When you’re in the middle of the holiday rush and planning for the new year, it’s easy to lose track of other important year-end concerns. It’s never a good idea to let your health take a backseat to other obligations, so here are a few health tips to keep in mind as we enter the winter months and say goodbye to 2019.
1. Get your flu shot
There’s no worse time to be sick with the flu than during the holidays, especially if you plan to travel. Unfortunately, flu season typically peaks between December and February. If you come down with the flu, the best thing to do is to stay home and avoid contact with other people. That means any shopping, cooking, traveling, or holiday parties you plan to take part in are off the table until you recover, which could take anywhere from a few days to two weeks.
Flu-related complications can also be serious and even life-threatening for young children and people who are 65 or older, pregnant, or have certain medical conditions.
To keep yourself and your family members safe, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone over 6 months of age get a flu shot every year. The good news is, your health plan will cover the flu shot at no cost. You can also get it at many local pharmacies in addition to your doctor’s office.
Take some time out of your busy schedule to get this important vaccine and save yourself the headache of coming down with the flu.
2. Know your options for care when you’re traveling
If you’re traveling far from home over the holidays, it’s a good idea to know what your options are if you come down with an illness or get injured. One option could be to check out your health plan and see if it offers any virtual care options, like telemedicine. These services are usually available from your laptop, phone, or tablet, making them easy to access from anywhere. You’ll be able to have a virtual visit with a provider who can diagnose your illness, provide medical advice, and possibly prescribe medications, depending on your plan.
For more pressing care needs, you can visit a local urgent care center. Urgent care is often less expensive than a trip to the emergency room. But, remember, urgent care isn’t suitable for medical emergencies. If you or someone in your family are having a medical emergency, you should call 911 and get to the nearest emergency room.
3. Stay safe while shoveling
If you live up north, there’s a good chance you’ll be shoveling some snow this year. While clearing snow from your car, driveway, or walkways might seem like just another chore, keep in mind that shoveling is responsible for thousands of related injuries and about 100 deaths each year. If you’re over 55 and have or are at risk for heart disease, the safest thing to do is to not shovel snow.
If you do plan on shoveling, here some safety tips everyone can benefit from:
- Don’t wait until after it snows to shovel. Instead, clear some while it’s falling and the rest once the storm is over.
- Avoid heart stressors before and after shoveling, like eating a heavy meal, smoking, or drinking alcohol.
- Do some light exercise and stretches for 10 minutes before shoveling to warm up your muscles.
- Wear slip-resistant boots and bundle up with layers and outerwear like a hat, scarf, and waterproof gloves.
- Protect your back by pushing the snow instead of lifting it; don’t lift snow over your shoulder or to the side.
- Take breaks to check for heart attack warning signs. The most common symptom is chest pain, but women may instead have symptoms like shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
4. Renew your prescriptions
Staying on top of your prescription medications is important all year round, but it can be easy to forget when you need a refill around the end of the year. To make sure you don’t miss any doses, take some time to check on your prescriptions and figure out when you’ll need to renew or refill. If you're able to set up mail order, you'll get your medications delivered on a regular schedule, saving you a trip to the pharmacy. Some also offer auto-refill or renewal, making the process even more simple.
If you’re changing health plans in 2020, it’s even better to renew your prescription before January. Different insurers may not cover the same medications, and even the same plan might change the medications on the formulary (or list of covered drugs) from year to year. If that’s the case, it’s good to restock on your important medications so you’re prepared for any changes. If your plan does change, you should consult with your doctor to find out about switching to a covered medication.
Bonus: Take care of your wallet by spending your FSA dollars
If you have an FSA (Flexible Spending Account), you should check your account balance before the year ends. You may have money left in the account, and most FSAs don’t allow you to carry your balance over to the new year.
To avoid losing those funds, you can spend them on qualified medical, vision, hearing, and dental expenses. These expenses can be for yourself, or any of your covered dependents. For a full list of FSA-eligible expenses, you can check the FSA Store. Some useful possibilities include:
- Prescription medications
- Over-the-counter drugs with a prescription from your doctor
- Chiropractor and acupuncture treatments
- Medical equipment like thermometers, first aid kits, and more
- Prescription glasses or contact lenses
- Acne treatments and certain skin care products