There are several horrifying deadly diseases we can’t prevent or predict… and then there are multiple conditions we can ward off. What if we could avoid doing things that can lead to death?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics, the leading causes of death are:
- Heart and cardiovascular diseases
- Chronic lower respiratory diseases
- Accidents and unintentional injuries
- Stroke and cerebrovascular diseases
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Influenza and pneumonia
- Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis
- Intentional self-harm (suicide)
While there is no prevention for some of these diseases, there are steps members of our profession can take to avoid putting ourselves in harm’s way. Here are 11 top recommendations.
Do the obvious
We all know that we should exercise daily, eat reasonably, and maintain an appropriate weight in order to avoid some of the diseases listed above. So why do things that intentionally shorten our lifespan or decrease our quality of life?
Get enough sleep, don’t smoke, avoid heavy drinking, and steer clear of illegal substances.
Exercising doesn’t mean doing two hours of CrossFit every day. It can be as simple as a 15-minute walk, preferably in the sun, around the block—or better, at a park, perhaps during lunch. Being sedentary leads to all kinds of severe health conditions: strokes, depression, cancer, and being overweight/obesity. A simple walk will boost your endorphin and serotonin levels.
In addition, avoid human hospitals. Between medical errors and nosocomial infections, human hospitals are not as safe as they should be.
Schedule regular exams—for yourself
Veterinarians and veterinary nurses spend the bulk of their days recommending vaccines, blood tests, tests for infectious disease, etc. Yet how often to do we actually take the preventive steps our personal physicians recommend?
Simple screening visits and tests are easy ways to stay one step ahead of certain diseases that carry poor prognoses:
- Colonoscopy (done every 10 years in men and women older than 50)
- Prostate exam (starting at 50; sometimes at 40, depending on your risk factor)
- Mammography (done every two years in women older than 40)
- Regular pap tests
- Yearly physical exam
- Dental exam and cleaning every six months
Focus on whole foods
It has been drilled into our heads that we should eat a healthy and balanced diet. Yet veterinary professionals, often under a heavy work load, are notorious for reaching for junk food and not drinking enough water throughout the day.
The national sport at most clinics, which usually starts around 10 a.m., is “What do you want to order for lunch?” This basically entails choosing from the three local fast food joints and the nearby gas station.
In addition, clients frequently bring in sweets and unhealthy foods to show their appreciation for our hard work.
Over time, empty calories, pesticides, artificial ingredients, hormones, and antibiotics take their toll. As the saying goes, “If man made it, don’t eat it.” Or as a nurse recently joked during a TPLO: “Goldfish don’t come from the ocean!”
Do yourself a favor and stick to fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and overall whole, natural food. And make an effort to remain hydrated throughout the day.
Attend the call of nature
Not only do we rarely take the time to eat and drink on busy days, we also don’t always take the time to use the restroom. Some of us even see it as a badge of honor.
“Holding it” actually can lead to complications and worsen pre-existing conditions. Ironically, “not going” doesn’t strengthen your bladder muscles—it weakens them. Long term, it could lead to urine retention and bladder infections.
People with prostate issues, a history of kidney stones, or any kidney disorder also are at higher risk for complication if they don’t answer nature’s call.
Avoiding nature’s other call long-term can lead to constipation, distended bowels (think megacolon), and difficulty defecating.
Keep on working
Most people spend their lives dreaming of retirement. However, did you know that retirement can kill you? The reasons for remaining in the workforce are complex, and they include financial and social benefits.
People who stop working and end up in a rocking chair watching Dancing with the Stars all day suddenly lose their identity (“I’m a vet,” “I’m a vet tech,” “I’m a receptionist,” “I’m a manager”). They lose daily intellectual stimulation and a big part of important social interaction. Worse—they lose purpose in life.
According to a study at Oregon State University, working an additional year after age 65 lowers your mortality risk by more than 10 percent.
Does this mean you should stay in your position until you’re 90? Of course not. It does mean, however, that retirement should be prepared well in advance. Keep your mind busy, maintain social connections, and continue receiving an income—or volunteer. None of that has to be inside a veterinary clinic.
Tackle the topic of abuse
As veterinary professionals, we have access to an array of controlled substances. Sometimes, colleagues fold under pressure and resort to substance abuse. Remember the lovable rockstar head technician in Pennsylvania, who stole 7,500 tramadol tablets over a two-year period, or another Massachusetts technician who diverted 7,800 tramadol tablets.
Opioid overdose is a tragic cause of death that actually affects more Americans than guns and car accidents. If you or someone you know may have a problem, please seek help.
|10 tips to improve your quality of life|
|1) Feel gratitude. Even better—write about it in a daily journal.
2) Exercise. Walk around the block (while listening to a podcast or an audiobook). Play with your kids. Go for a walk with your dog. Around 10,000 steps/day seems to be the magic number to help with weight loss and diabetes regulation, in addition to a host of other health benefits.
3) Take a nap. Sleep in on Sunday. Take time to just relax.
4) Laugh. Smile. Do what makes you happy. Watch a funny movie.
5) Surround yourself with friends, family members, and positive influences to help balance out the negative things life can throw at you. Social isolation damages mental health.
6) Be cool. Meditate. Do yoga. Paint. Write poetry (or prose). Do what calms you down.
7) Take a break. Hide in your car to eat lunch if it’s the only way you have to escape the madness at the practice.
8) Think positively. Optimism lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, or cancer. Optimistic people live longer and have less heart-related illnesses.
9) Take five deep breaths when stress levels elevate or you have time for a quick mental break.
10) Turn off social media and TV. Come on… give it a try it for just one hour!
Cut the cell phone use
A few recent studies and court cases fuel the debate about the connection between cell phones (and wireless devices in general) and cancer. One cell phone user with a brain tumor actually won a court case in Italy.
Until the truth comes out, it may be a good idea not to have your cell phone on your person all day, every day. In addition, we are creatures of habit, and we tend to always have our phones in the exact same location (for example, in the same scrub pocket, every single day, for 10 or 20 years).
Make more human connections
Temporary solitude can be very beneficial. However, studies show that serious loneliness can lead to heart disease and stroke.
“Loneliness is a strong predictor of premature death, worse mental health, and lower quality of life in patients with cardiovascular disease,” said Anne Vinggaard Christensen, a researcher at the University of Denmark in Copenhagen.
Other research found that loneliness and social isolation increase your risk of early death by up to 45 percent.
It turns out your social network is healthier when it involves physical humans, as opposed to virtual interactions.
Reduce your stress levels
Our veterinary world is full of stress, compassion fatigue, and burnout. In turn, they can lead to many of the diseases listed at the beginning of this article.
So it is important to take care of our mental health as well as our physical health. Thankfully, self-care is a topic that is finally discussed more and more in our profession.
Seeking help from a professional is not taboo anymore. You don’t have to talk about it to everybody, but you certainly shouldn’t be ashamed of seeking help.
Recent studies show that one-third of American adults are overweight, and one-third are obese. Do the math: two-third of American adults are overweight or obese. And only one-third is at a healthy weight.
Being overweight or obese can cause several of the diseases discussed here. These conditions can contribute to a life of joint pain, hypertension, breathing problems, depression, etc.
Ironically, we regularly lecture clients with overweight and obese pets. There are countless programs available to reach a healthy weight through proper diet and exercise.
Suicide is never a solution
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in American adults. And it is likely even more prevalent in veterinary professionals, who have access to all kinds of controlled substances in their clinics.
Thankfully, we are starting to talk about this extremely difficult topic in our field. The important thing to remember is help is out there, including resources found at nomv.org/support-resources.
This article tackles serious business that everyone in the veterinary profession should keep top of mind. Your life may depend on it.
Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and serial entrepreneur. His traveling surgery practice takes him all over eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey. Visit his websites at DrPhilZeltzman.com and VeterinariansInParadise.com. AJ Debiasse, a technician in Stroudsburg, Pa., contributed to this article.