This story starts over a year ago when a happy gentleman from the Philippines visited me for his yearly health check. These involve a range of tests and with this particular patient I noticed that his blood pressure was on the high side. I gave him advice which included a change of diet and some steady exercise. My patient was also starting to show early signs of diabetes and so I prescribed him medication. But this is difficult to understand for a person who does not feel ill; health checks have a purpose of finding disease early and preventing disease from developing further.


What I usually do is provide reassurance and advice on how to improve. The aim of a health check is to help find, prevent or reduce the effect of health issues. It’s like getting your car serviced before it breaks down, and we always say it’s better to avoid disease than to treat it. Some checks can be uncomfortable but they provide us with an opportunity to look at your lifestyle, medical history and family history to find out if you’re at risk.


A few months ago, my patient returned for his yearly health check; he had self-elected to stop his diabetic medicine even though he’d been told to continue. His cholesterol was high and he hadn’t made any lifestyle changes such as reducing salt or generally modifying his diet. He regarded his yearly health check as a just a ‘tick in the box’ — the advice he was receiving from a professional was being totally ignored. My patient had hypertensive urgencies which I had seen the year before; stress, diet and lifestyle were all contributing factors to what was potentially a “train wreck waiting to happen”.


Unfortunately this story doesn’t end well — a few weeks ago, my patient, after three days of chest pain, was rushed to a local hospital with a myocardial infarction (heart attack) with triple artery blockage. The frustration about this is it could have been prevented.


“Prevention is better than cure” is not just an idiom of old but a focus of modern international medical care to emphasis wellness and prevention rather than simply concentrating on sickness and cure. Making lifestyle changes can be difficult but can be achieved with determination. Lifestyle changes are a process that takes time and requires support. The first hurdle is recognising the problem and then the difficult part is committing and following through. So do your research and make a plan that will prepare you for success. Careful planning means setting small goals and taking things one step at a time.


Lifestyle Changes


Stop Smoking

Choose good nutrition

Reduce your blood pressure

Get more physically active

Aim for a good diet

Manage diabetes

Reduce stress

Limit alcohol


Doctors know how difficult it is to make changes, but we see the benefits and effects. I don’t get frustrated giving people advice and discovering that they did not listen; and I know how difficult it is to make lifestyle changes and for them to stick, but here are some that have worked for me:


— Motivate yourself; find the trigger

— Don’t change everything at once

— Surround yourself with a great support system that will help you stick to your goals. Ask important people in your life for their help

— Track your progress

— Learn from setbacks


Don’t beat yourself up for having that extra slice of cake — we are all human, and I do it myself. I encourage my patients to learn from each lapse and come up with a strategy to succeed next time.


Dr. Catherine Zapanta Gonzalez is general practitioner at Family Medical Practice Hanoi. For more info click on

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