Top 10 things to do during National Public Health Week

Celebrated April 2-8, National Public Health Week is a national campaign organized by the American Public Health Association to recognize public health and its effects on society. Because everyone deserves a chance at a long and healthy life, the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI is working during this week to create a healthier nation in one generation. It celebrates the power of prevention and healthy and fair policies for all people and shares strategies for a healthier state, nation and world. Here are 10 things you can do to improve public health right now.

1. Go for a walk on the Monon Trail

Not only will physical activity improve your health, it will also increase your life expectancy. Did you know that in Indianapolis, we have a 14-year gap in life expectancy just in our city? Along the 10-mile Monon Trail, from 96th Street to 10th Street, life expectancy drops by 14 years. The public health profession works every day to ensure everyone has a chance at a long and healthy life. 

2. Kick the smoking habit

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in Indiana, and more than 11,000 Hoosiers lose their lives each year due to smoking. Indiana has the 10th-highest smoking rate and the ninth-highest incidence of lung cancer. Ninety-nine percent of all first use of tobacco occurs before the age of 26. When you quit smoking, not only will you look and feel healthier, you'll be more likely to resist colds and flu -- and you'll save money! Healthy IU offers resources to kick the habit.

Wash your hands

We all learned how to wash our hands as kids. But did you know that the easiest way to prevent the transmission of common illnesses like the cold and flu is to wash your hands? Wash your hands before, during and after preparing food; before eating; before and after caring for someone who is sick; after using the bathroom; after changing diapers; after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing; and after touching garbage.

Join the 1 Billion Steps Challenge

The goal of this American Public Health Association initiative is to collectively walk 1 billion steps by April 8! Get in the habit of walking to prevent chronic disease, improve quality of life and improve mental health. Join the 1 Billion Steps Challenge on Stridekick. 

Make healthy meal choices

Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do for your and your family's health. Healthy IU offers a three-week plant-eating challenge for employees and their spouses called Back to Our Roots. The goal is to add a wide variety of plant-based foods to meals and snacks. Healthy IU also offers a variety of resources including nutrition counseling, recipes, and healthy meal guidelines for individuals and meetings.

Get vaccinated

Vaccines protect you from serious diseases like the flu, measles, whooping cough, polio, meningitis, tetanus, rotavirus, hepatitis A and B, chickenpox, and more. You might not know anyone who has had these diseases, but that's because a lot of these illnesses have been mostly eradicated due to vaccines. Even though some of these diseases have completely disappeared from the U.S., they are common in other parts of the world that are just a plane ride away.

Write to your local and state representatives

Indiana ranks 49th in the U.S. for public health funding. What does this mean? If Indiana invested $10 per person per year in community-based programs, the state would save more than $373 million annually within five years. This is a $5.60 return for every $1 invested. 

Promote social justice and health equity

Racism and other "-isms" unfairly disadvantage certain people and communities from achieving the highest level of health. Health care, criminal justice and voting rights are just some of the ways people face inequity every day. You can help promote social justice and health for all people by naming and addressing racism, researching and starting a conversation about the differences in health outcomes for different groups of people, and speaking out against voter restrictions.

Practice mindfulness

About one in five U.S. adults -- or more than 43 million people -- experience mental illness in a given year. Mental health is integral to overall health and critical for physical health. Mental Health America offers free self-assessments to determine if you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. Whether you already practice mindfulness or are looking to start, Palouse Mindfulness offers free stress-reduction training courses to improve your mindfulness no matter your level. If you feel you have a mental health condition, please consult a mental health provider for further consultation.

Improve your environment

Your health is connected to your environment. The air you breathe, the water you drink, the food you eat, and the places you live and work impact your health and the health of your community. Public health solutions like improving air quality allow more people to exercise outdoors, further enhancing health. No matter where they live, everyone deserves a healthy environment and the opportunity to live in healthy environmental conditions.

Bonus! If you know someone under the age of 26, encourage them to get the HPV vaccine. This vaccine -- free for IUPUI students -- prevents most cervical cancers as well as other cancers. Both young men and women should receive the vaccination between the ages of 13 and 26.

Amanda Briggs is the director of marketing and communication for the Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI.