Body

How to give yourself a check-up at home

Wondering how healthy you are? Karen Fittall discovers five tests you can do at home – no fancy equipment required.

By Karen Fittall
How to: Give yourself a checkup at home

Stroke and Dementia Risk

Time how long you can balance on one leg for, keeping your eyes open.

Be concerned if: you find it difficult to balance on one leg for at least 20 seconds. Postural instability can be a sign that the brain has experienced a ‘silent stroke’ or microbleed, both of which bump up the risk of dementia and full-blown stroke.

Fight it: by asking your doctor for advice, and eating more oily fish. Not only are higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids linked to a lower occurrence of silent strokes, eating a daily serve of fish lowers stroke risk by 20 per cent and protects against dementia. Omega-3s help to neutralise the artery plaques that rupture to cause a stroke and preserve brain size.

Lifespan Prediction

See how many times you can sit and stand up from a chair in one minute, making sure you stand completely upright, with straight legs, every time.

Be concerned if: you can only perform about 20 repetitions. You’re twice as likely to have a shortened lifespan than women who can perform more than 30 in 60 seconds. The ‘chair rise’ test is a measure of muscle strength, which is a predictor of life expectancy.

Fight it: by eating a 65g serve of cooked lean, red meat three or four times a week, and doing some regular strength training exercises. It’s a combination that results in an 18 per cent bigger increase in muscle strength than exercise alone. The protein in the meat stimulates the production of a hormone that improves muscle growth.

Thyroid Function

Balance a piece of A4 paper on your outstretched hand (with your palm facing towards the floor).

Be concerned if: the paper trembles or shakes noticeably. A tremor of the hands is one of the symptoms of an overactive thyroid gland, a condition called ‘hyperthyroidism’ that can cause osteoporosis and heart problems, when it’s not treated. Other symptoms include sweating, irritability, a fast heartbeat and unexplained weight loss.

Fight it: by visiting your doctor for a blood test. Medication is the most common treatment for hyperthyroidism. But other problems such as low blood glucose levels can also cause shaky hands, so it’s important to get an official diagnosis.

Osteoarthritis Risk

Hold your right hand up in front of you, with your palm facing towards you, and your fingers together and straight.

Be concerned if: your index finger (next to your thumb) is shorter than your ring finger (next to your little finger). That can be a warning sign of an increased risk of osteoarthritis, say researchers. It’s thought that the same hormonal factors, including lower levels of oestrogen, influence both finger-length ratios and the development of osteoarthritis.

Fight it: by drinking a glass of milk every day. It helps to delay osteoarthritis of the knee, which is the most common type associated with shorter index fingers. Women who drink seven glasses a week experience a slower rate of joint-space narrowing, an osteoarthritis risk factor where the gap between the joints becomes smaller due to cartilage loss. Don’t swap your dairy: yoghurt has no effect on knee osteoarthritis, and cheese can speed up its progression.

Diabetes Risk

Measure your neck’s circumference.

Be concerned if: yours is 34cm or larger. It’s a reliable indication that you’re carrying too much weight, which is one of the main risk factors for diabetes. Plus, it can be a better predictor – compared to other measurements like waist circumference – of some diabetes risk factors, such as unhealthy cholesterol levels.

Fight it: by making an effort to lose weight in the next six months. Drop 10 per cent of your body weight in that timeframe, and your risk of developing diabetes in the next three years falls by 85 per cent. And drink more coffee. Drinking four cups a day lowers diabetes risk by up to 25 per cent. Coffee blocks the action of a pancreatic hormone that plays a key role in the development of diabetes.

Those concerned about their health should seek consultation from their trusted GP.

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