When I say “preventive medicine,” what pops into your head? If it’s something like, “mammograms,” “blood pressure and cholesterol checks,” or even “annual physicals” you’re right—but only partly. 

These are screenings designed to identify problems that already exist, ideally early enough to keep them from doing too much harm.

But what if you could prevent problems from developing in the first place? Or if you did find an issue, you could have a proactive plan to keep it in check?

What prevention actually means depends on your goals. For example:  

  • Wearing ear plugs at a concert is a preventive action to avoid damaging your hearing. 
  • Having a hearing screening after years of going to concerts is a preventive screening that can identify if a problem is starting to develop.  
  • And if you have hearing loss, you’d take preventive measures to keep it from worsening and to try to reverse it.

So, prevention is not one thing. In fact, by approaching it through the lens of what I call the “Three Pillars of Prevention,” we can all take steps to improve and lengthen our lives. Here’s how to do it:

1. Activate Your Risk Radar.

We all have factors that may pose a risk to our health. Some are in your control, and some—like your age, sex, race, and family history—are not. The good news is that as soon as you become aware of the ones you can control, you can do something about them.

Here’s a simple example: A 2017 Lancet article found that excessive activation of the region of the brain that responds to stress (the amygdala) is a significant predictor of the development of cardiovascular disease. In other words, constant, unbalanced stress can put your arteries at risk. So if you knew you had a family history of cardiovascular disease, you’d want to get ahead of the problem by adopting stress-reduction techniques

2. Map Your Terrain.

Think of your body, and your health, as a landscape. This terrain is made up of a series of complex chemical, physical, biological, and electrical systems. Everyone’s terrain is unique, and you need to ensure yours has the nutrients, hydration, oxygen, and energy for it to thrive. This means mapping it out, which involves listening and looking for clues. From monitoring your routine bodily processes to getting specialized labs, there are lots of assessment tools to help you out. There are a few things you can start doing now to begin your map:

  • Try a sleep tracker. Understanding your patterns and whether or not you snore can indicate if your mind and body are getting enough recovery time. 
  • Note how often you have bowel movements. This can help you understand dietary needs.
  • Pay attention when you brush your teeth, do you gums bleed or is there soreness? This can link to heart health.

When you see a doctor, all of this information will be useful to help them form a preventive plan for your unique terrain.

3. Set Forth with Your Team.

Health practices that leverage nutrition, stress management, physical activities, sound sleep, a healthy mindset, and more can make a powerful difference in helping you achieve your health goals. Fortunately, practitioners to guide you are usually just a few clicks away. They can help guide you to the set of practices that work for your risks, your body terrain, and your life and that will equip you to set forth with the resources you need to stay resilient—no matter what life throws at you.

When assembling your team, there are a couple questions to ask yourself to ensure you're filling your roster with the right team to support you:

  • Will they answer my questions well and help me feel informed in every decision? 
  • Will they be able to understand my life and how it's unique, and devise approaches that work well for me?
  • Will they collaborate with the rest of the team I'm putting together?
  • Are they open-minded and willing to work with me on ideas and plans to build my healthiest self?

When you hear “preventive medicine” in the future—these three pillars should pop into your head. Three pillars that, together, provide sturdy support for success in your health goals. 

Ilana Zablozki-Amir, MD, is the co-founder of UPstream-Health, an initiative that gives people the tools and resources to advocate for and navigate their health concerns. She holds board certifications in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Integrative-Holistic Medicine, is fellowship-trained in Sports and Musculoskeletal Medicine, is a certified Functional Medicine practitioner, and holds a level 2 Coaching Certificate from Precision Nutrition.

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