You're over 40, you're a bloke and you get a letter from your GP inviting you to an NHS Health Check to assess your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease.
What do you do?
a) Chuck the letter in the bin because you feel fine, life's busy and you haven't got time for a non-essential trip to the doctor's.
b) Hesitate because a bit of you wants to know how you're doing. Could you have high blood pressure? But nah, you decide to ignore the letter. You don't want bad news.
c) Take the opportunity to get your health checked and make an appointment.
If you answered a) or b), read on - you'll be in for a surprise.
The big gender divide
One of the great health divides in Britain - and the rest of the world - is gender. And it's men who are lagging behind.
It's a well-known fact that women live on average several years longer than men. In 2012, life expectancy in the UK was 79 years for men and 82.7 years for women.
Also, did you know that when it comes to dying prematurely or before the age of 75, men are far more likely than women to die from a range of preventable conditions, including heart disease, stroke and other diseases of the circulatory system?
According to the British Heart Foundation, in 2010 in the UK, 68% of deaths from circulatory system illnesses in under 75s were men. For heart disease, the gender divide is even more startling. In the same year in the UK, 75% of deaths in under 75s from Coronary Heart Disease were men.
Why are men more likely than women to die young from preventable vascular illnesses?
There are a number of reasons, according to Professor Alan White, from the Centre for Men's Health at Leeds Metropolitan University.
"There's one factor which men can't alter," says Professor White. "Women have a heart health advantage due to the protective effect of female hormones - though that stops after the menopause or if they develop diabetes."
"If men have any problems with their circulatory system, they are likely to face the music earlier. Men therefore need to be more vigilant and pro-active about managing their risk."
Other key reasons why men in the UK have an increased risk of dying young from vascular illnesses are linked to lifestyle and attitudes to health.
- Men are more likely to be smokers or have a history of heavy smoking.
- More men are heavy drinkers.
- More men under 75 have high blood pressure.
- Middle-aged men are more likely to be obese than women in this age group.
- Men are less likely than women to go for routine or preventative health checks.
- Men often delay or avoid talking to anybody about serious health concerns because it is a norm in society for men not to show pain and not to appear weak. In our society, work is closely tied to masculine identity, so men perceive themselves as healthy as long as they are able to work.
Take action to reduce your risk of dying young from a preventable illness
An NHS Health Check is an opportunity to find out about your risk of developing vascular diseases, including heart disease, stroke and diabetes - and, crucially, to help avoid getting these illnesses. If your results show an increased risk, it's not a death sentence - instead, it's your chance to obtain tailored advice so you can make lifestyle changes to lower that risk.
Many of the risk factors for these preventable illnesses are related to things you can directly control and change, such as your weight, how much you exercise, the amount of alcohol you drink and what you eat.
So don't be an ostrich. When you receive your letter inviting you to a free NHS Health Check, instead of thinking of excuses not to have the check, think of it as 30 minutes of your time well spent.
Here are five good reasons to have an NHS Health Check:
- It's your chance to have a quick, free health MOT.
- You can find out how to reduce your risk of dying prematurely from a preventable disease. You'll get tailored advice to help you focus on the key steps for you.
- Having a free NHS Health Check can really motivate you to make changes to your lifestyle.
- It's not embarrassing and it's not painful. The check involves: answering questions about your lifestyle, such as how much exercise you do; having your blood pressure taken, being weighed and having a tiny amount of blood taken via a pin prick in your finger to check your cholesterol levels. Find out more about what happens at your NHS Health Check.
- Having a NHS Health Check is about you taking control of your health.
Article provided by NHS Choices