March is often the time when winter seems to loosen its grip - psychologically, if not literally. By the end of March, you can just about see summer peeking over the horizon. So what five simple, timely things can you do for your health in this important transition month?
1) What’s the easiest thing to do for you health? How about sleeping? Increased hours sleeping has been shown to reduce your risk of life-threatening problems like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure. Sleep even reduces your chances of suffering from miseries like catching a cold, and tension headaches. Even mild sleep disturbances interfere with learning and memory. Protecting your sleep hours, and setting a firm sleep habit, will pay off big time for your health.
March 8 is the end of daylight savings time, which means we’ll all be losing at least one crucial hour. To show you just how important sleep is, Daylight Saving Time translates into excess deaths all across America - primarily due to traffic and motor-vehicle accidents, which are tragically more common in children/adolescents, and pedestrians. So what can you do to preserve the health of yourself, your friends and family? First, don’t underestimate the impact of the Daylight Savings time-shift. If you can, try to shift more gradually, getting everyone up (yes, it’s painful on the weekends) fifteen minutes earlier for several days, instead of one hour in one day. Also, wait a week after Daylight Savings to walk to school again, or to cross busy intersections on foot. If there was ever a time to drive your kids right to the front door of school, it’s this week. Also, if you’re the driver, be especially alert to those dark bodies in dark clothes darting across the street - and leave the house with plenty of extra time so you can zen-mode your driving.
2) Nothing helps your health more than stopping smoking. Seriously - there’s no doctor who can improve your chances of living a healthy life as much as putting aside those ciggies will. And guess what? March combines BOTH No Smoking Day (March 9) with Panic Day (coincidentally, we assume - March 9!). No matter how many years of comfort from nicotine friends you have under your belt, give it a whirl March 9 and try (just try…) going one day without. If you want some free, quick jolts of motivation, try going to YouTube and searching for stop smoking videos - some are really entertaining and thought provoking. At the end of the day, take stock. Are you ready for change? Why or why not? Use March 9 as a time to reassess your commitment to yourself and your health. If you’re, say, 43 years old and “health” is too vague a motivator for you, how about quitting to preserve your brain function? Yes, sadly, a recent, well-designed study shows that people as young as 43 (to 70) show an accelerated cognitive decline if they smoke. Are we talking a 10%, or even 50% accelerated rate? Nope (hold onto your brain cells) we’re talking roughly twice (200%) as much as non-smokers (eek - and it’s dose-dependent - more cigarettes smoked = more cognitive loss!). And if you find you can’t quit, but want to, consider the fact that most people succeed after more than one attempt - that means March 9 puts you one attempt closer to your goal! For reliable, effective Stop Smoking Tips, head over the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Treatment Ratings for tobacco help. And watch out for those Faux Help Chantix ads - the ones masquerading as public health service messages. Not sure what we’re talking about? Check out the article Dare Not Speak Its Name and the Consumer Reports AdWatch assessment of this new type of stealth drug marketing. Then make an informed choice about how best to quit. Whatever you do March 9, don’t panic!
3) Ah, there’s nothing like getting right down to the guts of the matter, is there? March is both Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and the month that (ta-da!) includes Uranus Day (March 13). If you’re 50 or over (or younger if you have risk factors), and you haven’t had a colonoscopy, now’s the time to call and get one. I give you an unbiased medical opinion here [conflict-of-interest: I am not a gastroenterologist, I don't get paid by gastroenterologists, and while, yes, I am friends with gastroenterologists, I still know better than to invite them to dinner parties and ask how their day went...]. Bottom (hyuck) line - few things in modern healthcare are as life-saving, as effective, and as safe (in the right hands) as a colonoscopy. Basically, when it’s done right, you don’t even remember it (well, except for the prep…and that you never forget, so it evens out). During the procedure, while your friendly gastroenterologist is (ahem) in there, you get treatment, on the spot! Any problems or potential polypy problems, get removed. And then you’re good for ten years afterwards! Such a deal! Our country has abysmal discrepancies among who gets colonoscopies and who doesn’t (in particular, African-Americans lag far behind other groups) and our death rates reflect this. Research shows that positive messages work best. Katie Couric overshared her colon with America. It’s time, this March, that we had an African-American celebrity do the same - anyone know Obama’s email? Is there anyone who’s got the GUTS to ask? Get your colonoscopy (and arm-twist those who need one) this month.
4) March 30 is Doctor’s Day. Feeling a little burned out about the healthcare system? How about giving a shout out to the people slogging it out every day with your health insurance? Primary care doctors, and especially internists (disclosure: I’m one), are truly an endangered species. If you want to see behind-the-scenes what these heavy-lifting practitioners do each day, check out KevinMD’s blog, or Dr. Rob. It’ll
give you a good sense of how much your doctor is juggling on your behalf all the time. On Doctor’s Day, how about doubling up on a thank-you present and a kind reminder to wash those hands - consider a bottle of lovely-smelling hand sanitizer with a heartfelt note. Or how about a email thank-you message (which also, implicitly, doubles as a thank you for using email to communicate - an unpaid act of convenience offered for us patients)? Studies show that most people like their own individual doctor - so this is one day to remind us all to take a moment and show it.
5) Joy Habit opportunities abound (hop hop) in March. We start with a bang (or a twinkle-gleam) March 1 with Share A Smile Day, then head straight into March 13’s Good Samaritan Day (where you can do something unexpectedly kind on behalf of a stranger you’re not supposed to care about). March 20 is the First Day of Spring - but if that, for some reason, rankles, you can wait until March 26 for Make Your Own Holiday Day! (hmmm, National Rubber Glove Day? Maybe I’ll start International Belly-Button Lint Day - why is it always blue?). Finally, don’t forget March 27 - National “Joe” Day - if you hate your name, you can be called Joe on this day (unless, of course, your name is Joe - wait, now I’m confused…).
And don’t forget April starts with a Joy Habit whopper - April 1 Fool’s Day. What holiday did you create March 26?