These simple checks could help you spot health problems in plenty of time to put them right – try them today!
Touch your toes: To test artery health
‘Flexible’ or ‘supple’ arteries allow blood to flow freely through the body, whereas ‘stiff’ arteries make the heart work much harder to push the blood along them. Arterial ‘stiffness’ can lead to cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
Take the test: University of North Texas researchers say that a simple ‘sit and reach’ test can indicate artery flexibility in people over 40. Sit on the floor, legs outstretched in front, lean forward and try to touch your toes.
Test results: If you aren’t able to reach your toes, you may be at increased risk of arterial ‘stiffness’, so get your blood pressure checked. The study’s researchers also suggest that you do stretching exercises like yoga and Pilates. They may help make your arteries – as well as your whole body – more flexible.
Sing Happy Birthday twice: To test hand hygiene
Our hands can harbour all sorts of nasty germs – from cold and flu viruses to E. coli and salmonella bacteria. Most of us aren’t washing our hands correctly or for long enough, so we risk infection.
Take the test: Wash your hands for as long as it takes you to sing Happy Birthday twice.
Test results: If it feels as if you’re washing your hands for far longer than normal, you probably haven’t been washing them properly.
“Don’t miss a bit – it’s important that the centres of the palms, between the fingers, the tips of the fingers and the thumb are cleansed,” says hygiene and infection-control expert Martin Kiernan.
“The thumb is the most frequently missed part of the hand, yet almost every action involving hand contact includes the thumb, so it’s a critical area to wash.”
Eat sweetcorn: To test your gut health
Dr Anthony Hobson, a clinical scientist of gastrointestinal physiology describes food digestion. “A delay in gut transit time (how long it takes food to be digested and expelled) can be a sign of how well its parts – the stomach, small bowel and colon – are working.”
Take the test: Eat sweetcorn! The outer coating of a sweetcorn kernel can’t be digested, so you’ll know when you’ve passed it.
Test results: “A gut transit time of 24 to 48 hours is normal; even up to 60 hours,” explains Dr Hobson. “Anything longer is slow.
Increase the amount of fibre in your diet, drink enough water, and switch your milk. Studies have shown that consuming regular cows’ milk, which contains the inflammatory A1 protein, can slow colon transit time by up to six hours in healthy subjects with reported milk intolerance. So, drinking milk with only the A2 protein could be a solution.
If these don’t help and you have other symptoms, see a GP.” Or try a dairy alternative like Organic Rice Milk, R43,99 for 1l, Woolworths.
Look at a door frame: To test your vision
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can cause you to lose your central vision: noticing that straight lines start to appear wavy, or there are patches missing from your vision.
Take the test: Cover one eye and look at a long vertical line, such as a door frame, repeat with other eye, advises optometrist Anjana Taank.
Test results: If you see any gaps or kinks in the line, seek urgent advice from an ophthalmologist.
Tap your foot: To test your heartbeat
A normal heart beats at regular intervals. Atrial fibrillation (AF) – where your heart beats irregularly – increases the risk of stroke and heart failure.
Take the test: Rest for five minutes, then feel your pulse at your wrist or neck, pressing lightly for 30 seconds. Tap your foot to your pulse’s rhythm.
Test results: If your foot is tapping regularly, like the ticking of a clock, that’s normal. But if it sounds irregular, like it’s ‘jumping around’, see your GP.
Sit down and stand up: To test longevity
This musculoskeletal fitness test could determine how long you’ll live!
Take the test: From standing, cross your legs and try to lower yourself into a seated position on the floor without using your hands, arms or knees to help stabilise you. Then try to stand back up (again, without any support). Don’t try it if you have arthritis, knee or hip problems.
Test results: Researchers found that those who could perform the test with little or no support were more likely to live longer than those who struggled. To help boost flexibility, balance and muscle strength, try squats, yoga, or Pilates.
Stare ahead: To test for dry eyes
Dry eye syndrome occurs when eyes don’t make enough tears, or tears are evaporating too quickly, says optometrist Sarah Farrant. “They can become red and feel ‘gritty’, or even, oddly, watery,” she continues.
“Triggers include age, too much screen time, wearing contact lenses, the weather, and indoor heating.”
Take the test: “Stare straight ahead at something for as long as possible,” says Sarah.
Test results: “If you feel discomfort and have the need to blink before 10 seconds of staring, you could have dry eye. To soothe dry eyes, take regular screen breaks and ‘think and blink’ – deliberately blink – to flush your eyes with hydrating tears,” she adds.
Try a preservative-free eye drop like Allergan Refresh Lubricating Eye Drops, R145 for 30 containers of 0,4ml each, Clicks.
Fold your pillow: To test if it’s supportive
Back and neck problems can be aggravated by worn-out pillows.
Take the test: “If you have a down or feather pillow, fluff it up and then lay it on a hard surface,” says Sammy Margo, physiotherapist and author of The Good Sleep Guide. “Fold it in half, then release it. If it unfolds and returns to its original position, it has support; a ‘broken’ pillow stays folded. To test a polyester pillow, fluff and fold. Then place a weight of around 300g – like a trainer – on the pillow.
A pillow with support will unfold itself and throw off the shoe; a ‘broken’ one stays folded.”
Test results: On average, polyester pillows need replacing every six months to a year, down pillows every five years, and feather pillows every eight years, suggests Sammy. “If your pillow shows obvious signs of flatness or loss of shape, it’s time to buy a new one.”
Check your hairbrush: To test for hair loss
At any one time, about 10% of our hair will be in the telogen (or shedding) phase, says trichologist Iain Sallis, so it’s normal to lose about 100 hairs a day.
Take the test: Before washing your hair, brush it with a clean brush for 20 seconds, then pull out the hairs from the brush and scrunch them up.
Test results: You should have shed only a small amount, but if you’re losing about 100 hairs every time you brush (which, scrunched up, will look the size of a R5 coin), you may have excessive shedding or telogen effluvium (TE).
“There are two types – acute and chronic,” explains Iain. Acute TE can be caused by emotional shock or childbirth, for example. It will resolve itself as soon as the stress factor has been removed. Chronic TE can be caused by an underlying medical condition, such as hypothyroidism, so get checked out by a GP or trichologist, advises Iain.
Pick out sounds: To test your ears
Are you struggling to follow conversations in noisy environments?
Take the test: Try ‘picking out sounds’ from others – put on music and spend 30 seconds trying to single out a specific instrument, or turn on the TV and radio and see if you can follow just the TV.
Test results: If you have problems, see an audiologist, but continue to practise these tests.
“Getting your brain to focus on one sound while filtering out others trains its auditory processing centres to maintain good hearing,” claims audiologist Tania Rodrigues. Or, if you prefer, use an app to help you. The HearZA app (free for iOS/Apple; Android), developed by the University of Pretoria in partnership with Vodacom, helps you test your own hearing in just two minutes by getting you to identify spoken words presented against background noise. If an impairment is detected, the app will direct you to your nearest audiologist.
Take off your trousers and socks: To check for melanoma
In women, a high proportion of melanomas occur on the lower limbs, reveals dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto.
Take the test: Stand in front of the mirror after a shower and check your legs (front and back), looking for new moles or changes to existing ones. Check your feet, too; melanomas can develop even on areas that don’t get much sun exposure, such as the soles of your feet and under the toenails. Check regularly.
Test results: If you notice any new moles or changes in existing ones, see your doctor right away.
Words Kim Jones. Additional words Belinda dos Santos