Health recommendations are revised regularly, which makes knowing what to aim for a moving target. Karen Fittall discovers the numbers you need to know now.
If you’re confused by what the latest advice is about everything from how dangerous spending too much time sitting down really is to how to safely top up your vitamin D levels, you’re not alone. Health advice changes all the time, as a result of new facts and research, which can make it hard to keep up. Based on the latest health information, here are eight numbers to live by.
THE NUMBER OF GRAMS OF FIBRE YOU SHOULD TRY TO EAT EVERY DAY.
Last year, fibre intake was identified as the dietary factor that made the biggest difference to‘successful ageing’. People with the highest intake of fibre are nearly 80 per cent more likely to live a long and healthy life, free of everything from cancer and heart disease to high blood pressure, dementia and depression, say the Australian researchers behind the finding. It may be thanks to fibre’s ability to reduce the inflammation that’s linked to a wide range of iseases.
That’s howmany hours you need to spend exercising each day, to offset the health risks of prolonged sitting. That’s the latest advice, after researchers discovered between 60 and 75 minutes of exercise a day was enough to eliminate the increased risk of early death associated with sitting for more than eight hours a day. The average Australian spends a little more than eight hours sitting down on non-work days, jumping to 10 hours on work days.
TO ACT ON IT: make sure the hour of exercise you get is moderate intensity, which means walking at a pace of at least 5.6km per hour or cycling at 16km per hour.
HOW MANY YEARS YOU’LL SOON BE ABLE TO WAIT BETWEEN HAVING YOUR CERVICAL-CANCER SCREENING TEST.
In May, a five-yearly Cervical Screening Test will be introduced to replace the current two-yearly Pap test program. The new test is carried out the same way as a Pap smear, but rather than testing for abnormal cell changes, it tests for HPV, the virus that can actually cause pre-cancerous abnormalities. One HPV test every five years is more effective at protecting against cervical cancer and is just as safe as screening with a Pap test every two years.
TO ACT ON IT: Have your next test when it’s due, so that’s two years after you had your last one (whether that’s before or afterMay 2017) and every five years after that. And if it’s already been more than two years since your last Pap smear, book an appointment as soon as possible.
IF YOU’VE GOT THAT MANY, OR MORE, MOLES ON YOUR RIGHT ARM, YOU’RE AT AN INCREASED RISK OF DEVELOPING SKIN CANCER.
It’s because having 11 moles on that arm means you’re more likely to have in excess of 100 on your body. And, while only 20-40 per cent of melanomas develop from pre-existing moles, having 100-plus of them increases the odds that one will turn into melanoma, say UK researchers.
TO ACT ON IT: Be extra vigilant about having your skin checked regularly by a dermatologist and self-examining your skin every three to four months. If you see any moles that are new, growing or changing, you should report them to your doctor or dermatologist.
THE NEW ‘TOP’ BLOOD PRESSURE READING TO CONSIDER AIMING FOR, IF YOU’RE OVER 50 YEARS OF AGE AND HAVE HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE.
It’s 20 points lower than the previous advice to keep systolic blood pressure below 140mmHg, but compared to that target, it lowers the risk of a ‘cardiovascular event’ like a heart attack or stroke by a quarter. Achieving the new lower reading also reduces the risk of death by 27 per cent, according to a landmark 2015 trial.
TO ACT ON IT: If you’re already being treated for hypertension, talk to your doctor to see what blood pressure target is right for you. Don’t know what your blood pressure reading is? It’s recommended you have it checked every two years, even if it’s within the ‘normal’ range (between 90/60 and 120/80).
THE PERCENTAGE OF BODY WEIGHT TO LOSE, TO MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE TO YOUR HEALTH.
Losing weight can help decrease insulin resistance and blood glucose levels, both of which play a role in the development of diabetes. Shedding five per cent of your body weight can halve your risk of developing pre-diabetes, and losing 10 per cent reduces your diabetes risk by up to 90 per cent. Plus, carrying a few extra kilos puts pressure on the bladder to make incontinence worse. But weight loss of between five and 10 per cent can significantly improve this condition, which affects more than one in three Australian women.
TO ACT ON IT: Make sure your plates are no bigger than 25cm wide, and divide the plate into quarters. Fill two quarters with colourful vegies, one quarter with a healthy wholegrain carbohydrate, and the last one with a serve of fish or lean meat. It’s a strategy that makes you three times more likely to lose five per cent of your body weight over a six-month period.
THAT’S THE UV INDEX READING YOU NEED TO KEEP AN EYE ON WHEN DECIDING IF AND WHEN TO WEAR SUNSCREEN AND OTHER FORMS OF SUN PROTECTION LIKE COVERING CLOTHING AND A HAT.
If it’s three or above you need it; if it’s below three you don’t, regardless of what time of year it is. That’s according to new national recommendations released in 2016, designed to clear up confusion about balancing safe sun exposure with maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D, a vitamin that 30 per cent of Australians are deficient in all year round.
TO ACT ON IT: Download the Cancer Council’s free SunSmart app (sunsmart.com.au), and personalise it to your location as well as skin type. You can set up a sun-protection UV alert as well as two-hourly reminders to reapply sunscreen. Alternatively, log onto the Bureau of Meteorology’s website (bom.gov.au) for daily UV information.
HOW OLD YOU SHOULD BE BEFORE YOU EVEN CONSIDER RETIRING.
It’s one year older than when Australians currently become eligible for the Age Pension, but it pays off – choose to retire at 66 rather than 65 and you’ll have an 11 per cent lower risk of death from all causes. It’s probably due to the beneficial impact that turning up regularly for work has on physical and cognitive health, say researchers.
TO ACT ON IT: Keep working – or swap working or some of your free time for volunteering. Doing that once you reach the age of 55 can lower your mortality risk by up to 47 per cent, perhaps due to the way volunteering activates neural circuits in the brain known to help regulate stress and reduce inflammation.