5 Ways to Take Back Your Health

COVID-19 has dominated our lives this past year. Sometimes you might feel like taking care of your health is out of your control.

But nothing could be further from the truth. In times like this it’s more important than ever to be active in your health and healthcare. Here are five key ways to take back your health in 2021.

Keep up with your medical appointments and health screenings. The National Cancer Institute estimates that an additional 10,000 people will die of breast and colorectal cancer in the coming years because people have delayed getting mammograms and colonoscopies during the pandemic. Both are easily accessible tests that can help identify cancer early when it’s most treatable. Other studies have found delays in an array of important healthcare services from childhood immunizations to routine management of illnesses like diabetes or high blood pressure. Don’t let COVID-19’s toll become ever greater by delaying needed care.

Stick with COVID precautions. We’re all a little weary of staying home and avoiding social gatherings. But this is no time to relax the tried-and-tested protections like face masking, social distancing, hand washing and avoiding groups where the virus can be transmitted. Study after study shows that these protections work in curbing COVID, and that’s especially important as some new strains of the virus have been shown to be more easily transmissible.

Pay attention to serious symptoms. Emergency room visits were down 27 percent in New Jersey during the first nine months of last year, according to new data from the Center for Health Analytics, Research and Transformation at the New Jersey Hospital Association. It’s frightening to think what that could mean over time in the loss of life due to heart attacks or other life-threatening conditions. Heart attack symptoms include pain in the center of the chest that lasts longer than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. Last week was the annual observance of Go Red for Women, and its key message is that women often experience heart attack symptoms differently than men. Ladies, be aware of serious symptoms like pain in the back or jaw, shortness of breath, and nausea or vomiting.

Sign up for the COVID vaccine. The COVID vaccine is our best shot for emerging from this pandemic. Vaccine supplies aren’t yet where we need them to be, but production is increasing and additional vaccines are pending approval. All vaccines go through a rigorous clinical trial process and stringent review by the FDA and CDC to make sure they’re effective and safe. The State of New Jersey’s vaccine information hub provides scheduling information online and by phone, along with a list of vaccination sites across the state.

Don’t ignore your mental health. This past year has been tough. We’ve experienced loss, grief, stress, isolation, worry and loneliness. The CDC reports that about 36 percent of Americans report symptoms of anxiety or depression. Those symptoms may include fatigue or low energy, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping and feelings of sadness, helplessness and emptiness. If you experience some of these symptoms, know that you’re not alone and that it’s OK not to be OK. Talk to your healthcare provider or contact New Jersey Mental Health Cares at 866-202-HELP or www.njmentalhealthcares.org.

Sandy Cayo, RN, is a family nurse practitioner and vice president of clinical performance and transformation at the New Jersey Hospital Association.

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Sandy Cayo, RN, DNP, is vice president of clinical performance and transformation at the New Jersey Hospital Association. A family nurse practitioner, she holds a doctorate degree in nursing practice and is completing her PhD in nursing research. Prior to joining NJHA, she served as clinical assistant professor at NYU.

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