5 healthy New Year's resolutions
We GPs are easily pleased. Lose half a stone and we'll suppress a big smile. Turn up for your screening and we'll breathe a sigh of relief. Tell us you've given up smoking and we'll jump for joy. Because contrary to popular belief, we'd much rather not dish out tablets all the time. And the best way to avoid having to take dozens of tablets is to look after your own health.
These days, there are multiple national screening programmes designed to pick up conditions like cancer or risk factors for heart attack and stroke, so you can have effective treatment before you get any symptoms. They include breast screening for women aged 50 to 70; bowel cancer screening (ages vary in different UK countries); and blood pressure/cholesterol tests at your GP surgery. They do save lives - but only if you attend for testing and work with your doctor to lower your risks.
Alcohol - time to face up
Many of my patients give up alcohol for January, but think this means they can safely drink what they like for the rest of the year. Sadly, while the newspaper headlines are all about young binge drinkers, older people often put themselves at risk without realising it - in fact, the cost to the NHS of treating alcohol-related problems for 55-74 year-olds is an eye-watering 13 times higher than the cost for 16-24 year-olds. Visit MyDrinkaware.co.uk and track your drinking levels for a couple of weeks (no cheating!). If you're drinking above safe levels, your GP can offer advice and follow-up.
Weight loss heaven!
Most of us have been on a 'successful' diet - or two - or three, but the weight creeps back on within months. Yet if you're overweight, losing 10% of your body weight can lower your blood pressure, cholesterol and risk of heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes and arthritis. Your practice nurse can help tailor a diet and exercise plan which offers the best chance of long-term success - just keep a food and drink diary for a week or two and make an appointment with the nurse.
Malnutrition - the other end of the food spectrum
Scarily, the health care costs of malnutrition in the UK dwarf the costs of obesity-related health conditions. It's estimated that three million people in the UK are at high risk of malnutrition, and you don't necessarily need to be underweight to be at risk. Not surprisingly, it's more of a risk for older people - being malnourished puts older loved ones at higher risk of hospital admissions, pressure sores and infections. If you have an elderly or frail relative or neighbour, make it a New Year's resolution to keep an eye out for signs they're not eating properly or have lost weight in the last three to six months. Your doctor can assess them for risk of malnutrition and arrange a full nutritional assessment if they are.
The eyes have it
We all mean to get our eyes checked regularly. But how often does this vital health check get put off because we're too busy? Everyone should have a full eye check at least every two years with a high street optician. One of the most important checks is for glaucoma, which affects about one in 50 over-40s and one in 10 over-75s (more if glaucoma runs in your family). Glaucoma causes raised pressure inside your eyes, but without checks you may not get symptoms until damage has already been done. If your optician picks up early warning symptoms, your GP can refer you for highly effective treatment and monitoring
Make this the New Year you quit smoking!
The benefits are endless - for your lungs, your heart and your wallet. Your GP knows how addictive smoking is, but it really is never too late to quit. Ask at your practice or local pharmacy about your nearest smoking cessation advisor - free on the NHS, this service offers the best chance of ditching the cigarettes for good.
With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.