Five self-health checks

Feeling anxious about your health? These five do-it-yourself health checks should ease your mind - and help you keep tabs on your body
By Marlene Rego
Five self-health checks

Eyeball it

Besides monitoring your vision, there are some easy ways to keep tabs on your eye health. If the whites of your eyes are truly yellow, you could be suffering from jaundice caused by liver dysfunction. A milky white ring around the iris (the coloured part of the eye) is a sign of high cholesterol. To check for iron deficiency, pull your lower eyelid down slightly. If the inner lids are a very pale pink (not bright pink, as they should be) this could be a symptom of anemia or low iron.

Eat well: The best way to keep your eyes healthy is to eat a mix of colourful fruits and vegetables, says Catherine Cervin, associate professor at Dalhousie University's department of family medicine. Orange and yellow fruits and veggies contain A vitamins, which are found to promote eye health.

How low can you go?

When you fetch the morning paper, can you easily bend over to pick it up without bending your knees? If not, you may be prone to injury in your back and hips. If you lack a good range of motion and are required to make a sudden movement (say, a shoulder check while driving) you could risk muscle strains. Flexibility isn’t only useful for reaching high shelves, it’s an essential gauge of health. While agility is partly determined by our genetic make-up, we tend to lose it with age.

Reduce stress: To stay limber throughout life, stretch regularly. Always stretch before your fitness routine to avoid injury and encourage circulation. To stretch your neck, try rolling your head in circles while sitting at a red light. While at your desk, pause to lift your arms over your head, bending your elbows to touch the shoulder blades.

Breathe easy

Try this exercise to learn if you’re breathing correctly. Close your mouth and continually breathe through your nose for eight seconds. If you can’t make it to eight seconds without feeling winded, you’re breathing through your mouth too much. Since the normal reflex is to inhale through the nose, mouth-breathing could point to anything from allergies to sleep apnea. However, it could also be a sign of a chronic obstruction such as a deviated septum or persistent nasal congestion.

Reduce stress: Cervin recommends over-the-counter nasal strips which open airways for temporary relief from snoring and blocked airways. But unless you have a cold, you should check with your doctor to pinpoint the root cause of your chronic irregular breathing.

Check your pulse

Take your pulse for one minute while stationary. An average resting heart rate is somewhere between 60-90 beats per minute. The lower your resting pulse, the more fit you are. Then jog on the spot for two minutes, resting another minute before re-taking your pulse. Your heart rate should return to resting within a minute of your jog. If a few minutes pass before your pulse drops back to a normal range, it might mean you’re not getting enough exercise. (Keep in mind that caffeine, stress and anxiety elevate your heart rate too).

Get moving: Cervin recommends you get 30-60 minutes of activity at least five times a week. Start slowly and gradually up the intensity and frequency of your workouts. You should be able to carry on a conversation while exercising. Whatever your current level of fitness, make sure to get your pulse in the aerobic range - between 60-80% of your maximum heart rate. Measure your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.

Peek at your pee

Ok, it may sound off-putting, but who hasn’t taken a peek at some point and been a little surprised by what they saw. Here’s a run-down of what’s normal and when to get checked out. In a healthy person, urine should be generally clear and pale. A very dark yellow colour means you’re dehydrated and need to drink more fluids. Orange and light green are normal, believe it or not, and likely have to do with vitamin supplements or something you ate. B vitamins can also turn your pee a bright yellow colour, for example. However, cloudy and odorous urine could mean an infection. And if your urine is dark and tea-coloured, see your family doctor as this may point to a liver problem.

Eat well: Drink enough that you seldom feel thirsty, says Cervin, although the often recommended eight glasses a day can be over-doing it for some.


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