Taking control can help you stay fit and healthy

Evidence suggests that supporting patients to self-manage their health can benefit quality of life and the use of resources, writes Paul Dinsdale

As we get older, taking care of our health becomes more important. Today a range of health monitoring devices can help to maintain and improve our own health. Heart rate monitors, pedometers and blood glucose kits are available in most high street pharmacies, and these can be used to ensure that we stay within healthy guidelines.

Andy Alford, head of sport and active lifestyle at King’s College London and former coach to the GB Olympic badminton team, advises using these devices as part of an overall personal health plan.

“These devices are useful in tracking your heart rate after vigorous exercise or showing how far you have run, but they need to be used as one component of a plan which includes a balanced diet, regular sleep patterns and a healthy lifestyle, taking into account that things like alcohol and caffeine can affect our health,” he says.

“There are a range of online resources available which people can use to create a profile of their own health status and these can give helpful suggestions on how to make changes to your daily routine. With elite athletes, we use sports psychology to make them more aware of their mind-body relationship to help their performance, and this can be applied to all of us in some ways in our fitness and exercise routines.”

More businesses are using online tools to allow employees to monitor their own health and identify areas which need improvement

Two websites that have online health checks for consumers are NHS Choices and BootsWebMD, which also have information on health technology devices and how they can be used.

Meanwhile, employers have also begun to realise that they will get better performance from their employees if they are healthier and happier in themselves. More businesses are using online tools to allow employees to monitor their own health and identify areas which need improvement.

“Our online questionnaire allows employees to answer a series of questions on their health in complete confidence and, according to the results, our software offers advice and support on how to change the negative aspects of their profile,” says Jocelyn Brown, business development consultant at WellKom, a consultancy group which provides companies with software their employees can use to create their own health profiles.

“For example, some employees may have a low ‘locus of control’, meaning that they don’t feel they have very much say in the demands of their job, and this can have a negative effect on health in the long term.”

The company has been working with Kent County Council and Devon and Cornwall Police for several years. Employees create their own online account and store their personal health details there, and these cannot be accessed by the employer. Instead, the employer receives an aggregated profile of the health concerns of their employees and regular “team wellness” reports.


Proactive health management


Set yourself realistic health goals and target small increases over a month, for example, and record your performance. If you’re doing workouts in the gym, ask a trainer to work with you on goals for each of the machines you’re using, based on the health questionnaire that most gyms give you when you join.


Familiarise yourself with Body Mass Index (BMI) measurements – these are based on weight and height, and are used to assess whether you are overweight or at risk of being obese. Check whether yours is within healthy limits on appropriate online tools such as NHS Choices.


Find out whether your employer provides health checks for all employees. Health checks can test for things, such as your blood pressure, whether you have an irregular heart beat and your cholesterol level. These should be done by a doctor or nurse who can advise on whether they’re within healthy limits.


Be aware of new technology that can help you improve performance. An example is the new use of anti-gravity treadmills, which can increase resistance gradually when doing exercise, making the body work harder. Speak to a health coach to find out if new technologies are appropriate for you.