Know your body, know your health

Getting to know your body well can help you spot changes in your health. There are also many things you can do to help improve medical conditions that could be affecting your health. If you'd like to know more about any of these conditions, don't hesitate to talk to your GP or use our Medical Encyclopaedia for more information.

Heart disease

Heart disease can present itself in a variety of ways, one of the most common being a heart attack. This normally happens when one of the arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle gets blocked, which causes the muscle to be damaged. The British Heart Foundation estimates that 2.6 million people in the UK have heart disease – it claims the lives of one in four men and one in six women. A well balanced diet and regular exercise can help you look after your heart's health.

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Cancer

Cancer refers to a group of abnormal cells that can form a mass of cells, which may spread from the initial site. It can develop in any organ and invade neighbouring parts of the body. It affects around one in three people and the risk increases with age. Screening programs may be helpful in the detection of disease. A well balanced diet, not smoking and staying out of the sun may all reduce risk.

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Arthritis

Arthritis covers a group of inflammatory and degenerative conditions that cause stiffness, swelling, and pain in the joints. The most common form is osteoarthritis, which most often involves the knees, hips and hands and affects middle-aged and older people. Exercise can help and taking fish oil supplements is also thought to bring benefits.

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High blood pressure

Blood pressure is the force that pushes blood around the body and exerts pressure on the walls of the arteries when the heart beats. High blood pressure – known as hypertension – affects around one in six adults in the UK and about a quarter of 50 year olds. It puts a strain on the heart and arteries, which increases the chance of heart disease or blockages of arteries. Less salt in your diet is one way to cut risks, as is not smoking and only drinking alcohol in moderation. Regular exercise also helps to keep your blood pressure at healthy levels.

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Being overweight

Being overweight increases the likelihood of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some types of cancer. With increasing age, metabolism may slow and exercise is taken less frequently. This combination means that it can be easy to put weight on and more difficult to get it back off. Learning about food and making healthy eating a way of life is the best way to reach goal weight, rather than relying on fad diets.

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Alzheimer's disease

This is a progressive deterioration in mental ability due to degeneration of brain tissue. The cells gradually degenerate and deposits of an abnormal protein build up in the brain. Tissue shrinks and dementia sets in. Alzheimer's affects about 7 in 100 people by the age of 65 and 3 in 10 people by the age of 85. Cutting back on harmful cholesterol, regular exercise, good blood pressure, keeping the mind as active as possible; a diet rich in antioxidants and having a good social life with different circles of friends are believed to be helpful.

In the UK we have taken a lead role in meeting the Prime Minister's Challenge for families living with dementia and have created an internal dementia taskforce to improve our awareness of dementia and how to spot the early signs of dementia in our customers; specialist awareness, training, services and products across both insurance and pensions businesses. This has been enhanced with additional material from the Alzheimer's Society.

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Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is caused by a loss of bone density. Bones can become brittle and susceptible to fractures. According to the National Osteoporosis Society, it affects one in three women and one in 12 men – but a diet that includes sufficient calcium from sources such as dairy products and green vegetables, beans and dried fruit can help, as does taking regular exercise.

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Diabetes

Diabetes occurs when the body cannot use glucose properly and so there are abnormally high levels in the blood. This can lead to heart, kidney and eye disease. Older people tend to be affected by non-insulin dependent or Type 2 diabetes. Since obesity is a prime cause, losing weight is one way to cut back on the risk.

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Menopause

As the number of eggs released from ovaries reduces, periods lessen and then cease altogether. While many women feel well or only experience minor symptoms, some are more seriously affected. The onset of menopause is usually in your 50s, although smoking is thought to promote an earlier menopause. Menopause is a part of life and cannot be avoided. Regular exercise can help with management of symptoms.

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