Think of the NHS Health Check as a midlife MOT.
It's not only an opportunity to put right emerging problems, but to get personalised advice on keeping yourself healthy and active in the future.
The NHS Health Check is based on the best scientific evidence from Britain and around the world and can transform people's lives.
It provides a rare opportunity to sit down with a health professional and talk about your health requirements. Afterwards, you will be more confident and know more about your health. You should also receive a wellness plan, tailored specifically to your needs.
"The NHS Health Check is free and should not be missed," says Sir Muir Gray, Chief Knowledge Officer of the NHS. "It will give you the knowledge you need to take control of your health".
Goes to the heart of things
Our bodies have many important systems, but one that is central to all of them is our vascular or circulatory system.
At its centre is our heart, pumping blood every second of every day through a 100,000-mile network of veins and arteries, which, if lined up end to end, would circle the equator four times.
It's not only a system that all others depend on, but one that suffers wear and tear. This can lead to a range of debilitating, sometimes life-threatening, conditions such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of dementia. Together, these conditions are the biggest cause of preventable deaths and disability in the UK.
The vascular system is what the NHS Health Check is designed to monitor and protect. It tells you how well your vascular system is performing and predicts how it will hold up in the future.
Most importantly, it points out changes you can make to get your vascular system running more efficiently, which will reduce wear and tear.
"One of the wonderful things about the vascular system is that there are many things we as individuals can do to improve its functioning," says Sir Muir. "This test is not just giving you important results. It's giving you results you can act on."
- Find out more about the vascular system and diseases.
- Find out more about the NHS Health Check tests.
- If you're over 30, take the online heart age test now to see how healthy your heart is.
Learn your vital stats
The NHS Health Check gives you an overall score that you can keep track of and improve over time. Some think of this as their "heart age".
This single figure is calculated from up to 20 other snippets of information about you, but there are three important statistics that you should know and, from time to time, monitor.
These are your:
- blood pressure
- BMI (body mass index)
- cholesterol count
"I liked coming away from the NHS Health Check with facts about my health," says Peter, a 50-year-old from London. "I roughly knew my BMI, but I had no idea about my blood pressure or cholesterol. My cholesterol was high, but I changed my diet and now it's normal again."
- Find out what to expect on the day of your NHS Health Check.
- Find out more about interpreting your results.
- Read how Bala, 67, changed his lifestyle and brought his cholesterol level down after his NHS Health Check.
Get an action plan
As important as the NHS Health Check is, the action plan for health improvement that comes with it is the real game changer.
Some people end up with a NHS Health Check score that is better than normal and no changes will be necessary. But for most of us, some change will be recommended. For example, you may be advised to be more physically active or cut down on the amount of fat, salt or sugar in your diet.
If your NHS Health Check suggests you are at higher risk, you might also be offered medicines to control your blood pressure or lower your cholesterol, along with help to take action with losing weight or stopping smoking.
If there are changes you need to make, you will be offered a tailored plan and support for meeting your goals. This will vary depending on where you live, and there are some excellent resources available.
For example, in Buckinghamshire, one NHS Health Check attendee lost four stone after being referred to a specialist weight loss programme.
Meanwhile, in Richmond, London, people having NHS Health Checks have embarked on a range of lifestyle services, depending on their needs, including alcohol and stop smoking services, and a diabetes prevention programme.
John Goodall, Public Health Wiltshire, says:
"The NHS Health Check is much more than a check-up.
"It gives you a plan of action to improve your health over time, with someone who is well placed to advise and encourage you to make healthy changes."
If you live in Wiltshire and you're found to be at higher risk, you could also benefit from the council's Active Health programme and other health services. Your GP or health care professional can refer you to specially trained exercise professionals based at local leisure centres, who will devise an individual programme for you.
John Goodall, from Public Health Wiltshire, says: "The NHS Health Check is much more than just a check-up. It gives you a plan of action to improve your health over time, by providing you with a one-to-one interaction with someone who is well placed to advise and encourage you to make healthy changes."
"If you're already leading a healthy life and are at low risk, that's marvellous. In Wiltshire, everyone attending an NHS Health Check should receive individual advice and support, whatever their risk. They'll also get a lifestyle leaflet, which includes an array of local activity programmes they can join."
Get more advice on taking action to improve your NHS Health Check results.
But you don't have to wait until you're invited for a NHS Health Check to start leading a healthier life:
- Need to lose weight? Download your NHS weight loss plan today.
- Couch potato? You won't be once you've completed the Couch to 5K running programme.
- Want to quit smoking? Get stop smoking support here.
Still not convinced?
There's little joy in living to the age of 100 or more if we have to spend many years being treated for serious conditions that can affect our quality of life and stop us doing the things that make us happy.
By getting an NHS Health Check, knowing your results and making changes that will help you lead a healthy life, you can look forward to:
More time with family and friends
By attending your NHS Health Check and making healthy changes, you're more likely to live longer and have more time with your friends and family. This includes having more time to watch any children and grandchildren grow up.
Living independently for longer
By keeping healthy, you can live independently in your own home for longer. This means you'll be less likely to need extra social care and support from other people, including members of your family. If you have to spend many years in a state of ill-health, your quality of life will be affected.
Improved emotional wellbeing
Being unwell over a long period of time can significantly reduce our chances of being able to do the things that make us happy, like seeing other people, playing sports and taking part in activities, such as volunteering or having hobbies. Keeping healthy is good for our emotional as well as physical wellbeing.
Staying in work for longer
Good health improves your chances of finding and staying in work, and being in work is generally beneficial for our health, as well as benefiting our self-esteem and our wallets.
On the other hand, being unwell can affect our ability to find and stay in work, which can lead to money worries and emotional stress.
Find out more about maintaining our quality of life as we get older.
Article provided by NHS Choices