February is National Self-Check Month is a reminder that every day of the year we can take charge of our health and increase our odds of avoiding chronic disease and other often preventable conditions.

Too often, we deal with our health in a reactive way; we only call our doctor when we are already sick or in pain, not before. To increase our chances of avoiding preventable conditions, or catching a problem in its early stages, it is important to take a more proactive approach and National Self-Check Month is the perfect time to take control of your wellness. Here are a few easy things you can do to start taking charge of your health:

Observe: Practicing early self-checks and prevention (healthy habits) has the same impact as putting on a seat belt when you first get into a car, if you do not do it you are not protecting yourself from potential harm.

Yet there are many quick and easy checks that we can perform on ourselves from the comfort of our own homes, which not only provide us with peace of mind, but could be potentially lifesaving by helping us identify – and seek support and treatment for – any issues sooner rather than later.

Here, we have listed 10 steps to help you keep in tip-top shape:

Safety first: If you are concerned about any health matters, do seek advice and guidance on www.nhs.uk, or consult your Dr.

1| Abdominal Fat: Unlike the fat found on hips and thighs, abdominal fat (also known as visceral fat) is carried around the stomach and is high density. If you are noticing a change in your clothes fitting or a change in your body’s shape, and it’s not due to your diet or exercise, it may be worth keeping an eye on it by using a tape measure to monitor your waist size on a regular basis. Consult your doctor if you are worried about any changes, as abdominal fat can often be associated with more serious health issues such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

2| Heart Rate: It may come as a surprise, but your heart rate can reveal a lot about your body and overall health and wellbeing. On average, a healthy resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. The fitter and healthier you are, the lower it should be. To check your heart rate, place a finger on the inside of your wrist whilst rested and count your pulse for ten seconds, then multiply the result by six. If your figure is higher than it should be, one of the ways you can reduce it is by increasing the amount of exercise you do (even if that’s walking more regularly and counting your steps using a pedometer or fitness tracker).

3| Heart Rhythm: An irregular heartbeat is more than just the occasional skipped beat, but rather, a continuous irregular rhythm. Catching this early could potentially prevent the risk of a stroke. Shockingly, atrial fibrillation (the official term for the condition of irregular and abnormally fast heartbeats) affects around 1,000,000 people in the UK.

You may identify this through monitoring your heart rate, but you can also place a finger on your pulse and tap your foot along to the rhythm. If you find that the rhythm is very irregular and you are unable to tap your foot along in time, seek advice from your doctor.

4| Oral Health: Most people do not pay much more attention to their mouths other than brushing their teeth, but it’s important to regularly check for any abnormalities such as lumps and bumps that do not heal within a reasonable time, or which keep re-occurring. These can be potential red flags for more serious problems such as gum disease, and mouth cancer. It’s vital that you visit your dentist regularly to ensure that your overall dental health is as it should be, but your doctor may also be able to advise.

5| Breast Exam: Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with one person is diagnosed every 10 minutes. 1 in 8 women in the UK will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and 1 in 1,000 men. A breast exam can take just five minutes, so set yourself a monthly date and thoroughly check your breasts for any changes to size, colour and shape. Be sure to check for any lumps and report any abnormalities to a doctor. Fatty lumps are common and often nothing to worry about, but it is always better to be safe and see someone about it than hoping it will go away on its own. Self-checking breasts is a great way to become aware of your own body and of anything that is abnormal, but these should never replace screening appointments.

6| Testicular Exam: Regularly carrying out of a testicular self-exam is important so that you are aware and confident with what is normal for you, and so that you know if something is different. Best performed after a warm shower so that you are relaxed, check the scrotum for any lumps, changes to size, or discomfort. This should be carried out monthly, and always report changes or concerns to your doctor.

7| Moles: Moles are very common, but in some instances, can be a warning sign for a more serious condition such as skin cancer. Check moles regularly for any changes in size, shape, or colour, and be sure to check for any new moles too. If they have rough edges or are not symmetrical, you should make your GP aware in case they want to do any further exploratory checks. Again, identifying issues early is vital.

8| Wheeze Test: Around 5.4 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma, consisting of 1.1 million children (1 in 11) and 4.3 million adults (1 in 12). Whilst it is normal to become short of breath during physical work or cardiovascular exercises, if you find that you are becoming wheezy and struggling to catch your breath during exercise, you should request to be tested for asthma through your GP. It is a common health problem and many people who receive treatment lead normal lives.

9| Low Iron: Iron deficiency anaemia affects 1 in 10 women in the UK, and despite this, there is still a huge lack of awareness surrounding anaemia and the health issues it can cause, such as fatigue, weakness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath and light-headedness. A lack of Iron in the blood can present itself through visible changes in your body. Some simple checks you can carry out include checking the redness of your gums, stretching out the palm of your hand, and the inside of your eyelids and checking the colour. If any of these appear paler than usual, it could indicate anaemia, for which a blood test would be required.

10| Bowel Awareness: Everyone is different when it comes to bowel movements, and our diets can play a huge role in that. But should you notice any changes in how often you go, or the consistency, and if these changes last longer than three weeks, do contact your GP to check there aren’t any underlying problems.

You can also monitor your blood pressure, and blood glucose levels at home, most doctors provide pamphlets or instructions on how to do these self-checks, so make it a habit to do them as this is the best way to find problems early and allows you to seek treatment right away.

Make a List: It is very easy to get in front of your doctor and draw a blank when they ask how you’ve been, and completely forget a few of the concerns you wanted to address. To avoid this, grab a pen and paper (or use the notes app on your phone) and make a list of anything abnormal you have been feeling. Do this over the course of a few days or weeks until you see your doctor next and make it a habit to start new lists between appointments. A running list will ensure you do not forget to ask about anything that seems small but could turn out to be major!

Encourage a Loved One. Do you have a friend or family member who hates going to the doctor, and is never proactive about managing their health? Encourage them to follow your example and make taking charge of their health a priority.

Do you know about the NHS Health Check service? This is a health check-up for adults in England aged 40 to 74. It is designed to spot early signs of stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes or dementia, an NHS Health Check helps find ways to lower this risk.

Am I eligible for an NHS Health Check? The check is for people who are aged 40 to 74 who do not have any of the following pre-existing conditions:

  • heart disease
  • chronic kidney disease
  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • atrial fibrillation
  • transient ischaemic attack
  • inherited high cholesterol (familial hypercholesterolemia)
  • heart failure
  • peripheral arterial disease
  • stroke
  • currently being prescribed statins to lower cholesterol

How do I get an NHS Health Check? If you’re in the 40 to 74 age group without a pre-existing condition, you should receive a letter from your GP surgery or local council inviting you for a free NHS Health Check every 5 years. You can also call your GP surgery to book a Health Check.

Stay safe and well!

💜 Team VB