16 Ways to Monitor Your Health | Reader's Digest

16 Ways to Monitor Your Health

Between checkups, why not play doctor at home?

from Stealth Health

9. Take the fall test. If you have osteoporosis, you are at great risk if you fall. So take this simple self-test developed by Joseph Lane, M.D., and his colleagues at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Time yourself standing on one leg. Do it in shoes or barefoot, but don’t hold on to anything. Try it on both legs (one at a time) three times. A normal 80-year-old should be able to stand without difficulty for at least 12 seconds, says Dr. Lane. If your best leg time is less than 12 seconds, or you wobble back and forth, you have poor balance and should talk to your doctor or physical therapist about exercises to improve it.

10. Check your blood pressure every six months, either at home with a home blood pressure cuff, at the drugstore, or at a health fair or screening. If the top number is over 120 and the bottom number is higher than 80, wait a day, then check it again. If it’s still high, follow up with your doctor.

11. Check your cholesterol once a year either with a home kit, which is available at most drugstores, or at a health fair or screening. If your total cholesterol is over 150 mg/dl, follow up with your doctor.

12. Check the pulse in your feet once every three to six months to monitor the circulation in your legs. There are two pulses you should be able to find: one near the middle of the top of your foot (called the dorsalis pedis), and the other right behind the big bony lump on the inside of your ankle (called the posterior tibialis). Of the two, the posterior tibialis is more important because it’s more consistently in the same place. If the pulses become weak or hard to find, follow up with your doctor, especially if you have any leg pain when walking.

13. Get naked every two to three months. Then, with a significant other (or very close friend) conduct a head-to-toe skin exam looking for any new moles, changed moles, suspicious spots, or rashes. Make sure to check your scalp, between your toes and fingers, and even on the underside of your arms. If you find anything worrisome, follow up with a dermatologist. Do the ABCD test when checking moles:

  • Asymmetry: The two halves don’t match
  • Border irregularity: The edges are jagged
  • Color: It’s not uniform
  • Diameter: It’s more than one-quarter inch wide

14. Go over your toenails once a month. Look for early signs of fungal infection or in-grown toenails; both are best treated early.

15. For women only: Conduct a breast self-exam every month just after your period, or, if you’re postmenopausal, on the first of the month. The American Cancer Society provides the following instructions:

1. Lie down and place your right arm behind your head.

2. Use the finger pads of your three middle fingers on your left hand to feel for lumps in the right breast. Use overlapping dime-size circular motions of the finger pads to feel the breast tissue.

3. Use three different levels of pressure to feel all the breast tissue. Light pressure is needed to feel the tissue closest to the skin; medium pressure to feel a little deeper; and firm pressure to feel the tissue closest to the chest and ribs.

4. Move around the breast in an up-and-down pattern starting at an imaginary line drawn straight down your side from the underarm and moving across the breast to the middle of the breastbone (sternum). Check the entire breast area going down until you feel only ribs and up to the neck or collarbone (clavicle).

5. Repeat the exam on your left breast, using the finger pads of the right hand.

6. While standing in front of a mirror with your hands pressing firmly down on your hips, look at your breasts for any changes of size, shape, contour, or dimpling. (Pressing down on the hips contracts the chest wall muscles and enhances any breast changes.)

7. Examine each underarm while sitting up or standing and with your arm only slightly raised so you can easily feel in this area. Raising your arm straight up tightens the tissue in this area and makes it very difficult to examine.

If you find any changes, see your doctor right away.

16. Know your body mass index, or BMI. This measure has become particularly popular to gauge the health of your weight, because it relates weight to height. A normal BMI is 18.5 to 24.9. A BMI of 25 to 30 puts you in the overweight category, increasing your risk for numerous diseases and health conditions. A BMI above 30 means you are obese, a formal medical condition recognized by the federal government and most insurers. To figure your BMI, go to cdc.gov.