This time last year I went for my first ever health screening. I was 43 and painfully aware that, although I had lost a lot of weight, started exercising a year to two before and ate fairly well, I hadn’t always treated my body with the respect it deserves – so you can imagine, I was a tad nervous! Still, it was free, so it was hard to turn down the chance to learn more about myself.
So, what were my results? Pretty good, to be honest, I’m pleased to say. The best thing I found out was that I have the heart of someone 11 years younger than me. Not that I have someone else’s heart – I’d have noticed that before now – but that mine is in particularly good shape. This doesn’t just let me feel a bit smug; it has also led to me reading up about heart rate training zones, so I now understand how I can safely push that little bit harder when pushing for a personal best as I cycle up a big hill.
I also feel reassured about the fact the screening showed my liver and other organs are in good shape, and I don’t have any of the markers in my blood that suggest I have the early stages of serious illnesses (although I do recognise that these screens don’t pick up everything). If the tests had found these signs at least I would have found out as early as possible, giving me maximum time to deal with problems before they took hold.
Despite my good results, I have made some changes: I’ve cut down my drinking and changed my diet by cutting out rice, pasta and potatoes. I’ve also replaced breakfast cereal with a veggie green protein shake almost every morning.
While it’s fair to say I went for the test out of a sense of curiosity about my own health, I was also motivated by a sense of responsibility. It’s up to each of us to look after our own health, diet and exercise regime, even if it means confronting difficulty possibilities or uncomfortable truths about ourselves and our lifestyles. Finding out what we could do differently to improve our long-term health will have all sorts of individual benefits, from a longer lifespan to better quality of life. I believe we each have a responsibility to ourselves, and those who love us, to do this.
But I also think there’s a wider social responsibility at play here: that of not overloading the NHS, which is already stretched to breaking point, with health conditions that can be avoided or minimised by choosing a healthy lifestyle. If we can take better care of ourselves, we are freeing up resources to deal with the injuries and illnesses that we can’t avoid by quitting smoking, eating well and getting off the sofa on a regular basis.
There’s a selfish benefit here, too, in that if we don’t get this right we can all expect to pay higher taxes sooner or later to cover the extra costs faced by the health service as a result.
From an employer point of view, anything that helps keeps employees in good shape will benefit the bottom line by minimising both sickness absence and the reductions in productivity. Healthy, engaged and active employees are far better for productivity and results.
Overall my experience was one of enlightenment, but with screening now available for less than £10 a month, the benefit is starting to less of a benefit and more of a necessity.
Neil Bowen, Business Development Director, You at Work