Alexander Park, MD

Learn More

Read more about the author, Alexander Park, MD or call for an appointment: (206) 505-1101 .


Take Advantage of Autumn to Get Healthy

As published in City Living Seattle

Fall is a time of shorter days, crisp air and leaves bursting with color. It can be melancholic, with winter approaching and summer over. But it also can be seen as an exciting time: the start of a new school year, a new sports season, a new television season and a countdown to the holidays!

Autumn is also time to focus on your health and visit your health provider for an annual checkup. Together, you’ll discuss overall health and preventive care and review your current symptoms. Your provider will update your family history and check on your cancer screenings and vaccinations. You’ll review your blood pressure, weight and heart rate and examine all the major body systems.

I liken these annual preventive exams to oil changes for your car: with regular preventive maintenance, we can spot trouble early and optimize longevity and quality of life.

Preventing illness

Flu season typically begins in the fall. The flu vaccine is the best way to prevent influenza, that malady of achiness, fever and a sore throat. Influenza and pneumonia combined are the eighth leading cause of death.

Those at high risk for complications or death from influenza are individuals with chronic diseases, the elderly, children, pregnant women and anyone with a compromised immune system.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone age 6 months and older be vaccinated for the flu, but despite that, the overall U.S. vaccination rate hovers at around 50 percent.

As the weather chills and we head indoors, illnesses such as common cold viruses spread more readily. Being in close quarters increases the transmission of infectious organisms from person to person.

Good hand-washing is the key to preventing viruses and bacteria from spreading. It’s important to use soap and water and to scrub for at least 20 seconds before rinsing and drying your hands. You know you have scrubbed long enough if you can hum “Happy Birthday” while you wash your hands!

If you are on the go, alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60-percent alcohol content are very effective but may not eliminate as many germs as soap and water.

Healthful foods

One of the most exciting things about autumn is the plethora of healthful foods that are in season. You might think of blueberries as a summer food, but many varieties remain available through the fall. Blueberries are chock full of antibiotics and vitamin C.

Apples are probably the most recognizable autumn fruit. Head to a local orchard and pick them yourself for best freshness and family fun! You get 4 grams of fiber per apple and 14 percent of your daily vitamin C. Apples are 85-percent water, so you also are hydrating yourself at the same time. And all of this for only 95 calories!

Brussels sprouts are ubiquitous in the fall. Just one-half cup provides more than your daily recommended intake of vitamin K. They’re enormously good sources of iron and folate — important for healthy blood cells.

Roasting Brussels sprouts with some olive oil and salt until they’re crisp on the outside but tender on the inside brings out great flavor and texture. Your kids will say they taste like French fries!

And how about all those autumn root vegetables and squash varieties? From sweet potatoes to parsnips, and pumpkins to butternut, the choices are endless. All of these contain high levels of vitamins A and C; phytonutrients, which have anti-cancer properties; and omega-3 fatty acids, which are heart-healthy.

Exercise

The long, hot days of summer that inspired your exercise routines might be gone, but don’t skimp on physical activity just because the days are cooler and shorter! Without the sweltering heat of summer, fall can actually be more conducive for outdoor exercise.

For most adults, the CDC recommends moderate intensity aerobic exercise for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Intensity refers to the percentage of your maximum heart rate achieved. A good rule of thumb for moderate intensity is that you can carry on a light conversation while performing the exercise. Raking leaves, that common autumn chore, burns 315 calories per hour.

Finally, let’s not forget that National Family History Day is observed on Thanksgiving Day. It’s more than turkey and stuffing you’re sharing; it’s behaviors, lifestyles and genetics, too! Getting to know your family medical history and sharing it with your doctor is important to ensuring you are being screened appropriately for inherited conditions. French philosopher Albert Camus said, “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” Here’s to the fall season! Let’s enjoy this special time and take advantage of the opportunities autumn presents for optimizing our health.

Dr. Alexander Park practices internal medicine at PacMed First Hill. To learn more or make an appointment with Dr. Park, visit his web page.