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Bird's Eye View of Your Wellness and Your Health Risks

Do you know your 'health age?'

When you plan a trip, you need to know where you are starting from. A map will give you a bird's eye view so you can see where to go. If you are going to manage your health, the HealtheLiving Assessment (HLA) can give you that starting point.

VA's HLA is a tool to help you assess the state of your health and health risks. We all want to live a long and healthy life and this tool can help you on the path to be your healthiest. The HLA only takes about 20 minutes to complete and includes questions about your medical history and lifestyle habits. When you finish, you will receive an HLA Summary Report with information about your current health status and healthy lifestyle recommendations tailored for you.

The HLA Summary provides a bird's eye view of your current health status, with calculations for your risk of developing certain conditions. You will also find recommendations for improving your health such as: reminders about screenings and immunizations, healthy changes you can make to lower or maintain health age and a Health Choices chart. The key to the summary is a number that reflects your current health. We call this your health age. Your health age is how old you actually are in terms of health and how well you take care of yourself. If your health age is less than your current age, you are making good choices. On the other hand your health age is greater than your current age; there are opportunities for you to improve.

"It's often hard for Veterans to realize the impact of their health choices," explains Kathy Pittman, RN, Program Manager at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (NCP) and the HLA's Clinical Project Manager. "Health age sums up a person's health status in one, easy-to-understand number, and the HLA Summary Report provides concrete, personalized recommendations to help improve that number. Reflecting the effects that lifestyle and health habits have on life expectancy, health age estimates the user's overall health relative to actual age. A health age that's higher than a person's actual age can be a sobering summary of increased risk for disease and potentially reduced life span. By contrast, a health age that's lower than the person's actual age can be a reaffirming 'way-to-go' on a healthy lifestyle."

To see how the HLA works, check out the new What is Your Health Age? video which features the experiences of three Veterans. The Veterans log in to My HealtheVet and access the HLA. They answer questions about their deployments, current stress levels, diet, exercise habits, and other lifestyle choices. After they submit their assessments, they immediately receive their summaries. The Veterans use the information to determine their health care priorities. Armed with their reports, they can share their assessments with their health care teams, set goals as part of their own personal health plan and take the assessment every year to track progress toward even better health.

So what can you do? To get the HLA Summary, you can complete your report any time. Simply logon to your My HealtheVet account and click the HLA link. It's helpful to know your blood pressure, A1C and cholesterol levels before starting the HLA, but you don't have to have that information to complete the assessment. Note that Veterans who are enrolled in VA healthcare often have these numbers already listed for them.

The HLA only takes about 20 minutes to complete and will provide you a better understanding of your current health status and what you can do to improve your health. NCP encourages you to complete the entire HLA at one time, but if you can't, you can save your input and come back later to complete. Your assessment is private, and your health care team can't see it until you share it with them. It does not affect your benefits or your ratings.

"Many Veterans have several ongoing health conditions and it can be overwhelming to make many changes at once. That's why we created the HLA to help people see that even making one health change can improve their quality of life," says Ms. Pittman.

If your health age is less than your current age, congratulations! You are making good choices. If your health age is greater than your current age, there are opportunities for you to work with your health care team to improve your health. Select the recommendations that you might choose to follow, and recalculate your health age. You can do things like quit smoking, increase physical activity, and use the calculator to determine which recommendations make the most sense for you. The next step is to talk to your health care team and work with them to set goals.

Be sure to take the HLA every year to track your progress to greater health.

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Created May 9, 2017