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As a pediatrician, I spend most of my time on routine checkups, guiding parents through which tests and immunizations their children need. But another part of my job is identifying with struggling mothers, reminding them of the importance of self-care.
As a mom who is an avid runner, I take my own medicine in the form of meditative miles. However, you may have heard that doctors make the worst patients—and I’m no exception to that rule. I’m often long overdue for a checkup and fail to schedule it until my colleagues drop friendly reminders that it’s time for me to reverse roles with my own physician.
When I do go in for my exam, I focus on making the most of it. Because I am a marathoner and a medical professional, I know that there are certain factors I need to address with my doctor related to running. Here’s how I approach my exam—and my recommendations for any female runner.
We’ve all taken the important step of getting in our miles. Now let’s walk into our doctor’s once armed with knowledge. Here are my top tips for making the most of your yearly 30 minutes on the table.
Try to avoid very strenuous exercise for two to three days leading up to your appointment. Pushing your body to the limit can cause temporary abnormalities in tests that monitor kidney and liver function. It may also increase blood in stool tests used to screen for colon cancer and throw o your result for creatine kinase, which can be a marker for heart attacks. It’s okay to run the week of your exam—just don’t do any hard workouts or races. Those couple of days off post-marathon should be spent recovering , not catching up on your appointments.
We all lose small amounts of blood through our GI tract daily, but vigorous exercise can increase this loss. Anemia (low iron) can impair performance by decreasing cardiac output and oxygen availability to tissues. Ask your doctor about iron supplementation. A result that’s “low but normal” might be fine for a non-runner—but it’s not necessarily going to translate into optimal performance for the badass runner you are.
It’s nearly impossible to get your recommended dose of vitamin D (600 IUs) from food alone—unless you are the rare person who drinks six glasses of milk or eats 3.5 ounces of wild salmon every day. If you are diligent about sunscreen or do most of your running on a treadmill, it’s likely you are not absorbing enough vitamin D from sun exposure (the easiest source). Low levels can lead to unexplained muscle pain and increased fracture risk. Check with your provider if your results mean a supplement might be of service.
Are your vaccinations up to date? You read that right. Immunizations are not just for kids. Go over gaps in your history with your health care provider. When was the last time you got your tetanus vaccine? Don’t wait to step on a rusty nail on your trail adventures. Did you receive your fl u shot? It might prevent you from getting sick the week before a big race. Bottom line: Protect yourself ahead of time.
Skin You’re In
From solo therapy jogs to shared miles, chances are you spend more time outside than the average non-runner. Does your doctor think you should get an additional full skin exam by a dermatologist? Ask her to review the ABCs of mole checks to identify skin lesions that should be followed more carefully. In particular, runners should ask for a scalp check. Personally, I run without a hat, so this is one area that is both getting more sun exposure and that I cannot monitor myself.
The Big Picture
Remember, individual indicators must be taken in a larger context. How is your overall heart health as assessed by rate and regularity, the presence of any murmurs, blood pressure and lipid profile? Those of us over 35 may need a thyroid test. While many people don’t require a bone density scan until age 65, some of us runners may need one as early as 50 depending on our risk factors. Come prepared for your visit with information about your own health records as well as that of your family. You only have one body to run in—might as well treat it right!