7 Surprising Health Experts Who Could Save Your Life
Think your doctor and your dentist are the only members of your personal health-care team? Don’t overlook the power of these less-expected lifesavers.
Additional reporting by Lauren Gelman from Long Life Prescription (Reader’s Digest Association Books)
Your Hairdresser: Secret therapist
There’s some evidence that hairdressers could help prevent
skin cancer by catching abnormal lesions. One survey of Houston-area
hairdressers, published in the journal Archives of Dermatology, found that 58 percent said they had advised at least one client to get a suspicious mole checked out.
What's more, if you believe in “salon psychology,” then you might not be shocked at this classic statistic: 84 percent of beauty salon frequenters would trust their hairdresser’s advice over a therapist’s. Sure, your hair pro probably lacks a PhD, but there is something mentally soothing about hashing out your problems with this fairly neutral sounding board.
Your Neighbor: Secret cardiologist
She’s offered to start a morning walking club with you—why not say yes? Making a commitment to meet someone for exercise boosts the odds you’ll really do it. Walking with a friend provides soul-satisfying social time too. Beyond exercise, having close neighbors to chat with can simply make you happier, especially if they’re the chipper sort: One study found that people who live within half a mile of happy friends are themselves 42 percent more likely to be more joyful themselves.
Book Club: Secret brain boosters
Whether you’re giggling over Fifty Shades of Grey or getting philosophical about Anna Karenina, reading a book and then discussing new ideas with friends can cut your risk dementia. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that older adults who did the most mentally stimulating activities, like reading the newspaper or visiting museums, were 47 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who did the least.
Pooch or Kitty: Secret fitness instructors
If there’s a furry, four-legged friend in your house, chances are he’s making you healthier in more ways than one. Take fitness, for example: One Australian study found that dog owners are 41 percent more likely to meet government recommendations for moderate exercise. And simply hanging around with your pet—especially when you’re stressed or anxious—can soothe frazzled nerves and lower blood pressure, many studies show.
Your Husband or Wife: Secret general physician
Every smile, hug, and “love you” can cut your levels of brain- and body-threatening stress hormones. Ample research shows that happy marriages are known health boosters, so take advantage of your spouse’s curative powers. Research reported at the American Psychosomatic Society found that people who held their spouse’s hand before speaking in public (typically a stress-inducing event) had half the spike in blood pressure and heart rate as people who didn’t.
The hubs can also be a good workout motivator: One study found that 94 percent of couples committed to a fitness program when they did it together.
And let’s not overlook all the health perks of being physically intimate—a healthy sex life can bolster your immune system, reduce pain, and may even lower the risk of certain cancers.
Co-workers: Secret energy sources
You don’t need us to tell you that clocking long hours in a stressful environment can take a serious toll on your health. But co-workers can make all the difference between a job that helps or harms you. They can help you cope with stress and provide a crucial outlet for venting and letting off steam. What’s more, they may even make you better at your job. According to Forbes, research shows that “call center employees who took the time to converse with their colleagues, instead of just grinding away, got through calls faster, felt less tension, and earned the same approval ratings as their peers who didn’t schmooze at the office.”
Mom and/or Dad: Secret medical historians
For better or worse, they passed on the genes that could impact your risk of everything from diabetes to heart disease to cancer. But knowing that family history can help you and your doctor make smarter choices about the right timing of certain medical tests, treatments, and procedures. However, a National Cancer Institute study found that people may not know their background as well as they think they do: People often reported incorrect information about their family of history of cancer to their doctors. So chat up your parents about the health issues that run in your family, including heart health, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and mental health conditions like depression, and then share that data with your physician.
You may need to start certain tests, like a colonoscopy or mammogram, at an earlier age if colon or breast cancer runs in your family tree, for example. Or if your parents got heart disease early, your doc may take a more aggressive approach to medication if your blood pressure levels start spiking.