Dr. Marc Siegel: Trump had his Physical -- Now it's Your Turn

Regardless of your political preferences or whether your views align with those of President Trump, there’s one action he took last week that can set an important example for all of us to follow: he got a thorough physical exam and advice from his doctor on staying healthy and living longer.

How many of you have given up trying to improve your health? Maybe you don’t exercise right, don’t eat right, and have gained more weight than you would like to admit.

Maybe you were even cringing when you heard that our 71-year-old overweight president who likes fast food was about to undergo the same type of extensive physical that you have been avoiding yourself for years.

Maybe you didn’t realize that the physical could give you enough good news to motivate you to overcome the bad.

But now, in the wake of the most extensive release of information about the health of any president in American history – thanks to Navy Rear Adm.  Dr. Ronny Jackson, the president’s personal physician – there is no longer any excuse left for you.

Now that we’ve put President Trump under the medical microscope, it’s your turn. Let a primary care physician like me or Dr. Jackson assess your current health and help you to make even better choices.

Heart health is a prime example. At Dr. Jackson’s news conference this week about President Trump’s health, we were reminded about how important our bad cholesterol level is – it should be low for all of us.

I try to make sure all my patients have an LDL – low density lipoprotein level (also known as bad cholesterol) – below 100. Find out your number. If it is too high, change your diet to one with less animal proteins – the way President Trump was advised to do.

Also follow the advice the president received to try to lose weight (if you are overweight) and exercise more. Start by walking or biking whenever you are able. When driving, park your car further than you need to from your destination in order to get in some extra steps.

Find a good primary care doctor and become his or her friend, as President Trump has clearly done. Unlike Dr. Jackson, not many primary care docs have emergency medicine and hyperbaric training, have treated dying members of the military in combat, or have served three presidents and the entire White House staff. But you can get by without someone with such incredible experience or training.

What you need to do – and what I bet you can do – is find a good doctor who will meet your medical needs and help you stay healthy. If you have troubles or worries you need that doc to listen to you all the better. He or she can return that confidence you have by advising you and reassuring you that you are mentally healthy.

I can’t overestimate the importance of screening colonoscopies every five to 10 years over the age of 50. It was reassuring to find that the president had his last one in 2013. Colon cancer can easily become a killer if not diagnosed until its later stages. But if spotted early, polyps – small growths of cells that form on the lining of the colon – can be removed before they have the chance to turn cancerous.                                       

By the same token, it is important for men to have their prostates screened over the age of 40 and for women of the same age and older to have regular mammograms. All sexually active women should have regular Pap tests. Both sexes need to have screens for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Everyone should have their skin checked regularly.

When it comes to immunizations, it was good to hear that for all the talk about his supposed anti-vaccine stance, it turns out that President Trump is up to date on all his vaccines, the greatest public health discovery from the 20th century.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a vaccine pioneer, explained to me this week in an interview that the current flu shot is expected to have a 30 percent effectiveness this year, which still makes it well worth having. The president had one.

In terms of mental function, it was inspirational to see President Trump volunteer to undergo a cognitive test in order to respond to his detractors. He scored 30 out of a possible 30 on the test. This is not to say that we all need cognitive tests or that he did, but we can all face down concerns by testing areas that our family and friends – or even critics – are concerned about, just as President Trump has.

Heart disease remains the top killer in the U.S. for both men and women, which makes it well worth paying attention to. The president lacks several cardiac risk factors because he doesn’t drink or smoke, and has a low blood pressure. But he does suffer from high cholesterol, he is mainly sedentary and overweight, and he is male – all risk factors.

What about you? Are you having chest pain, or shortness of breath? Have you had an EKG lately? Dr. Jackson was informative in explaining the role of various heart screening tests. President Trump did very well on a stress test and echocardiogram of the heart and doesn’t have any evidence of active heart disease.

But, how about you? Have you had a stress test or do you need one? Ask your physician. Most of us are building up plaque in the coronary arteries that supply our heart but don’t know it.

Did you know that these plaques can calcify and that you can follow this calcification over time with a calcium scoring CT scan of the chest – just as the president has? Doctors can use this result to determine your risk of developing clinical heart disease, and advise you on lifestyle changes.

Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush were followed closely by White House physicians throughout their presidencies. Bush was a poster president for exercise, and inspired many Americans (including me), to resume daily exercise routines (biking in my case) that had been put aside.

Both Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton developed active heart disease after they left office – an important reminder that regular physicals must continue after retirement. President Obama brought the joys of basketball (one of my favorite sports) to the White House. And all of the last three presidents, including President Trump, are prodigious golfers. Golf can involve walking and relaxation, both important tools for better health.

Now that we’ve put President Trump under the medical microscope, it’s your turn. Let a primary care physician like me or Dr. Jackson assess your current health and help you to make even better choices.