I was asked recently by someone I met “I am not overweight and I think I eat healthily so do I need to worry about what I eat?” This is the expanded answer I gave, beyond food and diet, by way of a checklist of points to improve health.
The BMI (Body Mass Index)
This is a widely-used health measure to indicate if you are a healthy weight for your height. The categories are underweight, healthy weight, overweight, obese or morbidly obese. Find out more here http://www.nhs.uk/Tools/Pages/BMI-healthy-weight-calculator.aspx
This isn’t as widely used as the BMI but I think it is more useful. It gives you an idea of where you carry weight as that has implication for health. If you carry weight abdominally (apple-shaped) rather than on the hips and thighs (pear-shaped) you are at higher risk of cardio-vascular disease and type 2 diabetes. See here http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/loseweight/Pages/Appleorpear.aspx
NHS Health Check
(adults 40-74yrs in England)
I recently jumped at the chance when invited to go for one of these. Two nurse appointments at your doctor’s surgery, one a simple blood test appointment then a follow-up to discuss the results. This includes blood glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure, lifestyle and family history to give you a 10 year risk of cardio-vascular disease.
If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your arteries (and your heart) and this may lead to heart attacks and strokes. Know your figures http://www.bloodpressureuk.org/BloodPressureandyou/Thebasics/Bloodpressurechart
Sex-specific Health Checks
Women, do you keep up to date with cervical smear, breast screening, and bone density (if relevant) checks? Men over 50, have you considered a free NHS PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test? Do you self-check your breasts or testicles monthly for changes and lumps?
Know your family History
Do you know what conditions your parents have/had and any medication they take/took? Certain conditions have a strong hereditary factor which may mean you are at a higher risk of developing yourself. Genes are not the whole story, lifestyle and environmental factors affect the expression of genes. However, it is useful information to know. Also consider blood siblings.
There are a number of symptoms we are trained to look for in practice and refer patients immediately to their GP to discuss. These include any persistent symptom or pain, blood (in coughed-up mucus, stools, urine, vomit, non-menstrual vaginal bleed), change in habits (bowels, urination) or skin lesions, psychological symptoms, and sudden severe symptoms. This is not an exhaustive list so if any symptom is worrying you make an appointment to see your GP.
If you take any medication on-going (including contraception) it is important to check in with your GP at the relevant timescales to review the medication. And always notify your GP if you take any supplements or herbal remedies as these may interact with medication.
Dental Hygiene and Check-ups
Dental health has much wider implications than just your smile and breath! Gum disease increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Your dentist will tell you how often to go for a check-up if your teeth are healthy but usually between 6 and 12 months. Don't forget two minutes twice a day, and another good reason for me to say cut down on sugary foods and drinks!
Exercise and activity
Exercise is good for you on so many levels; relaxation, better sleep, improved hormone responsiveness (insulin, thyroid), for pain relief, to make you feel happy, for stronger bones, and of course to help you maintain a healthy weight. There is much debate about the most effective type of exercise for burning fat but the most important point is choosing an activity you can stick with and do regularly. Don’t forget to keep your brain active too!
This one I’m keeping simple this time. Eat more vegetables (and fruit), healthy fats (oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocadoes, olive oil), wholegrains (breakfast cereals, pasta, and rice not just wholemeal bread) and less sweet foods and drinks (avoid anything with added sugar or ‘no added sugar/reduced sugar’ to avoid sweeteners).
It’s not just the hangover and poor night’s sleep. Regular drinking increases your chance of liver disease and also increases the risk of getting 7 types of cancers. Alcohol is a source of energy (calories) and can lead to uninhibited eating (particularly socially) so can contribute to weight gain. Many people find it difficult to tell whether they really have a problem with alcohol or not. Check out https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/ for more information.
Poor or short sleep can affect your body’s natural cycle and appetite hormones as well as affecting energy and concentration. It’s really important to get your sleeping patterns organised if you want to reach a healthy weight.
Don’t! Aside from lung cancer and lung conditions it increases the chances of getting other cancers, cardio-vascular disease and affects fertility. There is evidence (Cochrane Database) that says that nicotine-replacement therapy (patches etc.) helps people to stop smoking so use all the help you need.
Stress ….. And relaxation!
This is really important, make sure you have downtime. Do you take regular holidays or short breaks? Why not plan them out for the year. Do you have any hobbies you’d like to spend more time doing?
I hope you had a good Christmas and will take a few moments to contemplate these and check them off. It may give you an idea for a new year’s resolution. Have a healthy happy new year!
I am a fully qualified and accredited Nutritional Therapist with a degree in Nutritional Medicine. Please have a look at my website at https://www.zfnutrition.co.uk/ . If you would like help with a health concern or to achieve a healthy weight get in touch or call me on 01226 792494 for a free initial 20 minute consultation.