Old habits die hard, but there are some habits – such as smoking and drinking to excess – that are really good to break. If you've tried to cut down before but not been as successful as you'd like, talk to your GP or practice nurse. He or she will be happy to help, offer advice, and may even put you in touch with local support groups.
Moderation is the key there. Some research shows that a small glass of red wine a day can help to reduce the risk of heart disease. But higher levels of alcohol intake raise the risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, certain cancers, accidents, and overall mortality. Alcohol can also interact negatively with many medications.
So how much is too much? The recommended amounts for women are no more than 2-3 units a day and 3 units a day for men. One unit is equivalent to half a pint of beer, lager or cider, a pub measure of spirits or a standard glass of wine (175ml). It is also recommended that you should also have at least two alcohol-free days a week.
Unlike alcohol consumption, the evidence is clear that smoking is overwhelmingly harmful. If you do smoke, then stopping now can have a major positive impact on your health. Within five years of giving up you can have reduced the risk of a heart attack to about half that of a smoker. Within 10 years, the risk falls to the same as someone who has never smoked, and the risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker.
Ask for a little help
Your GP will be happy to help you take steps to getting fitter in later life. Some people choose to have regular health screens, so any potential problems can be picked up early and possibly increase their chances of successful treatment.
Get a check-up
Screening is available through the NHS at Well Man and Well Woman clinics, normally offered by GPs or the practice nurse. The basic screening tests are for high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol levels, especially if your family has a history of heart disease. Other tests are available for osteoporosis, glaucoma and abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). A variety of cancer screens are available, including mammograms to check for breast cancer, smear tests for cervical cancer, and screens for bowel and prostate cancers. Your GP can advise whether these are right for you.