Fit for exercise

Embarking on a new fitness regime will pay dividends, but before you start, it’s worth having your overall health and fitness levels checked


Checking your overall state of health before you begin pounding the pavement is a good starting point in becoming a healthier you. It can help identify any factors that might impinge on your intended fitness programme and highlight any potential health issues in the future.

Your GP can carry out a health screening and there are also a number of dedicated health-screening centres around the country that can carry out more in-depth examinations.

But not everyone needs to have a health check before they start getting into fitness and there are some easy questions you can ask to find out if you should have one, says Dr Geoff Lavery, a GP at Oakwood Medical Centre in Castleknock, Dublin.

“Usually when people sign up to a gym or fitness programme they get a simple questionnaire before they start. It will ask if you have had any problems in the past. It’s particularly looking for injuries, like knees or ankles, things like that, so if they intend on running, they might actually be better off in the pool.

“Do they have any breathing difficulties? Are they asthmatic, or a smoker? Have they had their blood pressure checked, is it high? Is there any family history of heart problems or diabetes?

“If the answer is no, then they are generally fine to start into some sort of sports programme. If it’s yes to those questions, then they need to see a GP. Most trainers will give people a form saying you need to see your GP and get an assessment done to say whether you are fit to participate or not.”

From there, booking in for a health check is the next step. When booking, it’s worth making clear that you aren’t just coming in for a regular consultation. You may be advised to fast for a number of hours so that certain tests, such as a blood glucose sample, can be taken and it will save you having to come in at another time to get it done.

Once you’re in with the doctor, they will take a height and weight measurement, read your blood pressure, check your heart rate, take a urine analysis, check cholesterol and also check for diabetes, as well as doing a routine blood count.

Some GPs will offer other tests, including an ECG, a lung functioning test or an allergy test. A physical exam will also be carried out to check the range of movement and flexibility.

“You get them onto the examination table and see how tight their hamstring is by doing a leg arise. You can check for any weakness in the lower back by doing a general neuro-muscular exam. You’re looking for a weakness or something that might limit their training.”

Apart from tests and examinations, talking is also a core part of the health check. Family history will be asked about to find out if there is any heart, respiratory or clotting issues, or any other illness lurking in the background.

What you want to achieve, be it greater fitness, weight-loss or competing in a specific event, and the steps to realistically achieve your targets, will also be discussed.

“If they’re signing up to do these programmes it can be expensive. You want to know that they are able for it. You’re really looking to know how much activity have they done over a week, for the past number of months. If you’re a real couch potato, you’re not going to go straight into a lot of activity because you’re not going to manage it. So it’s starting slowly and building them up to see what they are capable of doing. If they start too much too soon they can be dizzy or collapse. It’s having achievable goals, they need to get their joints moving before they decide they’re going to take on the Dublin marathon.”

The length of time a screening takes varies, says Dr Lavery. The questionnaire you’ll fill out before seeing the doctor will act as a pointer for how much or how little they need to ask. Someone who is relatively young and healthy won’t need as long a consultation as a patient who has a number of complaints or a long history of family health problems.

One of the most positive things that can come from the health check is finding out if there are any conditions that need a more intense screening. Problems identified with breathing may lead to a further check at a respiratory clinic to check lung health. A problem with a back or joints may lead on to a physio or orthopaedic doctor who can better address the issue.

It can also help rule out certain activities associated with fitness that can actually cause more damage.

“A big thing is people going to the gym and there’s a sauna or a jacuzzi there; the hot steam isn’t good if there is an underlying cardiac condition as the breathing conditions won’t be the best thing for them.”

Taking up exercise at any age or level is to be encouraged. It’s knowing what you can do without causing any physical impact that might lead you to lose motivation that is key to keeping it up.

Vhi health screening and wellness services

The Vhi Medical Centres in Dublin and Cork provide access to tests and screenings designed to help customers better understand and manage their health. As well as providing screening for type two diabetes and cardiovascular risk factors, the Vhi Medical Centres also offer a range of health-screening packages to suit both individual and corporate customers.

There are four health screening packages available:

1) CancerCheck, which looks at certain cancer risks (fully covered on Vhi HealthPlus plans or € 200 for non members)

2) HeartCheck looks at key cardiovascular risks (fully covered on Vhi HealthPlus or € 200 for non-members)

3) Screen Essential for those aged under 50 (€ 350)

4) Screen Extra, the most comprehensive, which provides a full MOT (€ 490)

Vhi is the only insurer in the country that owns and operates dedicated screening facilities and that are Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited.

JCI works to improve patient safety and quality of healthcare in the international community. LiveWell Health Screening

In addition to these services, Vhi medical centres also provide a corporate wellness programme to companies with on-site health screening and support services.

The LiveWell Health Screening is nurse-led and involves the employee attending a 15-minute appointment without having to leave the work premises.

During the appointment, employees are assessed for height, weight and body mass index (BMI); blood sugars, cholesterol; blood pressure; HbA1c tests and a pre-screening lifestyle questionnaire.

A doctor will review any high-risk reports.

Additionally, on-site wellness screenings record trends on levels of physical activity at work, outside work, smoking prevalence, perceived stress levels, perceived eating habits and body mass index.

Each employee receives a detailed and confidential health assessment report immediately after the screening.

An aggregate report is issued to the employer providing the key findings of the overall health status of the company.

This initiative has proven to be very popular with employers and figures show that to date in 2015 almost 9,000 employees have been screened under this programme.

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