If your NHS Health Check shows you have a higher risk of developing vascular disease, it's reassuring to know that by leading a healthier life you'll improve your chances of living longer and improve your quality of life.
Taking simple steps to improve your lifestyle - such as eating more healthily, doing regular exercise, drinking sensibly and losing excess weight - can dramatically increase your chances of being able to live life to the full as you get older.
The NHS Health Check is a great way to motivate you to make these changes. Research has shown that even a brief chat with a health professional is very effective at encouraging you to do more exercise - and stick to it.
Disability in later life
It's official .. we're all living longer. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) predicts that by 2033 around 23% of the UK population will be 65 and over (compared with 16% in 2008), and the number of people aged 85 and over will have doubled to 3.5 million, or around 5% of the population.
'Swimming feels wonderful'
Ada Gibson is a shining example of how regular exercise can put a spring in your step well into old age. She was 75 before she learned how to swim. Now a sprightly 92, she's a familiar figure at her local pool, where she regularly swims laps for around 30 minutes at a time.
"I just love it when I get in that swimming pool. Once I swam a mile....that's 80 lengths! You come out and you feel wonderful." Watch Ada explain how swimming has enhanced her life in this short video.
But these gains may come at a cost. The older we get, the more likely we are to be living with some form of disability, usually due to long-term conditions such as stroke, heart disease and dementia.
The ONS predicts that within the next eight years, more than half of all those aged over 65 will be moderately or severely disabled. The term "disability" here covers a wide range of limitations, from being wheelchair-bound to having poor eyesight, coordination problems or memory loss.
Vascular disease - which the NHS Health Check is designed to check for and monitor - is the leading cause of disability. Stroke, for example, can lead to weakness and difficulty moving around; heart disease may restrict how far you can walk before being overcome with tiredness and diabetes can stiffen the joints in the fingers and hands.
Whatever the disability, the end-result is that it becomes increasingly hard to carry out simple day-to-day activities like getting dressed, preparing a meal, having a shower or walking to the shop. This, in turn, reduces your chances of living independently in your own home and means you'll be more likely to need extra care and support from others.
Healthy habits to stave off disability
The good news is that taking steps towards a healthy lifestyle is an incredibly powerful way to reverse the trend towards disability and ensure you have a good quality of life as you get older.
The key actions you can make a part of life are to:
By making these changes, you can slash your risk of ill-health and disability in later life. As a spin-off benefit, you're also likely to boost your energy, wellbeing and happiness.
People who do regular physical activity reduce their chances of developing serious illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer by up to 50%. Exercise also helps control your weight, lower your blood pressure and strengthens your muscles, which in turn makes you less likely to fall.
Smokers who quit dramatically reduce their risk of heart attack, stroke and lung cancer, with the benefits being greater the longer they stay smoke-free.
Drinking within the recommended limits can cut the risk of numerous alcohol-related medical conditions, including liver disease, certain cancers and heart problems.
Watching your weight will significantly lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of arthritis and some cancers. And eating a balanced diet will help you improve your overall health, as well as keeping your cholesterol levels and weight in check.
Real stories to inspire you
Acting on healthy lifestyle advice is easier than you may think, and you'll feel the beneficial effects almost immediately. These inspiring personal stories show a variety of ways you can improve your health, no matter how old you are:
- Betty Shaw, 93, from East Yorkshire has attended the same fitness class for over 30 years. She says exercise has been the key to helping her continue living independently. Read Betty's story.
- A medical check spurred Julie, 48, to lose weight and dropped from a size 18 to a size 10 - she feels so much better as a result. Read Julie's story.
- "I learned to swim at 75" - Ada Gibson is proof that it's never too late to get active. Read Ada's story.
- "Weight loss feels great" - says Nick, 40. Read Nick's story.
- Patrick's "drink diary shock" - and how he cut down. Read Patrick's story.
- "I quit smoking for my son" - how Cecelia beat her addiction. Read Cecelia's story.
Article provided by NHS Choices