Determined to make your health a priority this year? We asked the experts to tell us where to start…
When it comes to making positive changes to our health, it can be tricky knowing where to start. What’s worth doing, and what’s just a faddy waste of time? To clear things up, we spoke to Dr. Petra Simic, Clinical Director at Bupa Health Clinics and Dr Pablo Vandenabeele, Bupa’s Clinical Director for Mental Health. Here’s what they said…
- Be honest with your GP
Whether it’s how many units of alcohol we’re putting away, or how often we exercise, most of us have told a few white lies to our GP at some point. But according to Dr. Simic, it’s one of the most foolish things we can do. She explains:
“It’s so important to give your doctor the whole picture so they can give you the right advice or treatment. We’re not going to judge you – believe it or not, we have bad habits too! To help make good choices for your health, we need to know about lifestyle factors such as how much you drink or whether you’re a smoker or not.”
And the sooner you ‘fess up, the less time of everybody’s time you’ll waste…
- Don’t aim for drastic change
“The length of time it takes to form a habit can vary hugely between individuals, but on average it takes 66 days,” says Dr. Simic. Habits are formed by repeating an action until it becomes ingrained in our brain. This repetition is good if the habits are beneficial (things like routinely exercising or eating more vegetables) but if those habits are bad, they can quickly impact our health negatively.
“Making several big changes at once could see you giving up on all of them after just a day, so set mini-goals and once you’ve repeated this a few times, increase the intensity. For example, if you want to cut down your alcohol consumption, instead of stopping altogether just set yourself a goal to not drink at one of your social occasions each week. Once this feels normal, try two nights a week, and so on.”
- Stop copying your friends
It’s easy to get swept up when friends are waxing lyrical about their latest diet or fitness regime, but according to Dr. Simic, it’s important to remember thateverybody’s different. Her advice?
“Incorporate manageable changes into your everyday life, remembering that what works for your friend may not be right for you. It’s all about finding ways to stay healthy that work for you as an individual.”
- Try not to rely on supplements
“Some research does suggest that taking supplements or vitamins can be beneficial to your health, but the evidence isn’t strong enough to say we all should include them as part of our daily routine,” says Dr. Simic.
“If you have a well balanced diet with five or more portions of fruit and veg a day, it’s unlikely that you will be low in vitamins, as the body is excellent at getting what it needs from our diets.”
Sounds like you could be wasting a lot of money…
- Ask for help from the experts
Before making any changes to your diet, a conversation with a professional can be helpful. Dr Simic says:
“A Bupa Health Assessment can allow you to discuss your concerns and identify the best way for you to lose weight… Figures from Bupa Health Centre show that almost 70% of people who said they wanted to lose weight achieved their goal following a health assessment and their follow up coaching calls.”
Similarly, you could speak to a dietician, nutritionist or personal trainer to seek their advice. Even if you book just a few sessions to see you on the right track, their knowledge could prove invaluable.
- Be nosy about your family’s health
Talking to your family to find out about your medical history is a really smart move, says Dr. Simic.
“There are many health conditions that are genetic, such as some forms of cancer or heart disease. Talk to your family to see what health conditions they have, and share this with your doctor. It could help prevent or treat the condition – some hereditary conditions can go back generations.”
- Be proactive
“We know that prevention is better than cure,” says Dr. Simic. “For example, if you find out you have high blood pressure you can take action to lower it which will reduce your risk of further complications like heart disease or stroke.”
“Similarly, if you discover your blood sugars are too high and make positive changes to your diet, you could avoid developing diabetes, or complications of diabetes. This is why it’s so important to have regular check-ups and be as proactive as you can be when it comes to your health.”
- …And vigilant about change
“There are a number of tell-tale signs that there’s something not quite right with your body,” says Dr. Simic.
“If your hair is falling out, it could mean that you’re too stressed, or low in iron. If you notice you’re going to the bathroom more often – or you’re unable to go to the bathroom – you could have an issue with your bowels, kidneys or prostate (for men). If you notice a change in the shape or colour of your moles, see a doctor – this can be a sign of skin cancer. And if you’re not sleeping properly or snoring it could be due to an underlying problem such as stress, anxiety or depression. If you notice any persistent changes to your body or habits, speaking to a doctor may help you find out what’s causing the issue and how to treat it, so don’t ignore it.”
- Stop classing your mental health as ‘less important’
“Each year, one in four Brits experience mental health issues,” says Dr. Pablo Vandenabeele, “but being healthy doesn’t just mean looking after the physical aspects of your health.”
“It’s just as important to care of your mental wellbeing. If you’re not feeling quite right, notice changes to your mood, or you start feeling stressed, anxious or sad during times when you usually wouldn’t, it’s best to speak to a doctor as soon as you can. They’ll be able to determine whether you need medication or psychological treatment, or if lifestyle changes may be able to help you.”