How to Stay Healthy: Final Words of Wisdom from Julia

December 24, 2009 at 10:27 am , by

s_womandoctorThe end of the year is a traditional time to both look back and to think about the future, but I’ve got an especially compelling reason to do that. After four years at Ladies’ Home Journal (and many more editing elsewhere) I’m leaving my job as Health Director to study for a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction and write books. This is my last chance to share some things I’ve learned on this beat.

Whatever you do, keep moving. Even really elderly people get stronger if they exercise and lift light weights. Exercising improves your health in almost every situation, from high blood sugar to heart disease to lowering depression and your breast cancer risk. My New Year’s resolution is to go from twice a week to four times—we’ll see if I make it. (Don’t I have till Chinese New Year, February 14th?)

Take control of your health. If you don’t understand what the doctor says, keep asking until you do. And do go to the doctor—and the dentist. How often you need to go changes depending on your age and health history. Always come with a list of questions: Visits are short so it pays to be organized.

• Eat well, but don’t obsess about your weight. Yo-yo dieting can be worse than being a little overweight—and can leave you undernourished. Focus on good nutrition and portion control.

• Defuse when you can. Stress can undermine your health in a multitude of ways. Take some time every day to take a few deep breaths, hug someone, zone out as you watch the clouds in the sky.

Do your own research. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, control diabetes or fight asthma, go online for more information. That goes double if someone is suggesting surgery or just prescribed a new drug. My favorite place to start is the Mayo Clinic website. And don’t forget to check out our health coverage. Also visit websites from organizations that specialize in your condition, such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure for breast cancer.

Find ways to save on health care You may be able to use a lower-cost physician’s assistant or dental technician. Major drug companies have programs if you can’t afford your medicine. States and cities may fund mammograms or flu shots. Hospitals can work out payment plans. See these ideas from our sister magazine, Parents.

It’s amazing how much you can help yourself. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned.

Making Doctors Listen

September 30, 2009 at 2:11 pm , by

l_12759779What really makes me crazy (angry, to be completely truthful) is reading yet another story of a woman who almost died because her doctor refused to check up when she complained something was wrong. I saw the latest one yesterday in a story proposal— she had a melanoma that wasn’t biopsied for a year because the professional decided it was nothing. The biopsy only happened because the patient demanded one.

It brought back some other stories that made my blood boil (unprofessional, I know). The University of Arkansas found many women with heart disease were misdiagnosed with stress. “One woman’s symptoms went unrecognized until she actually had a heart attack on the exam table in her doctor’s office,” Jean McSweeney, Ph.D., the study’s lead author told us. And the amazing but infuriating true story of how Barbara Goff, M.D., had to use volunteer statisticians and money raised from patients because no traditional funder would pay for the study that eventually documented that women do have early symptoms of ovarian cancer. That’s why we gave Dr. Goff one of our Ladies’ Home Journal Health Breakthrough Awards.

It’s been my pleasure to work with many terrific doctors, but what do you do if yours won’t listen? Try the following.

Document your problem: When did it start, how often do you get it, is it related to something like what you ate or how much sleep you got the night before? Bring your notes with you.
Tell your story clearly and calmly, with details. As Marianne J Legato, M.D. wrote in LHJ: “’I have a headache,’ doesn’t say as much as: ‘I have a dull throbbing pain in my forehead that began four days ago. Tylenol relieves it only briefly and I find it difficult to sleep because of the pain. I’ve never had this kind of headache before.’”
If the first remedy doesn’t help, push for another. There could be a number of reasons for your headache or recurring stomach problem. Read up on your problem online and ask for more tests if you think you need them. is my favorite starting place.
Go for a second opinion. If you should be feeling better, but still aren’t, use the web to find a doctor near you who specializes in your problem.