1. Have a PERF-ect day
Essentially, there are four things you should monitor every day to make sure you are living healthily: the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables you ate that day (Produce); whether you walked and were active (Exercise); whether you got at least 15 minutes of laughter and fun time for yourself (Relaxation); and whether you got enough beans, grains and other high-fibre foods (Fibre). If you can say you did well on all four, your day has been extremely healthy. (Now the bad news: this doesn’t apply if you spent the rest of the day drinking, smoking and eating chocolate.)
2. Get naked every two or three months
Then, with your partner (or a close friend), conduct a head-to-toe skin check, looking for any new moles, changed moles, suspicious spots or rashes. Be sure to check your scalp, between your toes and fingers, and the underside of your arms. If you find anything worrying, see your doctor.
Do the ABCD test when checking moles, looking out for these possible danger signs:
Asymmetry The two halves of the mole don’t match.
Border irregularity The edges of the mole are jagged.
Colour Uneven, different shades of black, brown or pink. Diameter More than 6mm.
3. Monitor your sleepiness
There are three good ways to tell if you’re not getting enough sleep. First, do you require an alarm clock to wake up most mornings? Second, do you become drowsy in the afternoon, to the point that it affects what you’re doing?
Third, do you doze off shortly after eating dinner? If the answer to any of these is yes, you need more sleep. And if you’re getting enough sleep (about eight hours) and still have these troubles, talk to your doctor about your low energy.
4. Measure your height every year after you turn 50
This is especially important for women as a way of assessing posture and skeletal health. A decrease in stature can be as informative as a change in a bone density test for monitoring your overall bone health. If you notice changes or you have other concerns, speak to your doctor.
5. Keep track of the colour of your urine
This may sound weird, but it’s a useful health indicator. Your urine should be a clear, straw colour; if it’s dark or smells strong, you may not be drinking enough fluids. If it stays dark-coloured even after you increase your liquid intake, make an appointment with your doctor. If it’s bright yellow, it may be the B vitamins in your multivitamin tablets (if you take them).
6. Count your heartbeats after you exercise
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that women with poor heart rate recovery (HRR) after exercise had twice the risk of having a heart attack within ten years as those who had normal recovery rate.
Try this simple test to discover your HRR: next time you exercise, for example, a strenuous 20-minute walk or a jog, count your heartbeats for 15 seconds immediately afterwards, then multiply the result by four to get your heart rate. Sit down and wait for two minutes, then check again. Subtract the second number from the first. If it’s under 55, your HRR is higher than normal and you should talk it through with your doctor.
7. If you have diabetes, examine your feet every day
Diabetics are susceptible to foot damage, so should examine their feet carefully for any blisters, fungus, peeling skin, cuts or bruises. Because people with diabetes often have some nerve damage in the extremities, these daily self-examinations offer critical clues as to how well they’re managing their blood sugar.
8. Have a cardiovascular assessment
If you’re over 40 and not on treatment for heart disease or high blood pressure, it’s worth getting a cardiovascular assessment for future heart attack and stroke risk. You should also arrange one if you’re under 40 with a strong family history of heart attack or stroke. Blood cholesterol is just one of several factors that needs to be measured and assessed, along with your smoking status, blood glucose level, electrocardiogram (ECG) results and blood pressure.
Measuring cholesterol alone is not enough, as “normal” cholesterol levels do not necessarily mean that your overall cardiovascular risk is “normal”. Ask for information and advice at your doctor’s surgery.
9. Check your hairbrush
If you’ve noticed your hair is falling out, ask your doctor to check your levels of blood ferritin, which will indicate how much iron your body is storing. Some studies suggest low levels may be related to unexplained hair loss. Thyroid disease is another fairly common cause.
10. Check your blood pressure every six months
You can do this yourself with a home blood pressure monitor. You can get information from the Heart and Stroke Foundation (heartfoundation.co.za – type in “blood pressure” in the search box). If the top number is more than 140 (130 if you have diabetes) and the bottom number is higher than 90 (80 for diabetics), wait a day, then check it again. If it’s still high, make an appointment to see your doctor.
This is an edited version of an article that will appear in the March 2010 edition of Reader's Digest magazine. For more information, or to subscribe to the magazine, visit www.readersdigest.co.za)