We all lead busy lives and all too often healthy habits go by the wayside when time is short. When we're in our teens, most of us believe we're going to live for ever (I know I did). But by the time we start thinking about looking after ourselves, it may be too late - and the stakes are high.
Since last March, a major campaign by Public Health England (PHE) called One You has been looking firmly at adult health. TV chefs the Hairy Bikers, who lost 6st between them, have been supporting One You - if they can do it, you can!
More than two in five Britons in their 'middle years' (that's mid 40s-mid 60s as far as I'm concerned, although I shall shortly be starting a petition to extend it to 70 so I feel less old!) already has a long-term health condition that can't be cured and needs medicine to treat it. Common examples include osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), usually due to smoking) and high blood pressure. Yet many of these can be avoided in the first place. Even if you already have a long-term health condition, making healthy changes can hugely cut the chance of them getting worse.
In your 60s and 70s, the top four diseases in England are heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and breast cancer. Together, they account for one third of all the 'disease burden' we carry. Lifestyle plays a part in your risk of getting all of these and many other conditions - it's estimated that 40% of all deaths in England are down to choices we make in our behaviour. Of course, even people who lead 'perfect' lives get ill sometimes - but while you can't guarantee that you'll avoid ill health for good, you can certainly stack the odds in your favour.
It's never too late to make healthy life choices - and it's never too early, either. If you keep your weight down in your 30s and 40s, it'll be easier to maintain it when your metabolism starts to slow down as you get older. If you stop smoking before the age of 50, your risk of dying falls to almost the same as a non-smoker's - and even if you stop after 60, you can still cut your risk of dying at any age by nearly 40%. Stopping smoking is hard but it IS possible, especially with free help from the NHS. Four in five over-40s are now smoke-free!
Once you're drinking more than 14 units a week of alcohol, whether you're a man or a woman, the risks start to rise sharply. As well as the obvious damage to your liver, alcohol is linked to an increased risk of many cancers - and sticking to within recommended limits drops the risk of all of them.
Our bones start to get thinner from our 30s, and regular weight-bearing exercise (almost any exercise except swimming) helps protect against this. The list goes on.
We all want to live to a ripe old age - but we all want to enjoy it when we get there. And making changes in your middle years boosts your chance of achieving just that. For instance, if you're still in good health when you reach later life, you're just as able to enjoy the things you value as you were when you were younger. And if you're healthy at 50, you double your chance of being healthy when you reach 70.
So how can One You help? To get an idea of any danger zones in your health, try taking the One You quiz. This will give you a set of personalised tips based on your answers, and advice on where you can find practical help. It really works - over half of people who've tried it say they were likely to change their lifestyle as a result. Last week PHE reported that 520,000 people have already completed the quiz to find out where they can take a little action to make a big difference to their health. (1)
PHE has teamed up with other organisations too. Maybe you'd love to get fit but don't know how to start? BBC Get Inspired has partnered with One You to re-launch the popular Couch to 5K app, to take you from your first faltering steps to a proper fun run. Whatever changes you make, your body will thank you for a long, long time!
With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.