Got 5 minutes? It Could Save Your Life

Brush up on WebMD's 5-minute lifesaving health tips.

From the WebMD Archives

Five minutes could make a big difference in your health.

"In the time it takes to file or clip your nails, blow your hair or shave, you could instead be taking lifesaving steps and performing quick health checkups that can add years to your life," says Marie Savard, MD, a clinical associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Lassoing Your Waist

"Pull out your tape measure and your check waist circumference or waist-to-hip ratio," says Savard, author of Apples and Pears: A Revolutionary Diet Program for Weight Loss and Optimum Health. "Everybody's got a tape measure and this is so important that doctors are starting to call it the new vital sign," she says. For women, an optimal waist is less than 35 inches and for men, it's less than 40 inches.

"The lower the waist circumference, the better," she says. For example, "women with a waist of 35 inches or more means that they have increased amounts of dangerous fats which spew out chemicals and hormones, increasing risk of diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, and stroke." The good news is that walking 30 minutes per day burns waist fat and shrinks the waist first --- even before we tip the scale very much," she says. "Losing just 2 inches of waist size will reduce risk of diabetes by 58% or more," she tells WebMD.

Smiling in the Mirror

"Gum disease is associated with systemic inflammation and a growing list of diseases and conditions including heart disease and preterm birth," Savard says. But if you have a spare moment or two, "pull down your lower lip and pull up your upper lip and check your gum line in the mirror," she says. Look for signs of redness or bleeding, which can mean infection. "If you notice these signs, talk to your dentist, it could save your life and your smile!"

Peeking Under the Lid

This may sound gross, but "check your bowel movements," Savard says. "Healthy, large, bulky stool means you are eating enough fiber, which helps to prevent colon problems, hemorrhoids, diverticulosis (a condition that occurs when certain pouches in colon become infected or inflamed), and maybe even colon cancer down the line," she says. "It's the best kept secret and it takes less than five minutes," she says. The simple solution may be to up your daily fiber intake, she says. High-fiber foods include whole-grain breads, pasta, cereal and brown rice, dried beans, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

While you are looking, check your urine, too. "If urine is real dark and concentrated, it's a sign that you are not drinking enough fluid and should start drinking more water," she says. "If it's cloudy or has blood, it may be a urinary or vaginal infection," she says. Talk to your doctor.


Survey Your Skin

"In five minutes, one can do an overall complete skin examination of the body by standing in front of a mirror and basically looking for any moles that look irregular or are different shades of brown color," says Ariel Ostad, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in New York and a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the New York University Medical Center. "Besides looking at one's face, it is also very important to look completely all over your skin, including your chest, back, arms, and legs as well as areas that one would not think of skin cancer such as in-between the toes, the palms, bottom of feet, and beneath your nails," he says. "It is also important to take a blow dryer and basically look through your scalp as melanoma has been noted in hair-bearing areas such as the scalp," he suggests. "This single self-examination in front of the mirror can actually allow one to detect a skin cancer at a very early stage and lead to a cure."

Take Your Pulse

Know how to take your pulse? Here's how: turn your left hand palm-side up, and then place the first two fingers of your right hand along the outer edge of your left wrist. Next, slide your fingers toward the center of your wrist. You should feel the pulse between the wrist bone and the tendon. Press down until you feel your pulse for 60 seconds. While it is not an exact science, "if it's over 80 or 90 when you are at rest, it may indicate a thyroid or heart problem or that you are out of shape," Savard says. By contrast, if it's less than 50, it may mean that you are an athlete or have an underactive thyroid. Talk to your doctor.

Track Your Height

"Most of us think we are the same height as when we graduated from high school and that's not true," says Donnica Moore, MD, a women's health expert based in Far Hills, N.J. "If you are losing height, talk to your doctor and see if you are at risk for osteoporosis or perhaps you need help with your posture," she says.


Clean Out Your Wallet

Get rid of clutter and make sure that you have your current and valid health insurance card and an updated list of the medications, vitamins, and herbs that you take, she says. On the same piece of paper list the dates of your last tetanus shot and other immunizations and who to contact in case of an emergency, Savard says. "In an emergency, having this information can save your life," she says.

Do a Once-Over of Your Medicine Cabinet

"Make sure all medication lids are secured and that there are no outdated medications and that nothing needs to be refilled or renewed, and make sure you know what everything is in there," Savard suggests.

Making a Health To-Do List

Write down when you had your last mammogram or breast X-ray, Pap smear to detect precancerous changes in the cervix, blood cholesterol test, and bone density screen for brittle bones. "This is handy and will let you know when you are next due for any of these important and lifesaving screening tests," Moore says. Keep it on the fridge where you keep your grocery list.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD


SOURCES: Marie Savard, MD, clinical associate professor of internal medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Donnica Moore, MD, women's health expert, Far Hills, N.J. Ariel Ostad, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology, New York University Medical Center.

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