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'NHS Health Check helped my dad'

Dr Dawn Harper: "My dad's future is very different now."

Known to millions as TV medical presenter "Dr Dawn" on Channel 4, Dr Dawn Harper says she has a very personal reason for wanting people to get an NHS Health Check.

Dr Dawn, who is also a GP in Stroud, says:

"My own dad was found to be borderline diabetic during his NHS Health Check. He's retired and was carrying some extra weight around his middle. Although he was feeling well, his blood test showed that if he didn't do something now, he would become diabetic."

This news surprised his daughter, as there was no history of diabetes in the family. "He's a prime example of someone who was otherwise fit and not on medication, has always had quite low blood pressure, hasn't smoked for 40 or 50 years, but was found to be glucose intolerant," she says.

'NHS Health Check got my dad swimming again'

Since his NHS Health Check, Dawn's father has made changes to several areas of his life.

Dr Dawn says: "He took up swimming again and goes three times a week. Instead of driving, he walks to the swimming pool."

"My mum's a fabulous cook and has introduced healthy diet changes to their meals and he's now losing weight. It's easy to drink more than you should when you're retired, so he's cut down on that too," she adds. 

"Within a few months he has turned things around. He's more energised and more confident about his health. The NHS Health Check gave him a wake-up call, and his future's very different."

Make your NHS Health Check a priority

"I'm not being dramatic when I say the NHS Health Check could save your life," says Dr Dawn.

"If the NHS feels this is a priority, then so should you. It's our right to have free healthcare in this country, but it's also our responsibility to look after ourselves and do our bit as individuals."

Dr Dawn says she's noticed that women are more likely to visit their GP than men

"Middle-aged men are often more likely to be the main breadwinner and working full-time, and are less likely to go to the doctor. They may not even be registered with their local GP," she says.

"Whereas women are more likely to go regularly for their contraception, or when they're pregnant, or to take their babies in, and so on. So they're more likely to have a trusting relationship with their GP and attend their NHS Health Check.

But Dr Dawn says it's not all bad news for men. "To give men credit, when we do get them in, we often see the best results from them," she says. "They're often really good at making lifestyle changes, like losing weight and giving up smoking."

What you can do now

"We can all do something today to improve our lifestyle," says Dr Dawn. "It could just be a small change. If you don't want to go to the gym, you don't have to. If you're passionate about ballroom dancing, do that instead with a friend as you're more likely to keep doing that."

She points out that, despite the hectic pace of life in modern Britain, we actually spend too much of our time in one place. "We spend a lot of time sitting down, usually in front of some sort of screen or in the car. Most of us can get a lot more active." 

"I've become very keen on recommending that people do their 10,000 steps a day, so one day I went out and invested in a pedometer. I was quite horrified that the day that I was back to back in surgery, I was way off my 10,000 steps, so I made a change by starting to walk around the surgery more - for example, by going to call patients in for their appointment rather than using the intercom system."

Smaller changes, better long-term results

Dr Dawn also believes that making small changes to our diet will be more effective in the long-term, rather than following the latest fad diet.

"We live in a quick-fix world everything's online, instant access. We expect answers straight away. The same goes for weight. We want to drop a dress size by the weekend." 

"But we need to be realistic about dietary changes. You often hear about the latest fad diets with various celebrities saying it works for them. The problem with these diets is that you're going to go off it at some point. They're unhealthy, and they're not conducive to a social life. You can't have a sachet in a restaurant.

"When you come off it you tend to put the weight back on and more - this is what we call yo-yo dieting. It sounds boring, but the key is to lose weight steadily, which means one or two pounds a week. That means exercising 'portion caution' and having a balanced diet."

Find out how you can take action to live a healthier life.

Article provided by NHS Choices

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