Stay on top of your game for longer!
Your health is like a passport – when it’s valid, the world is your oyster. But if you let it expire or lose it (yikes!), it becomes trickier to travel around. Plus, renewing it can be expensive and very inconvenient. Moral of the analogy? Take care of it before things go pear-shaped!
Be proactive about your pap test visits and regular screenings. You’ll have peace of mind and early detection gives you the opportunity to nip potential problems in the bud. It also means looking after yourself and making the healthiest possible lifestyle choices. Yes, certain things are beyond your control, but there’s a whole lot you can do to take charge of your health and ward off illness and disease. It’s easier than you might think, so get cracking!
High blood pressure is a big red flag for heart issues. Also known as hypertension, it can lead to heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and vision problems if left untreated. There are often no outward symptoms, so you could have it without realising.
Facts of your heart
• Blood pressure is the pressure of blood in your blood vessels. Shown as two numbers – 120/80, for example – the higher number is the pressure in the arteries as the heart beats and pumps blood. The lower is the pressure when the heart is relaxed between beats.
• It can vary, even in the same person, depending on factors such as time of day; whether you're standing, sitting or lying down; activity; stress levels and age.
• For most, a blood pressure consistently measuring greater than 140/90 is considered high and a cause for concern.
• You are at greater risk if you have a family history, smoke, are overweight, eat a diet high in salt or processed foods or are not physically active.
How will I know?
Have blood pressure measured regularly. Your GP should do this each time you visit. If you’ve been diagnosed with prehypertension or are being treated for hypertension, an at- home monitor can help. There are also free Digital Health Kiosks at selected Priceline Pharmacy stores, which can monitor blood pressure (for more info, see page 180).
Aim for normal
• Maintain a healthy weight
• Be physically active
• Eat a balanced diet, avoiding processed foods and excess salt
Live in style
How do you cope with stress? How well do you sleep? Do you balance work and play or do you burn the candle at both ends? Is your diet as healthy as it could be? Are you physically active? How about smoking, recreational drugs or alcohol use? Are your relationships happy or fraught with problems?
These are the kinds of things meant by ‘lifestyle’ and ‘lifestyle choices’. They have a huge impact on your overall health and wellbeing. From time to time, it’s worth reflecting upon your habits. If they’re not as good as they could be, go looking for help – it’s out there at your GP, pharmacy and local gym.
The good news is, even small adjustments can make a big difference to your physical and emotional health.
Carrying excess weight, especially around your midsection, puts you at greater risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. It puts stress on organs, joints and bones, and can make it harder to manage chronic health conditions – such as arthritis – or to bounce back from illness. Psychologically, being overweight or obese can also take its toll.
Am I really overweight?
Here’s an incredibly easy test to perform: women with a waist measuring 80cm or more are at increased risk of health issues. Another method to get perspective on your weight is by calculating your body mass index (BMI). The formula for calculating BMI is your weight in kilos divided by your height in metres squared. A BMI result between 25 and 29 is considered overweight. Anything above 30 is considered obese. Maths not your thing? There are plenty of BMI calculators online.
Shedding the kilos
Yep, losing weight can be tough! But don’t resort to ‘get thin quick’ schemes or fad diets. Real, lasting change comes when you replace overly processed, additive-laden and sugary foods with fresh wholefoods to nourish you from the inside out. Of course, upping your activity levels is also a must!
You may not be aware there’s good cholesterol (high density lipoprotein, HDL) as well as not-so-good cholesterol (low density lipoprotein, LDL). Cholesterol is a type of fat in the bloodstream and if there’s too much ‘bad’ stuff, it can clog arteries. It’s considered another indicator of heart disease.
• Family history
• Poor diet
• Lack of exercise
Diagnosis and treatment
Your GP may use a fasting blood test to determine your cholesterol levels. Depending on your numbers, they may advise lifestyle changes and prescribe medication.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting Aussie women, but early detection saves lives. BreastScreen Australia gives women aged 50–75 free two-yearly mammograms. Women over 40 are also eligible for free screenings but don’t receive an individual invitation to attend.
What you can do
Take advantage of the screenings! Don’t put it off with excuses like you’re too busy or it’s a hassle.
For more details and to book an appointment, call 13 20 50 or visit bcna.org.au or cancerscreening.gov.au.
You’re the best judge of what’s normal and what’s not, so give yourself a breast self-exam at least once a month. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, alert your GP and take it from there. (Most often, changes turn out to be nothing to worry about, but erring on the side of caution is super-smart.)
Not sure how to do a self-exam or what to look for?
• In the shower, soap up and use fingertips to massage each breast in small circles, feeling for unusual lumps, hard knots or thickening.
• Stand in front of the mirror in the following positions and look for any visual changes like dimpling, puckering or swelling: with arms at your sides; arms raised up; and hands on hips, flexing chest muscles.
• Lie down with a pillow under your right shoulder. Put your right arm behind your head and gently circle ngers of left hand over right breast to check for lumps. Repeat on left side.
Do you feel inexplicably tired, weak or get a little dizzy if you stand up too fast? Do you look unusually pale or have frequent headaches, trouble concentrating or low appetite? You might be anaemic. Anaemia means the number or quality of your red blood cells is compromised and, as such, they’re having a hard time getting oxygen around your body.
Causes and treatment
Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anaemia in Australia. Certain illnesses or medications can also cause the de ciency. For most people, dietary changes and/or vitamin and mineral supplements can help. In more severe cases, iron injections may be required.
See your doctor
Depending on symptoms, your GP may order a full blood count, urine test, endoscopy, colonoscopy or bone marrow biopsy. Note: Don’t self-diagnose! Take iron supplements only as directed by your GP.
Who’s at risk?
Menstruating or pregnant women, nursing mums, teenagers, vegetarians, anyone on a restrictive diet, and those with cancer or other serious illness.