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Healthy Resolutions for the New Year

Regular screenings help optimize our bodies and minds

While many of our new year’s resolutions pertain to optimizing our health, we’re not always sure how to go about it. What tests should we be having, how often, and when? Here to help guide us is Anokhi Shah, MD, a physician with Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center and member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group who has an office in Livingston.

Just because we feel fine doesn’t mean that we don’t need to be regularly checked out for a myriad of medical issues. “The main point of the physical exam is actually to do it when you feel well since it's to detect issues that you wouldn't necessarily feel,” she says. “When we're screening for cancer, it’s when the cancer is very tiny and something that won't necessarily give you symptoms. We often do blood work too at physicals, and it can find things that also don’t cause symptoms such as high cholesterol.”

The taking of vital signs is also very informative. “That's probably one of the most important data sets we collect during the physical,” says Dr. Shah.” Many people, for example, have no idea if their blood pressure is too high.

Another critical thing that’s covered during the visit, she says, is talking to patients about their daily habits. “What are they doing for exercise and how are their eating habits? Just getting to know them helps me optimize their daily lives and make them healthier.”

Knowing your family's medical history is also helpful. “Certain conditions such as heart disease and diabetes may be genetic, and when we screen for cancer and other medical issues, we may screen more frequently if a family member has had an issue. It's always important to update that with us every year because your family's health will change. Our guidelines may also change from time to time.”

For example, something that has recently changed is the age at which we should start getting screened for colon cancer. “If the patient has no issues, we start everyone at 45 [it used to be 50] and then every 10 years,” says Dr. Shah. “There are different ways to screen for colon cancer, so depending on the type of risk, we may not necessarily recommend a colonoscopy. It may be as simple as a stool test.”

Another change is screening for lung cancer in patients who smoke. “We now do low-dose CT scans,” she says. “We’ll also screen smokers for aneurysms.”

For breast cancer screening, mammograms should start at 40. “Guidelines recommend they be done every one to two years; we usually do them yearly. If you have genetic issues, screening may start as early as 30.”

Bone density tests are also important. “For women, we usually start at 65. We don't usually screen men unless they’ve been taking certain medications, had a fracture from a minor injury, or if they’ve been a smoker for a long time.”

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