The Wellness Hack That Health Experts Actually Swear By

If you're going to spend time and effort on one approach to well-being, let it be this one.

a female doctor and her female patient discuss a medical record on a clipboard

Medically reviewed in January 2022

What if I told you there was an amazing health hack that can add years to your life, is evidence-based, and that doctors actually swear by? Sure, it costs some money and requires a bit of work, but so do all those other wellness fads you’ve tried over the years.

Okay, ready for the hack?

It’s basic preventive care. It’s getting a physical every once in a while, getting your flu shot each year, and getting the recommended health screenings at the recommended times.

Most of us tend to only interact with the healthcare system when something is broken or bleeding. The rest of the time, we “do wellness” by going to the gym, buying all-organic products, drinking green juice, and occasionally wondering if we should cleanse or detox some part of our bodies.

But what does it say about us—and our healthcare system—that we seem more interested in chugging the juice of a celery stalk every morning than getting routine, lifesaving medical screenings?

Folks, there are a lot of wellness scams out there, but preventive care isn’t one of them.

I realize there are a lot of reasons why you might avoid medical care. Maybe it’s costly and inconvenient. Maybe needles terrify you (same). Maybe you’re sick of being stigmatized and discriminated against for your weight, your sexuality, your gender identity, your race, your culture, or something else every time you go to a doctor’s office.

Maybe you’ve had one too many doctors tell you, “It’s just stress… try yoga.” Maybe you have a personal or generational history of trauma associated with the medical industry that deters you from seeking help. Maybe you have care-avoidant illness anxiety disorder like your girl here. Maybe you just have no idea where to start.

Whatever your reason or reasons, I hear you, and I acknowledge that your reasons are valid. But I also know that you still deserve good care and good health. And routine preventive care—like getting the vaccines and screening tests recommended for people like you—can help catch and even prevent health issues so that they don’t become something bigger and more difficult, not to mention more expensive, to treat. I mean, that’s one heck of a wellness hack.

If you need some reminders of why preventive care is so important, here are just a few:

Getting a flu shot significantly lowers your risk of dying from the flu.
A 2017 study of adults hospitalized with the flu during the 2013 to 2014 flu season found that people who had been vaccinated were 52 to 79 percent less likely to die from severe cases of the flu than people who hadn’t gotten the flu shot that year.

Early detection of breast cancer can give you a broader range of treatment options—including less invasive ones.
Unfortunately, however, data from 2015 show that only 31 percent of uninsured women in the United States between the ages of 40 and 64 years old got a mammogram in the previous two years, compared with 68 percent of insured women in the same age group.

The five-year survival rate for cervical cancer is 92 percent when caught early.
Yet over half of cervical cancer cases are caught later than that, typically in people who haven’t had a recent Pap smear.

The most effective way to prevent colorectal cancer is by screening for precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. And when colorectal cancer is diagnosed, it’s easier to treat the earlier it’s caught.
But in 2015, only 63 percent of people in the U.S. aged 50 and older were up to date on their colorectal cancer screening. When looking at people without insurance, that number dropped to just 25 percent.

High blood pressure was a primary or contributing cause of death for more than half a million people in the U.S. in 2019. 
Yet many people have no idea what their blood pressure is.

So if you’re someone who spends a lot of time, money, and energy on things meant to get you healthier, I’m going to make one final plea with you to start with the basics.

Before shelling out for bespoke vitamins and supplements, schedule a physical exam. Before going on a cleanse, see if you’re getting the recommended amount of fiber in your diet. (Most people aren’t.) Before sticking a jade egg into your vagina, make sure you’re up to date on your Pap smear and STI tests. Before trying some immune-boosting hack you saw on Instagram, get your damn flu shot.

I’m willing to bet that if we redirected all the time and energy we spend on wellness fads toward preventive care, we might be just a little bit healthier—or, at the very least, more prepared to deal with most health concerns as they come up.

From the book It’s Probably Nothing: The Stress-Less Guide to Dealing with Health Anxiety, Wellness Fads, and Overhyped Headlines by Casey Gueren. Reprinted by permission of Running Press, part of the Perseus division of Hachette Book Group. Copyright © 2021 by Casey Gueren.

Sources:

Arriola C, Garg S, Anderson EJ, et al. Influenza Vaccination Modifies Disease Severity Among Community-dwelling Adults Hospitalized With Influenza. Clin Infect Dis. 2017;65(8):1289-1297.
American Cancer Society. Cancer Prevention & Early Detection: Facts & Figures, 2019-2020.
American Cancer Society. Survival Rates for Cervical Cancer. Last revised February 2, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Colorectal (Colon) Cancer. What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Colorectal Cancer? Page last reviewed February 8, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High Blood Pressure. Facts About Hypertension. Page last reviewed September 27, 2021.

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