Health & Safety

August 28, 2014

Preventative healthcare: Key to overall wellness

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Airman 1st Class Thomas Spangler
99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Rachelle Coleman)

Preventing an illness before it even arises is one of the surest ways Airmen can maintain their health. These preventative measures range from receiving vaccinations, physicals and cancer screenings, to maintaining healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle.

One of the best ways to prevent the contraction of a disease or illness is to get the vaccinated.

Flu vaccines are scheduled to be issued at the end of September. The vaccination will be issued to active duty personnel first, then hospital personnel, then high risk individuals such as the elderly and very young.

“The flu shot is required for active duty and hospital personnel because we need to be fit to care for those who become ill,” said Sheryl Ruben, 99th Medical Group health care integrator. “After [AD and hospital personnel] we vaccinate high-risk individuals, primarily the elderly.”

The potential consequences of not receiving a vaccine and contracting the illness are grave.

“If you get the disease, it’s much worse,” said Lt. Col. Donna Eggert, 99th Medical Group director of population health. “I’ve been in countries and seen where they don’t do immunizations. People get those diseases and many die from them, or [have major] complications.”

Vaccinations are especially important for the immunocompromised, such as very young children, and the elderly.

“Once [the elderly] get the flu, it’s kind of hard for them to shake and can become serious, especially if they have other things going on like diabetes or hypertension,” Ruben said.

In addition to receiving immunizations, cancer screenings are also a major part of preventative health care.

“As you know, [with] cancer, the earlier it’s detected the more curable it is,” Ruben said.

Ruben went on to say specifically breast cancer screenings for women beginning at age 40 are especially important.

“Even though we encourage self-breast exams for women, not all breast cancers are detected through self-examination. We want to encourage them to get mammograms,” Ruben said.

Sports physicals for children and teenagers have advanced over the years and have also assisted in preventative healthcare.

“If there’s an underlying medical problem that’s identified and needs further workup we want to say so and make sure that it’s safe for the child to participate,” said Ruben. “If a child is at risk for some kind of previously undisclosed cardiac condition we want to know before he or she gets on the basketball court or the football field.”

Although receiving vaccinations, cancer screenings and physicals are important for directly preventing and detecting any potential illnesses, a large portion of preventative healthcare lies with the individual to live a healthy lifestyle.

Living a healthy lifestyle includes participating in daily physical activity, maintaining a balanced and nutrient-dense diet and abstaining from tobacco products.

“We’re trying to encourage parents along with their kids to take 30 [minutes a day for exercise],” said Ruben. “All we’re asking is 30 minutes a day of exercise. We emphasize that it’s 15 minutes [of walking] one direction, 15 minutes back. You can go as a group, take the dog, put the baby in a stroller, everybody get outside. Re-discover your neighborhood, re-discover the park.”

“We’ve got to educate the kids on more fruits and vegetables, less red meat and more lean meat,” Ruben said.

Ruben added that Nutritional medicine is offering nutritional classes to children to revamp their diets and teach them to look closely at labels.

According to Ruben, many Airmen are tobacco users in one form or another. Healthcare workers are available to educate these Airmen so they can make informed decisions and help them quit their tobacco use.

Maintaining good physical health is vital to preventative health, however maintaining good mental and emotional health is vital as well.

Service members and their families will face many things in their lives that will undoubtedly put strain on their relationships. These stressors can range from moving from one base to another to experiencing traumatic events while deployed.

It is important that these stressors are addressed before inadvertently causing harm.

“A lot of our younger service members, who are exposed to things that no one should ever have to see, may not have the coping skills to deal with and process these traumatic experiences,” Eggert said. “It’s ok to get angry, people get angry it’s a normal emotion, it’s not ok to go around hurting yourself, or other people because you’re angry.”

Ruben stated that hospital personnel are being taught to be on the lookout for individuals who may need help.

“Providers, nurses, medical technicians, are taught to be on the lookout for anyone who needs immediate assistance. It’s important that you intervene and identify the at-risk individual before they proceed to take a drastic step that they can’t undo,” Ruben said.

The Airman and Family Readiness Center and the Chaplain are two resources for service members and their families who may wish to seek counseling or other forms of help in their relationships.

Preventative health encompasses all aspects of an Airman’s life. He or she must remember to be immunized and screened, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and keep in mind there are resources to help cope with stresses of military life.




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