Monitoring your health Featured

11:14am EDT April 27, 2006
Busy professionals all too often do not take the time to care for themselves and can develop ailments and health problems that ultimately impact their job performance. According to Dr. Mark Belfer, director of the Center for Family Medicine at Akron General Medical Center, one of the simplest — but often overlooked — things professionals can do to help improve their health is to better understand and monitor their health, allowing them to catch and address problems or concerns early.

“People should arm themselves with some basic knowledge and information about their personal and family medical history and discuss that history regularly with their physician,” he says. “Working in partnership with a physician, people can greatly reduce their health risks by following a variety of preventive screening measures.”

Smart Business spoke with Belfer about how busy professionals can monitor their health and how this can help them increase their performance and effectiveness in the workplace.

How can a busy professional monitor his or her health?
While it is easy to know when you are not feeling well, there are things people can do to help keep illness and injury at bay. Knowing and following preventive care guidelines is excellent for monitoring your health. Following these preventive care guidelines allows you to work in partnership with your physician to monitor their health and catch potential problems early.

While some preventive screening measures are based on a person’s age or gender, there are some general things that everyone should do, including having their blood pressure and weight checked once a year. While we tend to rely less on an annual physical exam to find health problems, we are relying more on the past health history of a patient and his/her family history as an indicator of what we should be looking for and monitoring. It is extremely important to discuss your past medical and family history with your physician.

A wealth of information is available on the Internet, and several sites can provide information on preventive screening guidelines. Some I recommend include the American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org), the United States Preventive Services Task Force (www.ahrq.gov) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (www.aafp.org).

How can busy professionals improve their health?
The best things we can all do are eat right, get plenty of sleep and exercise more. Alcohol should be consumed in moderation, and all tobacco products should be avoided. People who do all of these things are probably going to be healthier as a result.

It is also important for people to know their “numbers.” This includes blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar; those are three things that can lead to an early demise. If they are borderline or elevated, they will need to be monitored regularly.

Finally, people should take the time to see a physician if something feels wrong. For some reason, women tend to be better about this than men, so it’s especially important that men not only make an effort to see a physician if they’re feeling any symptoms, but also to monitor any issues of concern like high blood pressure or cholesterol.

How does being healthier benefit professionals at work?
Healthy people take less time off due to sickness or injury and are generally more productive at work because they feel better. Someone who is in good shape and gets plenty of exercise usually sleeps better than someone who does not take care of him or herself, so the healthy person will be better rested and alert at the office.

How can employers support and encourage employees’ healthy habits?
Employers can allow employees time to exercise and even provide workout facilities or walking trails at the office. Businesses should not allow smoking in the workplace and should consider helping to pay for, or subsidizing, smoking cessation classes. It is also a good idea to provide access to nutritional information and advice.

Employers should consider offering benefits to personnel, such as providing gym memberships and other pro-health activities. There is a direct correlation to the company’s bottom line when employees are healthy, because there is less time off as well as fewer hospitalizations and medical claims.

MARK BELFER is director of the Center for Family Medicine at Akron General Medical Center. Reach him at (330) 344-7671 or mbelfer@agmc.org.