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Your Health MOT

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Dawn is a GP specialising in preventative medicine, women’s and family health. She appears regularly on TV and has regular columns in various magazines. More from this expert.

Weight is an important factor when it comes to looking after yourself, but there are a few other numbers worth taking into account.

  • Height

    Unless you have had a medical you probably won’t have measured yourself for years if not decades, but measuring your height once a year is no bad thing. For starters it will help you work out your Body Mass Index (BMI). A healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 25 and can be calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in metres. If your BMI is creeping up above 25 you need to take yourself in hand and if you are starting to lose height, this could be the early signs of thinning bones (osteoporosis) and you should make an appointment to see your GP.

  • Waist Circumference

    We may be too politically correct to use terms like “middle-aged spread” today but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen and there is good evidence that people who gain weight around their midriffs (apple-shaped) are more at risk of health problems like heart disease and diabetes than those who put it on around their hips (pear-shaped), so take a tape and measure your waist around your umbilicus and no cheating – I have met far too many people in 34 inch trousers that sit snugly below a large tummy! Men with a waist greater than 37 inches and women greater than 32 inches be warned – you have significantly higher risk of health problems.

  • Alcohol Units

    Many of us will have exceeded recommended weekly alcohol limits of 14 units per week for women and 21 for men over the festive season but now is the time to get yourself back in check and be honest. You are probably significantly underestimating your alcohol intake if you write off a glass of wine as a single unit. We used to call a small 125ml glass a unit but that was when most wines were around 8% alcohol.

    Not only are today’s wines much stronger but our glasses tend to be significantly bigger, meaning a glass of wine could easily be nearer three units. To calculate your alcohol units, look at the percent alcohol of the drink you are drinking. This is the number of units in a litre of that fluid. So, if you are drinking 12% wine there will be 9 units in a bottle and don’t forget to make sure you have a couple of ‘dry days’ each week to give your liver a rest.

    A bit like blood pressure, there is no way of knowing what your level is unless you have it tested. I have lots of short, fat patients who seem to live off fast food but have perfect cholesterol levels and healthy-living, slim ones with very high cholesterol. That’s because only 10-20% of our total cholesterol is gained from our diet. The rest is made by our bodies and how much of it we make is determined by our genes. Just like blood pressure, I think anyone over 40 should have a test and think about it sooner if you have a strong family history of heart disease.

  • Glucose

    There are currently 2.5 million people in the UK with diabetes and at least another half a million who have the condition and don’t yet know. If you haven’t had a test, you could be one of them so get it checked particularly if your other “MOT numbers” are high. Diagnosing diabetes early and keeping it under control will keep the complications to a minimum and ensure that you are around for many more New Year MOTs!

  • Blood Pressure

    Contrary to popular belief, most people don’t get headaches or blurred vision when their blood pressure goes up. In fact most of us get no symptoms at all, even if our blood pressure is very high, so the only way of knowing is to get it checked. I’m a great believer that anyone over 40 should know their blood pressure. So if you haven’t had yours checked, make an appointment to see your practice nurse who will do it for you.

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