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Why is prevention better than cure?

5 minute read
A young man discussing preventative health measures with his doctor

There are two types of people in the world: those who get their car regularly serviced and those who hear a funny noise in the engine and keep on driving until they need roadside assistance to tow them to a nearby mechanic.

It’s the same when it comes to our health. Many of us delay seeing a doctor until we’re feeling unwell, but instead of trying to get better once we’re sick, it’s far better to do what we can to avoid getting sick in the first place. Why? Because prevention is better than cure.

Where did this saying come from?

The concept of taking action early to ward off disaster later isn’t new. In the mid-13th century, the Latin saying, ‘it is better and more useful to meet a problem in time than to seek a remedy after the damage is done’ served as a precursor to the snappier version coined by Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus in about the year 1500: ‘Prevention is better than cure.’

Why is prevention better than cure?

To put it simply, looking after yourself can dramatically reduce your chances of getting sick. We have a great deal of control over the state of our health through the lifestyle decisions we make.

We’d all prefer to enjoy a long and happy life rather than have to endure the suffering and debilitation that can come with ill-health. Unfortunately, lifestyle factors such as poor diet, risky alcohol consumption and not enough exercise continue to be leading causes of ill-health across the country.

While Australia has come a long way in life expectancy rates, we have the potential to do so much more when it comes to warding off disease. Although we are living longer, the number of years we spend living with illness hasn’t changed over the past decade – an average of 8.9 years for males and 10.2 for females.

What kind of ill-health can a healthy lifestyle prevent?

“Half of all Australian adults now have a chronic health condition, and nearly a quarter of us live with more than one condition,” says nib foundation Executive Officer Amy Tribe.

These conditions – all of which can have a serious impact on our quality of life over many years – include:

  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Asthma
  • Back problems
  • Arthritis
  • Mental health conditions

Although genetic and environmental factors contribute to these conditions, Amy says more than a third of Australia’s total burden of disease comes from preventable risks, such as smoking, alcohol, poor diet and physical inactivity. As aware as we may be of what we should be doing to live healthier lives, turning things like eating well and exercising regularly into daily habits can be a challenge.

“Human nature tends to favour visible issues that present an immediate and compelling need, and where progress is tangible,” explains Amy. “Success can be less obvious when the desired outcome is the absence of a visible problem.”

A man in a consultation with his doctor

How can you prevent an illness?

Fortunately, even minor lifestyle changes can make a big impact when it comes to preventing disease. Follow these six steps to keep your body and mind in the best possible shape and ward off ill-health in the process.

1. Stop smoking

Smoking rates have halved over the past 25 years, showing that with enough awareness about the dangers of a particular lifestyle activity, everyone is capable of change. With fewer smokers about, and smoking no longer allowed indoors, non-smokers also benefit; second-hand smoke increases your risk of developing a smoking-related disease. The bad news is that tobacco use is still responsible for more than 9% of Australia’s total burden of disease, including respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases and cancers. Get help to quit smoking today.

Related: How I successfully quit: Three ex-smokers share their stories

2. Maintain a healthy weight

The Heart Foundation recommends that men have a waist circumference of less than 94cm and women less than 80cm, and that we stay in a healthy weight range for our height. The Heart Foundation’s Body Mass Index calculator is an easy way to determine this.

Related: How do I know if my weight is affecting my health?

3. Eat a balanced diet

With so much conflicting advice out there about what to eat, it can be overwhelming. Aiming for a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruit, grains, and protein is a good place to start. With support from nib foundation, the University of Newcastle’s No Money No Time website provides simple and affordable ways to eat healthily. You can even take a quiz to see how healthy your diet is and receive personalised advice on how to improve it.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines also offer valuable advice on how much to eat from each of the five food groups every day.

4. Avoid drinking too much alcohol

Alcohol use is estimated to be responsible for 4.5% of the total burden of disease and injury in Australia. Hello Sunday Morning’s Daybreak app, supported by nib foundation, is a useful tool for people wanting to find ways to change their relationship with alcohol.

The National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines recommend adults have no more than two standard drinks on any given day and include two alcohol-free days per week. Those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or are under 18 years old should avoid alcohol completely.

Related: Is it time to rethink the amount of alcohol we drink?

By knowing what's normal for you early on, you'll be able to detect any serious changes later

5. Keep active

Aim to do 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. Moderate-intensity exercise causes a noticeable increase in the depth and rate of breathing while still being able to talk comfortably. Check out our article What is moderate-intensity exercise? for more information.

6. Keep track of your health

Booking in for regular health check-ups is important, no matter how old you are. Follow these links to learn about the health checks you should be getting at every stage of life:

nib Group Medical Advisor Dr Hamish Black also recommends that you try to be consistent with the doctor you see to get a better overview of your health journey.

“You should also consider signing up for My Health Record, so that if you do visit a different GP, they’ll be able to access important information from your past appointments,” Hamish says.

What’s involved in a regular check-up? During the session, your doctor is likely to:

  • ask you about your current health, and both your personal and family medical history
  • examine you carefully, looking for any signs of illness
  • ask you to do relevant urine and blood tests
  • ask you about lifestyle habits

This assessment will help your doctor to know if you have or are at risk of developing any chronic diseases. This is a great chance for you to ask your doctor about your health and current recommendations and guidelines. It is best for adults to have a check-up every two years and every year after age 40. By knowing what's normal for you early on, you'll be able to detect any serious changes later.

How can nib help you get healthy?

At nib, we’re passionate about giving our members the tools they need to get healthy before they get sick. That’s why we offer a range of health management programs free of charge to eligible members1.

For the full list of programs, or to get more information and apply, visit our health management programs page.

Do you have a specific health concern and aren’t sure where to go to get help? Read our article, I have a health concern, what do I do?

1Available to eligible nib members who’ve held Hospital Cover for 12 months and served their relevant waiting periods. Additional criteria vary according to each program.

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