As all busy crew know, personal health and wellness can beeasy to ignore in the life of back-to-back charters and long workdays. Youspend so much time catering to others that it can be difficult to cater toyourself. Yet, as Dr. Paulo Alves, global medical director at Aviation Healthat MedAire, puts it, “We need to consistently take care of our health toenhance our quality and quantity of life.”
This is especially important, as diseases are a combinationof environmental and genetic factors, the latter of which we can’t control.
So what should you be doing to keep both of these factorsin check?
“To a great extent we can control environmental factors.That’s why certain recommendations apply throughout our lives regardless of ageand the presence of any underlying health conditions,” Dr. Alves says. It maybe difficult, but squeeze some time in before those eighteen-hour days for arun or quick workout, as exercise is associated with longer life expectancy andquality of life.
“Aerobic/endurance exercise is important, as well asflexibility and strength,” maintains Dr. Alves. “The benefit of exercising isrelatively short term, though, that’s why we need to keep exercising as much aspossible.”
Evidence shows that longevity and good health is also linkedto certain types of diet, he adds, claiming that the Mediterranean diet isknown to help reduce cardiovascular risk and that fiber-rich diets are linkedwith reduced incidence of cancer, particularly colon cancer.
A “work hard, play hard” mentality is common among crew,which is often rife with drinking and smoking, both self-inflictedenvironmental factors. According to Dr. Alves, binge drinking is associatedwith many chronic diseases, especially in the liver and brain, and smoking isrelated to a number of cancers, such as lung, esophagus and bladder, to name afew. Cut out smoking for good and quit binge drinking. Try replacing them withthose two habits that increase longevity: exercise and good nutrition.
Maybe you haven’t done the best job of controlling yourenvironmental factors, and even if you have, it’s sometimes not enough whengenetic factors also are in play. You should see a doctor periodically to keepan eye on potential health issues at certain ages:
In your 20s and 30s
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality,blood pressure levels should be checked every two years, as high blood pressurecan cause strokes, heart attacks, kidney and eye problems and heart failure. Atage 35, blood cholesterol should be checked regularly with a blood test to helpprevent the chance of heart disease, stroke and poor circulation.
Dr. Alves says that cervical cancer screening (also known asa Pap test) is recommended for women between 21 and 65 every three years. Womenshould also get a clinical breast exam as part of their periodic health exam everythree years, according to the American Cancer Society.
In your 40s
Mammograms are currently recommended annually for women fromage 40, says Dr. Alves. He also stresses that men discuss prostate cancerscreening with their doctor by age 50, adding that a digital rectal exam andblood PSA testing are available options. The American Diabetes Associationrecommends that adults aged 45 and older get screened for type 2 diabetes everythree years, but this may need to occur earlier if you’re overweight or haverisk factors.
In your 50s and 60s
Yearly checks for breast cancer, cervical cancer andprostate cancer should continue. Adds Dr. Alves, “Colon cancer screening shouldbegin at the age of 50, usually by way of a colonoscopy, and [should be] repeatedevery ten years.”
If you’re between the ages of 55 and 80 and are a currentsmoker (or have quit within the past 15 years) and have a 30 pack-year smokinghistory (the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day times the number ofyears you have smoked), you should also talk to your doctor about gettingscreened for lung cancer, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research andQuality. Women should have a screening test when they’re 65 to check forosteoporosis.
Because of their activities and job requirements,crewmembers need to be careful about exposure to UV rays from the sun. Chronicexposure is linked to certain types of skin cancer, says Dr. Alves. The mostserious form, melanoma, and a less aggressive form, basal cell carcinoma, areassociated with intermittent, severe sunburns that produce blistering. “Familyhistory also plays a important role in determining who should be screened andat what frequency,” he adds. The message? Slather up on sunscreen and get checkedregularly.
Since crew are global travellers, they are also exposed toadditional risk behaviors, such as opportunities for casual sex and healththreats specific to their potential destination. Safe practices, STD screeningsand regular immunizations should be done for protection and detection.
“Another important condition that should be checkedperiodically is the risk of heart disease, particularly coronary heart disease,which is the number one killer in the world,” maintains Dr. Alves. Heart diseaseis caused by many factors working together, such as family history, high bloodpressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, tobacco smoking and physicalinactivity.
“Although certain items on periodic health exams should beperformed at certain ages, their timing and frequency should be modifiedaccording to the overall risk of having the specific conditions,” he said.
But one thing is for sure, concludes Dr. Alves, “Age is justa chronological measurement. Health is not an on-off/yes-no status, but likequality and safety, is a continuous line where there is always room forimprovement. Everyone’s goal should be living day-to-day in good health.”
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