Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, many Americans skipped their annual medical exam. In fact, a survey conducted in early 2020 showed that 22% of Americans say they have steered clear over that past year of some sort of medical care — including doctor visits, medications, vaccinations, annual exams, screenings, vision checks and routine blood work. And that number grew during the pandemic with 78% of Americans reporting that they have put off at least some medical services during the past three months of the pandemic.

The pandemic caused many of us to prolong necessary medical testing, annual exams or even inquiries about pain with medical professionals. If you were one of those people putting off medical care, I encourage you to reconsider and make your health a priority.

This month, which is often know as Movember, some of us at Blue Yonder #LetitGrow in support of men’s health awareness. This year, I decided to participate and grow a beard in support of this cause. Why did I do it? Because I have several family members who have a history of putting off medical care. In two instances, when they decided to seek care, it was far too late to make a difference.

Why do some of us put off seeking care? It may be something we are taught to do and not realize it. Looking back over the years I recall numerous times as a child when I would scrape my knee, slam a finger in the door or get injured during a sporting event to then hear my parents and/or coaches say to walk it off, rub dirt on it or put some ice on it. “You will be fine,” they’d assure me. If your experience was like mine, we were conditioned to be tough and just deal with it.  While this may have enabled us to be more aggressive on the playing field or “thicken our skin” to handle the next injury better, it may have also contributed to our stubbornness and tendencies to “tough it out” when it comes to our aches and pains.

For instance, each year there are an alarming number of new heart disease cases and, in the U.S. alone, an estimated 1.8 million new cancer diagnoses. While there are positive trends in mortality rates for cancer thanks to advances in technology and modern treatments, the most important element remains early detection.

These treatments are most effective if you take care of yourself via a balanced diet, regular exercise and the routine medical checkups that you qualify for based on age, such as a colonoscopy, mammogram, and annual blood work.

And most importantly, listen to your body. When you experience that new pain, see/feel a lump or feel more tired than usual, take time out and schedule a visit with your physician. It is never a bad idea to ask a question; early prevention can increase your potential of beating the ailments by up to 70%, higher if detected very early. And these days, you can even do that visit via telemedicine!

If you want to extend your impact beyond yourself, consider making a difference by volunteering in your community for a cause near to your heart, donating to research foundations in your country, or supporting medical missions that provide medical care to countries and/or communities where medical care is not widely available.

The human body is a complex but intuitive and powerful organism. We have the ability to fight off many illnesses and to heal with the proper care and attention. As you would with your vehicle when a “check engine” light or “tire sensor” illuminates, check your body when indicators are present.

So what does all of this have to do with my “Movember” beard? For me the beard is a daily reminder to take care of myself, listen to my body, and know that an investment in my health is one of the most important investments I can make. And at the end of this month, whether the beard stays or goes, the lesson, for me, will remain.