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Alex B Cann column: Why you should take a health MOT test

I read a fascinating piece recently on "Life's Essential 8". It's a checklist that gives you a lifestyle MOT, and works out how likely you are to have good cardiovascular health.

As Christmas stuff is already taking over aisle space in the supermarkets, I've also seen several national newspapers running 'lose a stone for Christmas' Slimming World promotions. I guess you'll see a similar push after Easter, such is the predictability of marketing.

I joined a gym once, and went less than ten times in a year, even though it was literally on my route home from work at the time. I don't have any good excuse to offer you ; only a string of terrible excuses that I gave myself at the time. These days, I do enjoy walking more than I used to, but it's a challenge to keep the daily step total high due to my love of presenting radio shows and going to the cinema.

Most of us could do with moving a bit more, in all honesty, but I thought it might be useful to take you through the list of eight healthy lifestyle measures, courtesy of the American Heart Association.

1) Eat Better - aim for a good variety of whole foods, plenty of fruit and vegetables, lean protein, nuts, seeds, and cooking in non tropical oils such as olive and canola. Cherry Haribo don't count.

2) Be More Active - ideally, we should be aiming to get 2.5 hours of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week. Kids should be fitting in 60 minutes every day, including play and structured activities. One tip from me to get a few sneaky steps in - park further away from the supermarket entrance. You're less likely to have someone open their car door and dent your bodywork too.

3) Quit Tobacco - as a brief and foolish cigar smoker in my early 30s, I'm still incredulous at the stupidity of this habit back then. Use of inhaled nicotine delivery products is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the UK, including almost a staggering 20,000 deaths from heart disease.

4) Get Healthy Sleep - I'm pretty tardy at this one, given I start on air at 6am on weekdays at Tameside Radio. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night, whilst children require more. Adequate sleep promotes healing, reduces your risk of chronic diseases, and improves your brain function.

5) Manage Weight - your Body Mass Index is a useful gauge, and the ideal range is between 18.5 and 24.9. For full disclosure, mine is currently 31, which makes me classified as 'obese'. I'll aim to shed half a stone and throw a party once I get to the 'overweight' level. Joking aside, I've battled with my weight for years, so solidarity to you if you're also in that camp.

6) Control Cholesterol - Tips for this include eating a healthy diet of fruit and veg, whole grains, beans, nuts, and lean animal proteins like fish and seafood. Sadly, I don't think a chippy tea counts on this list, although I do know mushy peas are syn free on Slimming World, as are baked beans! Limit your intake of sugary foods and drinks, plus watch your salt intake and refined carbs too.

7) Manage Blood Sugar - most of what we scoff is turned into glucose (or blood sugar) that our body burns as energy. Over time, high levels can damage everything from your kidneys and eyes to your heart and nerves.

8) Manage Blood Pressure - Keep it within acceptable ranges, and you will stay healthier for longer. Levels less than 120/80mm are ideal.

Be Well Tameside do fantastic free health checks, which are especially important once you get over the age of 40 (I'm closer to 50 now than 40, scarily!). I did a check last year, and found it fascinating and dead easy, and I am someone who always puts off going to the doctor, so would recommend one to anyone.

It's always good to know of any warning lights on your body's dashboard, so you can take some steps to make things better and hopefully live a longer, happier life! Although given all the bleak news in the world at the moment, I was kind of envious of the sheep that was isolated from the world at the foot of cliffs for two years. If you missed the story, she has been named Fiona, and five blokes winched her to safety before dispatching her for a much-needed haircut. She'll have a lot of news to catch up on!

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