As the years creep up, people begin to worry more about their health and ability to live a quality life.

While there isn’t a magic bullet, staying healthy can be as simple and effective as regular wellness visits with your health care provider, eating healthy, whole foods and staying active.

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo
Jennifer Trujillo and Cassandra Otero, both physician assistants, encourage regular wellness visits for older patients, as well as a diet filled with whole foods, and regular exercise.

Cassandra Otero and Jennifer Trujillo, both licensed physician assistants, and the owners and practitioners at Valencia Health and Wellness in Belen, say they love taking the time to get to know their patients of all ages.

While a “senior” is typically considered someone who is 65 and older, Trujillo and Otero say annual wellness checks should be a habit of everyone 40 and older to monitor blood pressure, have blood work to check metabolic processes such as cholesterol levels and monitor chronic conditions like diabetes.

Regular, annual screenings also allow health care providers to provide care and treatments to patients based on their family history of medical conditions.

Sometimes, advice from the medical community can unintentionally lead patients to put off their annual visits, Trujillo said.

About 10 years ago, the medical community came to the correct conclusion that women could see their providers every two to three years for gynecological exams, she said, barring any family history that indicated more frequent visits were necessary.

“So many women tied that yearly gynecological visit to their annual wellness check, and were going a couple years without one,” Trujillo said.

By waiting too long between visits with their primary care providers, patients can develop issues that take longer and are more difficult to treat than if they’d had a yearly exam.

“Well visits will keep you well,” Otero said.

Other regular screenings patients should begin discussion with their health care providers as they pass 40 are colorectal cancer screenings, prostate screenings and mammograms.

The decision to have any kind of screening or testing should only be made after a thorough discussion between patient and provider, they said, to go over any current health concerns and family history.

Seeing a provider yearly or even more often can also help detect issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, Trujillo said.


Annual visits can also ensure patients are current on their adults vaccines for everything from their annual flu shot to pneumonia to shingles.

“When treating patients who are older, we focus on quality of life,” Otero said. “Issues like preventing falls, good nutrition, pain management, making sure they are in a safe place.”

Trujillo said people of all ages will live for years with conditions, such as arthritis for instance, and simply think that’s how life is now that they are getting older.

“No, no that’s not true. We can do something to help,” she said emphatically.

The two physicians assistants said they offer treatment options at their clinic like acupuncture to treat chronic pain, something many people don’t realize is well covered by insurance.

“Other things like depression, not being able to sleep, just not enjoying your life — those aren’t problems you have to live with,” Trujillo said.

People who have worked hard and retired should be living a quality life, Otero said.

“You should be having a great life,” she said.

Nutrition, as a person ages, is fairly common sense, they said.

“You can have a piece of birthday cake, just not every day,” Trujillo said.

Information on urges older adults when buying packaged food to look for items that are higher in dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium and potassium, and lover in saturated fat, sodium and added sugars.

And delivering the advice no one wants to hear, Otero said when it comes to overall health, there is no magic solution.

“If you want to lose weight or maintain your weight, you have to eat healthy and stay active,” she said. “That’s it; that’s really the answer.”

Sometimes they will hear about the latest super food or newest supplement from patients, and Otero said they are always willing to listen and learn.

There are some supplements, turmeric for example which has been shown to help some people with inflammation, Otero said, that she will advise her patients to try in moderation.

“I’ll tell people to try it for six weeks. If it helps, great. If it doesn’t, stop using it,” she said. “If this treatment really was magic, wouldn’t everybody know about it?”

Staying active should be more than pushing the vacuum cleaner around the house, they said, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

“Even though we live in an area with a high rate of poverty, people have a lot of land,” Trujillo said. “It’s not uncommon for someone to live on an acre. Sometimes they’ll come in and tell me they’ve been pulling weeds all morning.”

While both emphasized there is no substitute for medical advice and treatment from a regular, primary care provider, Otero said she was comfortable recommending the Mayo Clinic’s website — — as a reliable, online source of medical information.

“That is a good resource, but we really want our patients to talk to us,” she said.

Valencia Health and Wellness, 101 North Sixth St., Belen, is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday, (closed for lunch from 12-1 p.m.), and from 8 a.m. to noon on Fridays. For information, call 317-7773 or visit

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.