Sometimes, the motivation to exercise and change your eating habits comes in the form of a health scare. You may have been diagnosed with a chronic illness such as type 2 diabetes or possibly suffered a serious health event such as a heart attack or stroke. You may have come to the realisation that if you don’t make significant changes such as losing excess weight and adopting a more active lifestyle, you may in fact have ‘lots to lose’ beyond your waistline, including your future.
If you have had a recent health scare your motivation for losing weight and being more active will be very different from someone who wants to lose a few kilograms to get bikini-ready for summer. There are 3 important numbers that you should be measuring as part of determining whether your lifestyle changes are working; and this is where your community pharmacist can help you.
1. Blood glucose level
A blood glucose test measures your blood sugar level at a specific point in time. This test is not an accurate predictor of whether or not you have diabetes, but it may indicate that there is an issue that needs further investigation by your doctor. A blood glucose test can be administered by your pharmacist through a simple finger-prick test. A sample of blood is collected and applied to a test strip and the pharmacist will discuss the results with you.
You should consider having this test if you:
• have not had your blood glucose tested in the past 6 months;
• have a family history of type 2 diabetes;
• are over 40 years old;
• have had a heart attack or stroke;
• have had gestational diabetes;
• have polycystic ovary syndrome; or
• take medications to treat psychosis.
If necessary, your pharmacist will refer you to your doctor for further testing. If you are diagnosed with diabetes type 2, speak to your community pharmacist about how they can support you to manage your diabetes including help with weight management, diabetes management and if you are prescribed medicines through services like a Diabetes MedsCheck.
2. Blood pressure
Uncontrolled high blood pressure can affect your kidneys and can lead to a stroke or heart attack. The good news is high blood pressure (or hypertension) can be managed with lifestyle changes and/or medication. Your community pharmacist can assist you with blood pressure monitoring.
As your heart pumps blood around your body, the pressure of your blood on the walls of your arteries plays a very important role in how your heart works. Normal blood pressure should have a reading under 120/80mmHG. The systolic blood pressure is the top figure and measures the pressure in your arteries as your heart contracts. The diastolic blood pressure is the bottom figure and is the pressure in your arteries as your heart relaxes. Your blood pressure goes up and down depending on what you are doing. If you are over 40 years and your blood pressure is consistently higher than normal, you need to see a doctor as this can be an important predictor of heart disease.
There are no clear symptoms of high blood pressure and you can develop it at any age. It is therefore important to get your blood pressure checked regularly. Your pharmacist will record and evaluate your blood pressure measurements on a number of occasions to confirm the reading and can refer you to your doctor if necessary. If you have been prescribed medicines for hypertension, your pharmacist can also discuss how to get the maximum benefits from your treatment.
You may have heard of cholesterol and the role it can play in increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Cholesterol moves around the body in the blood attached to proteins called lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoproteins – high density lipoprotein (HDL) which is known as ‘good’ cholesterol because it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries and low-density lipoprotein or LDL which is known as ‘bad’ cholesterol because too high levels of LDL in the bloodstream can clog up your arteries and can increase your risk of heart attack or stroke. Your community pharmacist may be able to conduct a simple finger-prick blood test to measure your cholesterol. If your measures are outside healthy ranges, your pharmacist can refer you to your doctor.
If you are embarking on a fitness and weight loss program after a health scare, there are important measures of success beyond whether your jeans fit better. Your community pharmacist is an easily accessible source of health advice and support as you implement important lifestyle changes.