Are you finding life stressful, feel constantly tired or keep juggling too many things at once? Here are some small health and body changes that pay long-term dividends to help banish stress and live a better life. With these easy lifestyle changes you will stress-less, feel more energetic and stay well - no matter how much there is on your plate.

You'll most likely live 20 years longer than your great-grandmother. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, our expected lifespan has increased dramatically in the past 100 years. If you were born in 1901, you could expect to live to the age of 57. These days, living into your 80s is the norm. At the same time, however, lifestyle diseases such as diabetes have never been more prevalent. Luckily, many of these can be prevented with simple, precautionary steps to improve your health and life.


Improve your health instantly

When was the last time you had a general health check-up? Do you know your body's cholesterol level? These could help improve your quality of life. As vice president of the Australian Medical Association Dr Steve Hambleton says, 'These tests are so easy to perform and can detect so much.' Heart disease, osteoporosis and cancers, such as melanoma, breast cancer, cervical and bowel cancer, can all be treated when detected early enough. 

But if we ignore niggling signs or neglect key check-ups, we're putting our health at risk. Dr Hambleton explains, 'Serious diseases start with clues; if you pick them up early, you can help treat them more easily.' He also encourages becoming familiar with your family health history, since genes play an important part in the development of lifestyle illnesses. So which checks should you be having when?

Checks for a healthy life: Every month

  • Monitor your diet and exercise to keep on track for your weight-loss goals and general good health.

  • Self-check your breasts regularly to make sure there are no new or unusual changes in breast tissue.

  • Keep an eye on moles and other skin irregularities, as Australia has the world's highest rate of melanoma.

Checks for a healthy life: Every 12 months

  • Have a dental check-up at least once every year to help prevent major dental problems before they start.

  • Get your blood pressure tested to ensure your levels are sitting in the right place for your age and sex.

  • Undergo a mammogram every 12 to 24 months, particularly if you're a woman over the age of 40.

  • Visit a skin cancer clinic for a check-up. Ask your doctor to recommend a good clinic close by.

Checks for a healthy life: Every 2 years

  • Have a pap smear unless, for some reason, your doctor has recently advised more frequent checks.

  • Get a bowel cancer check to make sure any irregularities can be detected and treated early.

  • Check your kidney function the next time you're at your GP - all it involves is a simple blood test.

  • Ask for a cholesterol test; normal cholesterol levels are considered to be below 5.5 millimoles/litre.

Checks for a healthy life: Simple checks to have anytime

  • If you're over the age of 40, have an ultrasound to confirm bone density and help prevent osteoporosis.

  • If you're overweight or get up at least twice during the night to urinate, ask for a blood test for diabetes.

  • Monitor your eyesight and, if you're over the age of 40, have your vision checked regularly because macular degeneration can be arrested if it's detected early enough.

  • Note: According to recent research from the Heart Foundation, more than 90% of Australian women have at least one modifiable risk factor (such as poor diet) for cardiovascular disease.


Be wary of excessive eating

We all aim to eat well, but sometimes life can get in the way. 'Planning and being organised is your best defense against a hectic lifestyle,' explains dietitian Megan Alsford. 'Pack your fridge, freezer and cupboard with quick and healthy foods that are simple to prepare. A few of my favourites are frozen vegetables and fish fillets (not the battered kind).' Batch cook your meals in advance - for example, if you work from Monday to Friday and have the weekends free, cook and freeze several days' worth of meals in advance on a Saturday or Sunday, so you don't have to worry about meals during the week.


Eating changes for a better life

  • Never skip meals: You'll just get hungrier later and be less likely to make wise food choices (like picking up takeaway rather than cooking) 

  • Don't skip food groups: This has no weight-loss benefit at all. It also means you miss out on essential nutrients. Aim for variety. 

  • Exercise most days: At least 30 minutes provides the motivation and energy you need to stay on track with your health and weight loss.


Aim for a healthy life, not a skinny life

'If you're overweight, a loss of five to 10 per cent really is enough to see a significant lowering of your risk factors linked to chronic diseases,' explains Alsford. 'Losing too much weight can be damaging to your health, so aim for a realistic loss.' Also, reward yourself for your healthier life with non-food related treats. Buy a new nail polish when you lose two kilos, or a gorgeous new exercise outfit when you drop a dress size.


Teach yourself to love exercise

A sedentary lifestyle not only leads to a slower metabolism, but also impacts on physical and mental health. 'Exercise actually energises you, reduces stress levels and clears your head,' explains sports physiotherapist Rosemary Riley. 'It also builds muscle, helps control body weight and reduces your overall likelihood of developing most major diseases.'


Listen to your body

Your body might not be able to speak, but it has other ways of trying to attract attention. Those niggling aches and pains are often a signal you need to get checked out by a doctor. 'Ignoring pain can cause damage to worsen. Any chest pain or tightness during exercise can be serious and requires immediate attention,' says Riley. Aches from sitting too long are also a sign you should move more. 'If this relieves the soreness, then it's less likely to be serious, but it's still advisable to get treatment. A little time out now could save a lot of angst later,' she adds.


Relax when life gets too busy

When life puts a lot on your plate, it's easy to put yourself last, but moving yourself into number one position is essential. Create time to relax by going for a walk, studying a language or reading a book. It could be as simple as a new cut and colour or booking that holiday to improve your life. Taking positive steps towards good health is the best lifelong investment any woman can make.


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