Are we looking at the way we manage our health the wrong way around?

We’ve been told forever that people are working on cures for the ailments and diseases that we worry about encountering in our lives, or impact the people around us.  But there has been a recently renewed focus from health professionals on ‘preventative health’ that is encouraging a move beyond purely treating the symptoms of disease, towards trying to help avoid it in the first place.

But what exactly is preventative health, and how can you ensure you’re doing everything possible to stay on top of your best health and wellbeing? 

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) describes preventative health as “the prevention of illness, injury or disease within the community, through primary, secondary and tertiary prevention.”

Put simply, preventative health is all about taking measures to manage your health through prevention rather than just seeking cures.

A huge amount of time and money has been spent evolving and refining the types of screening tests that can help us manage a higher likelihood of being affected by certain diseases, or potentially even avoid them all together.

But it helps to understand the different types of preventative health, so you can assess which are most relevant for you:

  • Primary prevention – this is about preventing disease or injury before it even occurs, and involves taking actions aimed at avoiding disease, such as education on prevention or immunisation.
  • Secondary prevention – this is focused on reducing the impact of diseases that have already occurred, primarily through early detection as a result of screenings and tests.
  • Tertiary prevention – this focuses on softening the impact of an ongoing illness or injury, including rehabilitation programs aimed at reducing complications from an existing disease, and support groups which allow members to share strategies for better health.

For example for cardiovascular disease: Primary prevention could be education on healthy eating, secondary prevention could be getting a blood pressure check and tertiary prevention could be participating in cardiac rehabilitation services.

So, what can you do to try to prevent issues from occurring rather than only taking action once they have? 

Chances are you’re already on top of primary preventative health measures – just by taking everyday steps like staying sun-smart and regularly washing your hands, you’re going a long way to help reduce your susceptibility to certain illnesses. Assessing your lifestyle habits, starting with all the usual suspects – cutting out smoking, limiting alcohol, ensuring you’re are eating well and getting enough exercise – also contributes to helping you avoid health problems. Other primary preventative actions aimed at avoiding diseases include taking vitamins and keeping up to date on immunisations.

It’s the secondary phase – undertaking screening tests that allow early detection and treatment of disease or illness – that we tend to ignore. It’s no exaggeration to say that taking the time to have these screening tests can potentially save your life.

In fact, recent research from Cancer Australia has shown that 1 in 2 cancers could be avoided with a combination of a healthy lifestyle and a regular screening. While skin cancer is one of Australia’s most common cancers (the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that over 14,000 people will be affected this year), it is also one of the most easily detectable and preventable.

And, while we’ve all heard stories or have even known someone who has gone in for routine tests and discovered something more serious in the nick of time, it’s all too easy to fall into the ‘it will never happen to me’ mindset, putting off minor tests that can reduce stress, costs and positively impact your health.

For many people, taking primary preventative measures is routine. But when was the last time you proactively scheduled a screening test? And can you confidently say you’re up to date with all the tests relevant to you?

If you’re not quite sure, all it takes to get on track is a visit to your GP. With a wide range of screening tests available in Australia, your GP is best placed to recommend what you can consider based on your age, gender and specific risk factors as well as how often you would need to have these tests.

Many of the tests available can be taken in their clinic, including quick blood pressure tests and skin cancer checks. Some pharmacies now also offer these basic screening tests.

What type of screening tests are available in Australia?

Some specific types of screening tests performed in Australia are:

Heart health and cholesterol Your doctor may suggest blood tests which can provide insight into a wide range of conditions, from deficiencies of essential vitamins to elevated levels of cholesterol.
 Blood pressure A quick blood pressure test revealing you’re a little on the high side is all it takes to start taking measures to avoid the risk of cardiovascular diseases including heart attacks and stroke.
Skin cancer check Your GP can do a full body skin cancer check by looking at your skin and moles for any suspicious lesions that might require biopsy or further investigation.
Hearing test A test of hearing at various decibels and frequencies can quickly identify any issues you may be experiencing, often without actually realising it, enabling you to take corrective action. This screening test is especially important as you get older
Mammograms  A specialised screening test for women that can detect any suspicious changes which may warrant further investigation.
Mental health check  If you’ve been experiencing any mental health concerns, your doctor can organise a mental health plan and put you in touch with other professionals that can help.

If you haven’t already, it’s worthwhile looking into, and keeping a record of, any family disease or illness so your doctor can take it into account when deciding if you need specific tests beyond those that are routinely suggested for your age and gender.

When it comes to living your best life, your health and wellbeing are key. By understanding the options available and being pro-active when it comes to taking preventative screening tests, you can not only potentially minimise, but even avoid an illness or disease. For peace of mind, be sure to schedule a GP appointment for a check-up and to discuss screening tests today – it really could save your life.

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Zac Zacharia (Managing Director) has been assisting clients to create wealth and secure their futures for over 14 years.

He is also an accomplished presenter and educator

Co-authoring the popular investment book, Property vs Shares.