Prevention and Healthy Behaviors

January 13, 2021

Catherine Gaines, PA-C

2020. And what a year it has been! People across the world were ready to see 2020 close and a new year begin. Though not out of the woods yet, we welcome 2021 with cautious optimism. The start of a new year, particularly this year, is a great time to talk about prevention of cancer and other illnesses and setting goals we can actually achieve. But this year, instead of talking just about diseases like cancer and heart disease, we need to focus on surviving pandemics as well.

Despite the fact that our health and wellbeing are threatened by foes old (cancer) and new (COVID19), there are basic preventions we can take to improve our chances of survival. A very wise person once said, “The only behavior we can be responsible for changing is our own.” Not surprisingly, most of the ways we can prevent illness and increase survival is by changing our own behaviors. Here’s an example: no matter which major disease runs in our families or our communities: heart disease, stroke, cancer (and now COVID), we have a better shot of preventing, surviving and even thriving beyond these illnesses if we eat right, control  our weight, don’t smoke or chew tobacco, and exercise and sleep well.  It has never been clearer that these behaviors lead to better outcomes.  The difficulty lies in setting those goals, and keeping to them.

We’ve all heard, “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” but “willingness” is very different from “willfulness.” We all know someone who has tried to quit smoking or start exercising and failed many times, but then, one day, just laid the cigarettes down! Or, lost weight by changing eating habits. What was different about this time? People successful in changing habits often respond with, “I don’t know, I was just ready!”  Willingness is accepting where you are, and what it’s going to take for you to change. When you’re ready, you’re willing, and suddenly; you’re able. Rather than make lofty goals for the new year, try focusing on something smaller, doable and linked to better health. Choose goals that you may be ready to tackle. That can be as simple as adding an apple to your diet every day. Or wearing a facemask when you are outside of your home.Or parking in a parking spot further away from the store so you can increase the number of steps you walk. Plan to add healthful habits every day. And really plan it, as in, go to the store and buy apples. Pack them in your lunch. Don’t let them sit on the counter degrading. Focus on adding something easy and healthful, and then with intention, and mindfulness; achieve that goal. Don’t forget to congratulate yourself when you do achieve the goal.

In 2021, focus on becoming more healthful, one small measurable step at a time. As these build into a path to greater health, disease risks will go down or give you the opportunity to improve the outcomes for any disease you may battle. We, as a nation, are in this pandemic together. Let’s raise each other up, support a healthier, happier nation; as we move forward into a healthier, happier 2021. Wilson Medical Center is here to help. 

Call Courtney Harlow, Oncology Director at 252.399.8741 for information on Smoking cessation.

Catherine Gaines, PA-C, is part of the Duke Cancer Network.