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Sunday Herald Sun - Body and Soul - - FRONT PAGE -

han­k­fully, 85 per cent of Aussies visit their GP yearly, the Queens­land Gov­ern­ment re­ports. For the rest, a word of warn­ing: hav­ing a reg­u­lar check-up is the most ef­fec­tive way of staying healthy, pick­ing up early-warn­ing signs of disease or ill­ness, and pre­vent­ing con­di­tions from wors­en­ing. If you’re con­fused about what health checks and tests you need, con­cen­trat­ing on the main health risks women face over a life­time is a good place to start. Here’s how to safe­guard your health now and in the fu­ture.

It’s time to turn the spot­light on stroke risk, says the Na­tional Stroke Foun­da­tion, which re­ports that strokes kill more women than breast cancer. A stroke hap­pens when the sup­ply of blood to the brain is sud­denly dis­rupted. Re­as­sur­ingly, you may lower your risk through mon­i­tor­ing your blood pres­sure, re­duc­ing your al­co­hol in­take, be­ing phys­i­cally ac­tive and watch­ing your weight.

Check it out: Early de­tec­tion and ef­fec­tive con­trol of risk fac­tors may greatly re­duce your chances of stroke. Dr Ron­ald McCoy, of the Royal Aus­tralian Col­lege of Gen­eral Prac­tice, says al­though check­ing blood pres­sure and choles­terol is im­por­tant, di­a­betes also plays a role in in­creas­ing stroke risk, so make a point of hav­ing a di­a­betes as­sess­ment. for 50 to 70 per cent of cases. To main­tain a healthy mind, em­ploy a use-it-or-lose-it attitude. Re­searchers from the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Fran­cisco, found brain train­ing may re­verse age-re­lated mem­ory de­cline and im­prove the health of brain cells.

Check it out: The Mayo Clinic says many of the same fac­tors that in­crease the risk of heart disease may also ap­ply to Alzheimer’s disease and vas­cu­lar de­men­tia (the sec­ond most-com­mon form of de­men­tia). “One of the most com­mon causes of chronic disease – this in­cludes heart disease – is obe­sity,” Pro­fes­sor Teede says. De­ter­mine whether your weight is within a healthy range by hav­ing your GP mea­sure your waist and body mass in­dex.

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4Up to nine out of 10 lung can­cers are caused by smok­ing, re­ports the Vic­to­rian Gov­ern­ment’s Bet­ter Health Chan­nel web­site. “The num­ber one thing peo­ple can do to pro­tect their health is not smoke,” Dr McCoy says. But all is not lost if you’re a smoker, he adds. If you smoke for five years, within five years of quit­ting your body will re­cover and your risk of smok­ing-re­lated disease will be close to that of a non-smoker.

Check it out: If you are among the 51 per cent of Aus­tralians aged over 35 who smoke or are ex-smok­ers, dis­cuss your lung health with your doc­tor – even if you have no symp­toms. In do­ing so, to­gether you can mon­i­tor any changes. A test to as­sess if there is any ob­struc­tion or nar­row­ing of your air­ways may be re­quired.

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5If sta­tis­tics are any­thing to go by, the mes­sage about early breast cancer de­tec­tion is be­ing acted on, with a woman’s risk of dy­ing from the disease de­clin­ing from a one-in-29 risk in 1982 to a one-in-37 risk in 2007, says the Na­tional Breast and Ovar­ian Cancer Cen­tre. While you can’t change your ge­netic risk, liv­ing well will go a long way to pro­tect­ing your breast health. That in­cludes ex­er­cis­ing, get­ting enough sleep, man­ag­ing your weight, eat­ing healthy food and cut­ting your al­co­hol in­take.

Check it out: For young women breast aware­ness is as sim­ple as get­ting to know the nor­mal look and feel of your breasts and re­port­ing any un­usual changes to your doc­tor, says the cen­tre’s chief, Dr He­len Zor­bas. For women over 50 a free mam­mo­gram is rec­om­mended ev­ery two years. Those at higher risk, such as women who have a fam­ily his­tory of breast cancer, may be ad­vised to have one more of­ten.

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