroke prevention and healthy lifestyle.
Next Tuesday, Jan. 5, from 6 to 8 p.m., Washington Hospital Medical Staff neurologist Ravinder Kahlon will discuss "Stroke Prevention" and Van Houten will present "Healthy Lifestyle-Be Smart and Avoid Stroke" in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue, across the street from the main hospital.
"If you can turn your lifestyle around a little bit, you can really influence how you'll do with stroke and other disease processes like heart attack and even cancer - you'll benefit in almost all areas of health," Van Houten says.
He points out that, according the American Stroke Association, up to 80 percent of all strokes are preventable. But that's easier said than done, right? After all, it takes more than good intentions to make lasting changes.
"I think there is a big disconnect with stroke," he says. "It's the third leading killer and the number one leading cause of long-term disability, yet it's 80 percent preventable. The question is: where's the disconnect? I have friends with good insurance who won't see the doctor on a regular basis."
Van Houten says he had a patient who had undergone heart valve replacement surgery and was prescribed anticoagulant medication to prevent clotting. Then, without consulting his physician, the patient stopped taking his medication and suffered a major stroke, resulting in language impairment so severe that he could only say one or two words four years after the stroke.
Obviously just knowing that you have to change your lifestyle may not be enough to actually follow through, Van Houten says. That's why he will talk about what he calls his "mock arithmetic" equation: Motivation + Knowledge + Creativity = Change.
"I always tell people about someone I knew who learned he needed to exercise everyday to improve his health," Van Houten explains. "This guy knew he liked to run, which was the knowledge, his motivation was that he needed to improve his heart health and the creativity involved pre-scheduling his exercise during the week as an appointment with 'Mr. Nike' on his calendar. He made it happen."
"A lot of people say I just can't exercise when I get home. I say, use a little creativity - maybe get up earlier in the morning - and find a system that works for you."
Van Houten says he will spend a good portion of his healthy lifestyle talk sharing tips and tricks audience members can take home and adapt to help them make their own lifestyle changes.
"Something else I tell people to do when they're changing a lifestyle habit is that if you make the change with someone else - even someone in your department at work, then you're more likely to sustain the change," he says. "This goes for quitting smoking, starting a walking routine or changing your diet. It works for everything. If you're at home with your spouse and you both decide to eat healthy, it's so much easier to fix one healthy meal rather than one person eating a healthy meal and the other eating one high in saturated fat."
Another good idea, he says, is to take time out to examine your life and how you lead it on a regular basis.
"Otherwise, you're just following the wagon wheel ruts in the road and that might not be taking your in the right direction," he says.
During Van Houten's parents' generation, everybody smoked and it wasn't considered a health risk. Now, smoking is widely regarded to pose a serious risk for stroke, heart attack, lung cancer and many other health conditions. The lesson? Knowledge changes.
Other factors, such as aging, while they may be a fact of life, are important considerations when it comes to your health.
"There's a time when your body begins to change," Van Houten says. "Around five years ago, my doctor said my cholesterol was creeping up and he suggested taking a statin drug. Our bodies are changing and the body of medical knowledge changes. If you don't stop to evaluate your life every once is a while, you just tend to go right along without thinking and something like stroke shows up that could seriously impact your wellbeing."
When it comes to safeguarding your health over the long haul, Van Houten offers the analogy of working to save for retirement at 65.
"You have to save money and prepare for a comfortable retirement, and the same goes for your health," he says. "You have to invest in yourself and your body to prevent diabetes, hypertension and weight gain. Take stroke, heart attack, cancer, diabetes, kidney failure - all those things are affected by being overweight, hypertensive, having high cholesterol, a bad diet and smoking. These are the big killers, and lifestyle changes help all of these.
To learn about stroke prevention and get additional healthy lifestyle tips, remember to join Washington Hospital's Stroke Program staff for a free seminar next Tuesday, Jan. 5, from 6 to 8 p.m., in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue, across the street from the main hospital.
To register, call Health Connection at (800) 963-7070.

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