How Healthy Are You? 13 Instant, Easy Health Checks
Simple Body Checks
You see your doctor each year for a physical, but even a battery of blood tests can't always pick up potential health problems. In fact, doing fast health tests on your own -- like measuring your waist, inspecting your arches, even looking under your eyelids -- can tell you volumes about your physical well-being. "Quick self-assessments help you take stock not only of your health, but also of your health habits, so you can make changes now if something could cause problems down the line," explains Nieca Goldberg, MD, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association and author of The Women's Healthy Heart Program (Ballantine Books, 2006). Put these 13 quick checks on your to-do list to ensure that you stay healthy and fit.1. Test Your Flexibility
Take this stretch test: Bend over and reach for your toes. If you can easily grab your big toe, you're very flexible. If you can reach only your ankle or shin, add daily stretching to your workout routine.2. Monitor Your Menstrual Cycle
Open up your calendar and note when your last three periods were. "Your period doesn't have to be as regular as your credit-card bill, but normal cycles are timed anywhere from 21 to 35 days apart," explains Suzanne Trupin, MD, an ob-gyn at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. More frequent periods could indicate a gynecological condition like fibroids (benign uterine tumors) or endometriosis (a condition where the tissue that lines the uterus starts to migrate outside of it). If your periods are more erratic, you could have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal imbalance caused by an overproduction of male hormones -- a condition thought to affect up to 10 percent of all American women. "Some women in their 30s also start to notice heavier or more frequent bleeding due to hormonal changes," says Dr. Trupin. None of these symptoms is a reason to panic, but it's still a smart idea to go to your gyno and get checked out.3. Count the Number of Moles on Your Body
If you have more than 50, you're at increased risk of melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, says Debra Jaliman, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Dermatology. You should see a dermatologist at least once a year for a skin check, as well as do self-exams on your own every two to three months, especially if you have a family history of skin cancer or have had a significant amount of sun exposure. If you see any moles that are asymmetrical, have irregular borders or varied colors, or are bigger than a pencil eraser, get them checked out. You should also keep an eye out for small fleshy bumps or red scaly patches on your face or neck: These could be basal or squamous cell carcinomas. A recent Mayo Clinic study found that basal cell carcinomas have doubled in people under the age of 40, with women in their late 30s leading the increase. Although these cancers aren't as serious as melanoma, they can still be disfiguring and, if left untreated, in rare cases even deadly.4. Feel the Backs of Your Arms
If you notice little raised bumps, it may be a sign that you're not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce risk of heart disease by preventing your arteries from hardening, says Dr. Hyman. Another telltale sign: small, dry, patchy spots on your skin. You can easily up your omega-3s by taking 1,000 milligrams of fish oil a day and eating fatty fish like wild salmon once or twice a week, as well as by sprinkling a tablespoon of ground flaxseed onto your morning cereal.5. Inspect Your Arches
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes straight. Bend each knee, one at a time. If your kneecap falls toward the inside of your big toe, you have pronating feet, making you more susceptible to exercise injuries, according to Lewis Maharam, MD, medical director of the ING New York City Marathon. If you notice any knee, foot, or back pain that causes you to change your form while working out, see a sports-medicine doctor, who can prescribe orthotics.
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