MANY of us would agree that prevention is better than cure. However figures shows that less than half of those eligible for the NHS Health Check take up this offer.

The NHS Health Check is available every five years to all adults aged between 40-74, who do not already have a diagnosis of cardiovascular disease, kidney problems or type 2 Diabetes, to identify risk factors for the above conditions, as well as illness at an early stage, when the person may otherwise feel completely well. Additionally, if untreated, these diseases greatly increase the likelihood of developing dementia, the current leading cause of death in England and Wales.

The check itself is relatively straightforward with the majority of initial consultations carried out by a nurse or healthcare assistant in your local GP’s. Lasting 20-30 minutes, you will be asked questions about your diet, levels of exercise, alcohol consumption and whether you smoke. Any family history of the diseases mentioned above, particularly at an early age, will be noted.

The physical examination is limited to checking height and weight to calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI), as well as a blood pressure reading. Your waist circumference may also be documented. A blood sample will be taken to measure cholesterol, blood sugar level and kidney functions. Together with your age, gender and ethnicity, these will allow a calculation of your risk of heart and vascular disease over the next ten years.

Although a high risk score can be distressing, this may be the first time you are made aware of the situation. Thankfully many issues of concern can be tackled to reduce your chances of actually becoming unwell. A raised risk score does not automatically mean you will require medication; encouraging lifestyle changes is a strong theme of the NHS Health Check.

There are various myths surrounding the NHS Health Check, which may account for its poor uptake. Contrary to some scare stories, it does not involve a rectal examination or any form of intimate examination. Your results will not be seen by your employer or any other agency, and will remain confidential. It is not true that if your risk is high there is nothing that can be done; quite the opposite; this midlife MOT may be the perfect opportunity to address your long-term health goals.

NHS Statistics demonstrate that these health checks have picked up one person with raised blood pressure in every 27 tested, one with type 2 diabetes in every 110, and have prevented around 2,500 heart attacks and strokes in the first five years of the programme. Attending could potentially stop you becoming a statistic. On an individual level, those with favourable experiences of the NHS Health Check report that it allowed them time to discuss their health concerns with a professional.

If the NHS Health Check is seen as a screening tool, it must rank as important as other programmes such as breast, cervical and bowel cancer screening and I would urge everyone invited to take up the opportunity. It may just save your life.

Ask Dr Zak

Question: What do you think of Dry January? Does it actually help, or is it another New Year’s Resolution that’s bound to fail – Derek, 54

Answer: The evidence is that initiatives like “Dry January” and “Sober for October” do make a positive difference, allowing people to see the improvement in their overall wellbeing if they give up alcohol for a month. Surveys show that many of those who participate then develop a more healthy relationship with alcohol, a drug which easily causes dependence and which if consumed excessively over time, can cause a great deal of harm. I would encourage anyone who is concerned about their level of drinking to engage in measures to try to reduce it to within recommended quantities. However, if you drink very heavily, I would caution against going “cold turkey”, which may cause serious withdrawal symptoms. In this instance it would be better to seek the assistance of a professional.

Question: I have an all or nothing relationship with diet and exercise. I’m either living like a saint with the gym as my second home, or I’m going overboard with comfort food and barely do any exercise at all. What can you recommend – Charlotte; 29

Answer: What you describe is not unusual behaviour. Many of us set goals to live more healthily, then realise that they’ve gone to such extremes that it’s making them miserable, or even depressed. If you look at health and wellbeing as long term aims, it is wise to think about what is sustainable. So it is better to go to the gym three times a week and enjoy each session, rather than force yourself to go six days a week, hate every moment, then give up completely after six weeks. Similarly, a life without treats, and the occasional meal out with friends and family just won’t work. If you find that you’ve overdone it with the eating and drinking one day, start afresh the next morning, without beating yourself up over it.

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Dr Uddin’s advice is provided in good faith and in accordance with currently accepted evidence. However, this content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should always seek the advice of a GP, or other qualified health provider, regarding a medical condition.